Purple Cow Book Summary | By Seth Godin 4 Mins Read

MBA grads who’ve been tuned to believe that Marketing is defined by 4P’s for products and 7P’s for services – what you’re about to read in this article will redefine what has been taught! 

Pay close attention and you will be able to grasp what Seth Godin and his book “Purple Cow” have to offer. 

Did you just imagine a purple cow? I did it, when I first glanced at the book. Grabbing eyeballs – isn’t that what Marketing is all about.  

So why is this book named; The Purple Cow? 

It is a metaphorical reference used by Seth Godin to drive home the point; Purple Cow = Remarkable! 

Imagine you’re on a vacation – driving in the countryside – you pass by cows lazily grazing on the field. Quite picturesque right? Then you continue driving, you see more cows. You might still find the scene to be calming. However, will you continue to be taken by the scene if throughout the trip you only see cows. Gets boring after a while, right?

Now imagine, suddenly you see a purple colour cow. A purple coloured one – wont you stop the car and soak in this new phenomenon.  That’s what the Purple Cow did – it made you stop and notice as it was something different. 

Purple Cow on a green field

As soon as you get home after the vacation – You’d probably tell all your colleagues, friends and family about the purple cow. 

Seth uses this metaphor, Purple Cow, to ask companies or service providers to build a product or service offering which is worthy of word of mouth advertising. Something so remarkable and exciting that your consumers become a base of loyal fans, with minimum efforts. 

The world is full of brown cows, which makes it boring and people rarely pay attention to it.

Remarkable Marketing is all about building your product or service in a manner worthy of being noticed. 

Case histories about Starbucks, Beetle, Nokia and a few other companies have been mentioned by Seth to explain his point. This book was an interesting read. Took me about a few hours to read and another few hours to write.

Does a book so short need a summary? It isn’t about the length. It’s about the concept.

In the olden days, marketing was simple. A marketing team spent its efforts and resources on creating communication around the special features (4Ps – Product, Price, Promotion and Place) for its targeted audience. It did work back then, but these days with so much of noise and with the constantly declining attention span of the consumer towards advertising – it’s all about the new P, the Purple Cow = Be Remarkable. 

Basically, creating a product or a service worthy of talking, something which provides immense value to help your product to stand out from the crowd. Companies should stop focusing on advertising and start innovating their product or service to be remarkable.

Marketing Revolution ?

Marketing Revolution

The old concept of marketing has been changed by a few outliers. Seth mentions that Tom Peters in his book “The pursuit of Wow” mentions it is only passionate people who create products for the future. However, the majority of established companies are visibly apprehensive towards implementing change. They stick to their comfort zone – which eventually leads them to their death. Sorry to sound dramatic – but you would agree with me when I mention the names Nokia, Kodak, etc. 

“Crossing the chasm” written by Geoff Moore, highlights the ability of a remarkable product being adopted by innovators and early adopters effectively. Seth identifies them as Sneezers aka Influencers, who through word of mouth spread the effectiveness of the products to the remaining masses. 

Marketing is rapidly changing today, and traditional marketing is now considered ineffective and not to mention a colossal waste of money and time.

The Death of the TV Industrial Complex. 

Man with gun to TV

Back in the days, TV commercials were the most effective medium of selling. For a period, the American economy’s success could be attributed to the part played by the television industry. 

Companies allocated large amounts of revenue for their marketing budgets and within which advertisements was the highest money guzzler. Yes, it did work out effectively because of targeted marketing, repeated branding, etc. As the company made profits, they continued to pump in more money in advertisements. The medium was so powerful that it changed the way products were created! 

Today, however, with the advent of new channels and mediums of communication – the attention span of the consumer is decreasing primarily due to the number of choices available. Thus, ushering the need for innovative marketing.



Why do you need the purple cow, i.e. a remarkable product? 

Most people can’t buy your product, they either don’t have the money, don’t have the time or don’t require it.

Ron Simek started selling frozen pizza to his customers at a time when this concept was entirely new. It attracted the attention of Kraft Foods, who bought the brand, advertised it on a large scale and made some serious profits. 

This strategy works for any product that is new! 

Suppose you also come up with a product which is like frozen pizza – You’ll face few problems such as; 

  1. You will need to find people who are looking to buy frozen pizza
  2. Then you’ll need people to buy a new brand of frozen pizza
  3. Finally, you need to find the people who are willing to listen to you.

Being the first in the business made Ron Simek’s business remarkable. The second entrants are not so lucky as there is nothing new with their product. Unless you come up with something so innovative that makes your product the remarkable one and gets the Sneezers to talk about it.

