Do you have a purple cow?


Once upon a time, there was a farmer in Filabusi who had many cows. All his cows were beautiful and big, and all of them were brown — all except for one.
The farmer had one purple cow.

with Thembe Khumalo

Well, I am glad to still have your attention — because that in fact is the whole point of a purple cow approach.

It has to be remarkable, as opposed to boring.

To be remarkable, something has to catch the attention of those who would otherwise not bother with it; it has to be worth talking about; it has to be sufficiently different from the norm to warrant a second glance — like a purple cow.

The book Purple Cow was written by author Seth Godin, and it has been called “a manifesto for marketers who want to help create products that are worth marketing in the first place”.

Godin is one of the most celebrated marketing thinkers of our time.

He introduced the idea of “permission marketing”, suggesting that marketers would do better to present their audiences with propositions that were “anticipated, personal and relevant” as opposed to what he called “interruption marketing” (as in TV and radio ads that get in the way of a customer who is doing something they enjoy.

So, how can you and I apply the concept of purple cow to our businesses, or even communities?

My guess is that we would have to do or say something that will get people talking.

It is after all when something causes you to remark on it, that we consider it remarkable.

Like most creative ideas, many purple cow concepts become obvious in hindsight.

For instance, the idea that the only real security is growth.

When you think about it, the age we live in has demonstrated time and again that constant innovation is necessary for one to stay ahead of the pack.

If you compare the trajectory of Apple with that of Blackberry you clearly see that thinking around security has changed.

Growth is good, but wanting growth and attaining growth are two different things.

Godin says that Companies usually end up paralysed by trying to focus on how they’ll grow instead of actually growing.

I am sure you and I could name a dozen projects in Zimbabwe that have come to a grinding halt as a result of this very issue.

We are reknowned for our expert theories and our excellent ideas.

However our execution and project management leaves much to be desired.

Our ideas about customer service also need a serious rethink.

It often seems like the customer is an interruption of many businesses in Zimbabwe, and occasionally we are chided about how we are failing to understand the system.

But shouldn’t the system understand us? Isn’t the whole point of a product or service to serve the needs of customers?

On this point we have a long way to go, and I look forward to the day when someone will in fact present us with a purple cow in customer service so that I can watch the customers flock there.

One other element of purple cow thinking is understanding that glitches are bound to happen and being prepared to deal with unexpected hiccups.

As Godin says: “Don’t let the seeds stop you from enjoying the watermelon.”

To prove the effectiveness of the theories he expounds, Seth Godin decided to adopt a marketing plan that was very much in keeping with his theory for selling the book. He decided that the book would not be available on Amazon, and it is not available to purchase as a single copy.

If you want a copy, you have to buy twelve! (You are naturally expected to share the other 11 with your colleagues.)

And to top it all, the books are shipped in real milk cartons.

How’s that for remarkable?

The campaign has proved very popular, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, with some companies trying to order hundreds of books at a time. Clearly, the idea that success comes when you stand out rather than fit in has proved to be true for this book.

The good news is — it can be true for you and you product too.

In case you are wondering how the story of the Filabusi farmer who had a purple cow ends, the beauty of it is that you get to write your own ending — let’s make it a remarkable one!


  1. Not that i want to be rude but i clearly do not see the logic, irony or sense of the story, not only does the writer manages to capture peoples attention but she waffles on each and everything that comes to her mind not linking whatever she writes to the subject topic. Great heading, good introduction but poor writing in the body context and conclusion need to improve otherwise its time wasting.

  2. Thembe. I think you are too intelligent for most who will read mostly those who have so far. Good article. How can I get a copy of Godins book?.

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