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A Brief Essay Stretched into a Short Book
on 4 June 2004
Purple Cow is probably the most overrated business book published in 2003.
Let me save you money and time. Read the summary below rather than buying and reading this book:
Marketing should begin with a differentiated product or service that gets attention (like a purple cow does among a field of brown ones). Be sure that those who care deeply about that differentiation learn about your product or service (as Krispy Kreme does by providing free donuts when it opens a new store). Those who care will e-mail and tell everyone they know (the ideavirus concept Mr. Godin has written about before). Keep adding new differentiated enhancements to your product or service (pretty soon you don't find a purple cow so interesting). Start looking for totally new business models that provide a breakthrough like your first purple cow did. Don't waste your time and money on advertising. Alternatively, it's dangerous not to do this because your product or service will be lost among all of the other brown cows (undifferentiated offerings).
I congratulate Mr. Godin on his marketing skill. Turning these few old saws with a few new examples into a best seller is outstanding marketing. Otherwise, I would grade this book as a one star effort. It will only be of value to those who have never read anything about the power of business model innovation. To learn how to do successful business model innovation, you will have to look elsewhere. I was particularly disappointed that he relied on examples that are so old. Starbucks, HBO and Krispy Kreme, for instance, haven't done a business model innovation in years. Only the JetBlue example is recent. Yet the world is full of new examples he could have talked about.
Actually, the book's key metaphor is flawed. While a purple cow (like the title and cover of this book) will certainly get your attention (and may get you to spend a few dollars to investigate it), is there really anyone out there who wants an actual purple cow because it provides any value other than uniqueness? The example reminds me of the old-time professional wrestler, Gorgeous George, who always wore purple and used that color in everything he owned (including his car and turkeys on his ranch near Yucaipa, California). Yes, the purple attracted your attention . . . but unless you liked his wrestling, that one glance was the end of it. I remember driving to his ranch to see a purple turkey, but never went back. Actually, the charity cows that are painted and decorated by different artists and then auctioned off in different cities would have made a better metaphor for this book.
Like much of what pretends to be new and different in business books today, this book is simply dressed up on modern clothes and new terms. I suggest you read Strategy Maps, the Innovator's Solution and Corporate Creativity if you want to learn how create these changes successfully in a company.
As I finished the book, I began to realize that much of what is wrong with business gurus today is that they love to tell their own ideas . . . but are seldom willing to do the hard work necessary to locate and measure how to do what they espouse. It made me realize that I should always "walk my talk to teaching people how to do what I encourage them to do."