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Apply the Purple Cow to Your Storytelling
By Chris King

I receive a ton-load of magazines and other great reading material daily, weekly and monthly, but there is one magazine that stands out from all of the others - one that I can barely put down once it arrives. It is the "remarkable" publication, Fast Company.

So we shouldn't be surprised that the February 2003 issue included a "remarkable" essay adapted from contributing editor Seth Godin's forthcoming book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Becoming Remarkable. Godin's essay has made such a profound impact on my thinking, in the following article I am going to highlight a few of his great marketing ideas and the ways in which I feel, as storytellers, we can make them work for us and our storytelling and the marketing of our craft.

In Godin's words, "For years, marketers have talked about the `five Ps' (actually, there are more than five, but everyone picks their favorite handful): product, pricing, promotion, positioning, publicity, packaging, pass along, permission. Sound familiar? This has become the basic marketing checklist, a quick way to make sure that you've done your job. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but is used to be that if you dotted your is and paid attention to you five Ps, then you were more likely than not to succeed. No longer. It's time to add an exceptionally important new P to the list: Purple Cow.

Weird? Let me explain." He goes on to tell us about driving through France with his family and how in the beginning they were "enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing in the lovely pastures right next to the road." After awhile, however, they started ignoring the cows, because, "the new cows were just like the old cows." They became common, and "worse than common: it was boring." What a terrific metaphor for our storytelling and marketing. We need to ask ourselves, "Are we and our approach to telling so common that we have become boring? What will make us stand out from the herd and make us and our performances remarkable - like a Purple Cow would?"

Let's examine some of the questions Godin suggests asking ourselves in his list of "10 Ways to Raise a Purple Cow."

If you could choose your customers and clients, who would they be? Who would be the most profitable? Have you considered the advantages of telling in your own region instead of spending most of your time on the road and away from home? The individual fees charged and paid probably would be less, but just think of what you could accomplish with that extra time. And consider how you would fare with the lack of travel wear and tear. It is time to start catering to the people we would choose to work with if we could choose. I choose to work with the people who make it possible for me to teach my aerobics classes in the morning, tell stories in the early afternoon or evening and then sleep in my own bed at night.

What is an underserved niche market that we could dominate if we could create a program that would appeal to that market - even if it would compete with one we already offer? How about nursing homes or assisted living facilities? How about corporations and non-profits?

What if we started providing a super special service just for those clients who love us? What could it be? I already send out a free newsletter with loads of tips and ideas, but am now thinking of sending my favorite clients a free e-book that is filled with tips of ways to develop and tell their own stories.

What small or detailed practices could we make remarkable? Godin suggests getting into the habit of doing things in an "unsafe" way every time we have the opportunity. That way we'll find out what is working and what isn't. It is so easy to stay in our comfort zone. We use the same stories, network with people we already know, attend the meetings we always attend and market to the groups we know. Is it time to stop relying on PowerPoint - or using it if you never have? How about working on a type of story that fascinates you, but has always seemed to "off-the-wall?"

"Explore the limits. What if you're the cheapest, the fastest, the slowest, the hottest, the coldest, the easiest, the most efficient, the loudest, the most hated, the copycat, the outsider, the hardest, the oldest, the newest, or just the most! If there's a limit, you should (must) test it." WOW! I love this suggestion. How about being the most outrageous? Or the most organized? The most outspoken? The most challenging and unsettling to audiences?

Think small. Godin points out that the present day thinking is that what we do should appeal to the masses. What if we imagine the smallest conceivable market and create a program that overwhelms them with its remarkability?

What things are "just not done?" Once you think of them, go ahead and do them. It can almost become a way of life to do those things that are "just not done." My children learned long ago that their mother was going to do those very things, and finally they and I celebrate the differences. It certainly keeps one from ever being boring! If we perform according to all of the rules of storytelling, listeners will listen, and they may even enjoy us, but they will leave without remembering our name and usually will forget what they heard within two or three days.

Ask, "Why not?" Almost everything we don't do has no good reason for it. Almost everything we don't do is a result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, "Why not?" This goes along with the answer we so often receive when asking "Why?" and receiving the standard answer, "We've always done it that way." Certainly, this describes the common and boring brown cow.

I hope that through sharing some of the Purple Cow ideas and suggestions with you, I have sparked some ideas and actions that will help make your 2003 storytelling powerful and remarkable in all ways - and much more enjoyable for you and your listeners. Please send me your thoughts. I love getting your FEEDBACK!

The book is available at and other select locations. And, treat yourself! Subscribe to Fast Company fast! It is a Purple Cow.


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