This is why you need the purple cow. The larger the market, the more the need for a Purple Cow.

Ideas that spread Win.

Seth mentions the term “IdeaViruses” – an idea which spreads rapidly with minimum marketing effort, because of the remarkable aspect of the product. The Sneezers will help spread this ideavirus. Every market has these sneezers and it’s crucial to find and seek out such influencers.

Forget mass marketing – you are throwing money in the attempt to advertise to everyone. Instead, focus the effort on identifying Sneezers and proceed to capture their interest and be rest assured that once it catches on, it will only spread to the larger audience. 

However, do keep in mind, not everyone will like your product. Every individual is different and has different needs and hence be focused on creating a product for a specific segment of consumers. 

You can’t please everybody, right? And remember, a product for everybody is a product for nobody! 

Whose listening? 

Around 20 years ago, people had fewer choices and lots of time. Today consumers are spoilt for choices and, exposed to a million marketing messages every day, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that your advertisement will get their attention, but it is also easy to conclude that the ads won’t work as effectively as they would have decades ago. 

Targeted ads are much more cost effective and its best to advertise to interested sneezers. The magic happens when they tell their friends and families, thereby unleashing the ideavirus.

The Problem with the COW

If all of this was so simple, why aren’t all the companies successful. Let’s face it – companies are either apprehensive to move away from their tried and tested products or simply afraid to create a purple cow. Some companies also cite the lack of good ideas to create a purple cow. 

If this was the mind-set, we wouldn’t have had companies like Airbnb, Amazon to name a few purple cows.

Also, if you end up being remarkable, then you will not always be liked. Nobody gets unanimous praise. Do keep in mind “Criticism comes to those who stand out”. 

Opportunity to be seized. When the general population takes the above approach, you can be remarkable with very less effort. Playing safe is even more riskier these days and you lose the advantage of being a Purple Cow.

The Benefits of the Cow.

When you create something new and spectacular, the prestige and money follow automatically, not to forget the satisfaction that is cited by many entrepreneurs. And as the remarkability continues to demonstrate its value, the benefits are on the rise.

Here are two points Seth believes to be imperative when creating a spectacular product. 

  1. Milk the cow – Reap in the profits and figure out how to extend the lifespan 
  2. And then later move on to create an environment wherein your working on inventing or manufacturing the next Purple Cow. 

A company that stops innovating – eventually fades away from the memory of its once loyal customer base. AOL, Yahoo, and Nokia to cite a few examples had a remarkable breakthrough – they built an empire however, failed to create a NEW purple cow.


When Curad wanted to enter the adhesive bandages market, it seemed quite impossible to capture the market as Johnson & Johnson was clearly dominating.  So, what did Curad come up with? 

They did a Purple Cow –  they identified kids to be the largest consumers of bandages even if it were purchased by adults. The company printed animated characters on their bandages. Until then, bandages were boring to wear, but Curad made bandages fun for the largest user base – the Kids. The kids loved wearing these printed bandages, and in this way Curad had a sizeable market share. 

The Process of Creating a Purple Cow 

There’s no fool proof way of creating a purple cow time and again, but Seth does give a brief outline that one can follow to create a Purple Cow. Go for the edges – You and your team, should review the other P’s i.e. Pricing, Promotion, Product, etc. and figure out where your edges are, where your competition stands. Then work on a model or a plan where innovative methods can be implemented on. You’ll be surprised at what more can be done to have an edge over your competitors. It’s these small changes and elements that make a company remarkable. 

What does it mean to be a marketer today?

Back in the day, businesses had departments with clearly defined roles and duties. For example; the marketing team was given a budget to purchase ad-space. And that was enough; as marketing was about communicating the value propositions. The involvement of the marketing department was only after the product was conceptualised and manufactured. 

Whereas it is imperative to involve the marketers at the design stage and reap the benefits of early insights which hence leads to innovation. 

Some part of the blame can be placed on the senior management who are focused on managing the company and not marketing a product, however, fail to understand that creating a purple cow will reduce the overall marketing efforts and increase the possibility of tapping a huge revenue source. 

All that needs to be done is to involve the marketing team during product creation, designing, and of course for selling/marketing. 

The CEO of JetBlue had the head of marketing in charge of product creation.

Closing Thoughts

Purple Cow is the new P of marketing and has changed the definition of marketing. It is a manifesto for anyone who wants to make a difference at their organization by helping create remarkable products and services that are worth spreading in the first place. Go ahead and be original, because it is passion, guts, and daring that will win the day and remember the only way to fail today is to be BORING.