Why Purple Cow Still Has Legs

Last month, a man walked up to me after a talk I gave and asked me about my being a Purple Cow. I was flattered. It’s been several years since Seth Godin selected my agency to be a Purple Cow–firms that “make their clients remarkable.”

The Purple Cow brand celebrates pioneers who take their people and clients down roads less traveled. When we learned we were chosen, I remember popping for a purply sushi feast and more wine than was prudent. We felt validated.

Truth be told, being a Purple Cow can be exhausting. Clients chicken out. Employees need constant bucking up. You walk away from certain kinds of business, despite the panicky looks from your bookkeeper. You’re always trading comfort for creativity. The upside? Freedom, peace of mind, pride of workmanship. Much, much more.

The Purple Cow designation has proven to be a classic. It still has legs. Who knew?

Back in 2003, Seth Godin wasn’t Seth Godin. Sure, he was an important business author. Today, he’s a mega-watt luminary and heir apparent to Tom Peters‘ pulpit. I’d like to argue that the Purple Cow brand was an enduring hit for reasons other than it’s inventor’s celebrity. That’s because the concept has two main ingredients–something old and something new.

Old: A symbol. Symbols are visual and have been used to communicate meaning as far back as cave drawings. Imagery is engaging shorthand. It immediately conjures a picture in our minds. And it’s translatable; symbols make impact with a picture. Any graphic designer worth their salt will tell you that animal imagery is especially useful since it’s open-ended and comic: AFLAC duck, Energizer bunny, GEICO gecko.

New: Collaborative format. In the emerging culture, collaboration is how we’ll work. Almost every aspect of the Purple Cow brand has been a collaboration. The Big Moo, published in 2005 as a follow up to the first Purple Cow book, was a collaboration of 33 of the world’s best business minds. In similar fashion, I remember our team having to apply for Purple Cow consideration online. We took it very seriously. We haiku-ed the application’s 50 word limit like a pack of Scrabble nerds. Collaboration is what makes participation platforms so powerful, fun even. And it ensures a “pimp your peeps” dynamic whereby the collaborators bring their micro-audiences with them.

The old + new remix is hot. People want to cling to what’s familiar. Now more than ever. But they fear they’ll miss the boat as things transform. So, they want what’s now. Give ’em both.
I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one,
But I can tell you any how,
I’d rather be than see one.


photo by Linda Cronin