One of my first aha! moments as a brand manager came years ago, by way of a book by Seth Godin called Purple Cow. That little book — still Godin’s best, in my opinion — hammered home a basic but essential theme for marketers: To be successful, businesses and their brands need to stand out among the competition.
I think about Godin’s book and its core lesson from time to time. I thought about it again recently as I was thumbing through a certain magazine’s annual college rankings edition. The pages of this publication were stuffed with ads from colleges and universities hoping to reach the students who read these rankings.
Unfortunately for these institutions, none of them stood out to me. (Disclaimer: I am not the target audience, so take my opinion for what it’s worth.) As my eyes skimmed over the ads, page after page, I was struck by how non-distinctive and unoriginal they were. The photos, the ad copy, the headlines — all were interchangeable, with the exception of the institution’s name, logo and school-branded apparel the ad models were wearing.
There was not a purple cow in the bunch.
Check out this list of phrases (taglines, mostly) from some of the ads in this publication. Can you tell which college or university is making which claim?
- A place where you can make a difference
- Our graduates are ready to lead
- The quality of a private campus with the affordability of a public university
- Transforming lives. Inspiring excellence.
- Transforming Lives. Inspiring Greatness.
- See possibility
- Where opportunity meets excellence
- Make the choice that will change your life
- Find your passion. Build your future.
Moo. Moo, moo, moo, moo, moo.
Maybe it’s time we revisit Godin’s purple cow concept. Here’s the uptake, from the FastCompany article Godin wrote to help promote the book.
Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be well-bred cows, Six Sigma cows, cows lit by a beautiful light, but they are still boring. A Purple Cow, though: Now, that would really stand out. The essence of the Purple Cow — the reason it would shine among a crowd of perfectly competent, even undeniably excellent cows — is that it would be remarkable. Something remarkable is worth talking about, worth paying attention to. Boring stuff quickly becomes invisible.
Granted, it’s tough to stand out among the thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. alone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Is there a purple cow at your institution? If so, bring it out of hiding and into plain view, and let people start talking about it.
Image via The Sales Lion.