Good service is the new “Purple Cow”

Being a purple cow is great if you want to get attention, but don’t expect anyone to drink your milk.

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin and his book Purple Cow, but so many credit union marketers have misinterpreted the point of the book as “be different” when the actual advice is “be remarkable.”

The titular example Mr. Godin gives to introduce the book doesn’t help:

“When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling about how beautiful everything was.

Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring.

Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring.

A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while.)”

He concludes that it should be the goal of every marketer to add “Purple Cow” to the 4 “P”s of marketing to make sure our traditional advertisements don’t vanish in a sea of brown cows.

But is our goal to simply get attention? It’s humorous that the example of a cow is used because cows produce milk – a near commodity product which generally relies upon homogenization for sales. One would think twice about drinking milk from abnormally muscular or fragile cow, let alone a purple one. Moreover, you can differentiate by being a purple cow, but you can also differentiate by being a brown parrot. Different is not always better. The little quirks and oddities which make a new airline or gadget appealing can become liabilities when talking about milk or money. We all want to trust our milk.

In banking, it’s easy to spot a few true purple cows – remarkable companies which are looking at our industry in exciting new ways and making inroads against traditional banks by inventing new technology, simplifying processes, or creating exciting brands. But then again, it’s easy to miss traditional banks and credit unions making the same inroads by being really great at doing the simple things larger banks ignore. In fact, while having an exciting brand or an uncommon way of doing things might appeal to early adopters, the masses are simply looking for accessible branches, good rates, and good service. And this is where “purple cow” marketing is hurting credit unions.

In the book, Godin says “Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable.” It seems that, in 2003 when Purple Cow was written, plain old good service and rates weren’t remarkable enough to get you ahead. Certainly not when your brand had to be different enough to stand out among the loud advertisements of industry leaders. But the modern shopper uses the internet to find businesses, and frequently reads online reviews before making buying decisions.

Consider a consumer who is moving to a new city. She will likely search something like “CityName Credit Unions” or “Banks in CityName” when investigating local services. So “Purple Cow Credit Union” is already at a disadvantage.  Then, if the consumer is like 78% of Americans, she’ll make her buying decision, at least in part, based on online reviews. Know what’s remarkable in the financial industry? Being a financial institution people actually trust and enough to write a positive review.

Credit unions are not just different, but remarkable when they:

  • Are transparent: Wall Street works behind closed doors. Transparency is remarkable.
  • Pay dividends: Profiteering defines our industry. Dividends are remarkable.
  • Promote annual meetings: Imposition and compliance are status quo. Participation and cooperation are remarkable.
  • Provide great service: Apathy is rampant in banking. Service is remarkable.

In the end, instead of asking if we’re a purple cow, we should be asking if our milk tastes better. With the help of consumer voices online, remarkable service is all the differentiation we need.

I never saw a Purple Cow,

I never hope to see one;

But I can tell you, anyhow,

I’d rather see than be one.

Galett Burgess – 1895

Bradley Blue

Bradley Blue

No matter what Brad were to say about himself in this bio, it would be easy to find the truth about him with a simple google search. This applies to ... Details