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Mackenzie Wortham
Posted by Mackenzie WorthamMarch 7, 2018 10:49 AM

It’s been 15 years since one of our favorite marketing minds, Seth Godin, taught us about the value of being a purple cow among a field of brown cows.

“The world is full of boring stuff,” Seth writes. “That’s why so few people pay attention. Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service.”

The remarkable marketers that Seth refers to are the “purple cows” of the world. These are the brands that have attained remarkability through products that stand out among their competition. Often times, the thing that makes them stand out is the intangible value they provide – the value that can’t be seen or touched but felt by their customers. And intangible value that comes through marketing, not product attributes.

15 years later, Seth’s message continues to inspire marketers like us every day to ask: “are we being a purple cow?”

So why become a purple cow?

This is a fascinating concept for fresh produce marketers because let’s face it, there are a whole lot of competitors who are growing and selling the exact same products that you grow and sell. As a fresh produce marketer, you have the exciting opportunity to create intangible value through your marketing efforts. You have the opportunity to become the purple cow marketer in a field of brown cows.

Here’s the truth: You can be a brown cow marketer and have a perfectly successful career in this industry. You don’t have to have a stand-out consumer brand in order to sell your products. That can be one of the blessings of being in the fresh produce business – but it can also be a curse. Your products will sell with or without becoming the “purple cow” of your category, but that doesn’t mean remarkable marketing won’t turn the dial for your company as the industry moves more and more away from being commodity-centric.

Plus, your biggest competitor might decide to be the purple cow. What then?

Creating intangible value

Intangible value, or perceived value comes from brands that have created meaning. There are many ways to do this, but an appropriate example from Rory Sutherland’s TED talk comes to mind: To prevent a famine and convince his people to consume more potatoes, a king decreed the potato a royal crop and put guards around the potato fields to keep people out! The result? The perception of the potato’s worth completely changed and people even began to sneak into the fields to steal potatoes.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is a viable marketing strategy for a fresh produce company, but I am suggesting that fresh produce marketers need to ponder on ways to create perceived meaning behind their brand so that a consumer wants to choose YOUR brand on the shelf over your competitor’s.

Here are a few steps you can take to creating intangible value and become a purple cow marketer:

  • Identify something that makes your brand different. (Hint: it’s not quality or value, your competitors are saying the same thing!)
  • If you can’t identify something that makes your brand truly different, create something. Try creating a cheeky, hilarious voice like Wendy’s. Or perhaps your brand supports a worthy cause that can win shoppers over. Maybe you want to become a resource for French cooking because your company’s family has ties to France. OR you could partner with a celebrity or influencer to generate the “royal potato” effect.
  • Once you’ve identified your something special, consistently sprinkle it throughout ALL of your marketing efforts. We’re talking your website, your promotions, your social media presence and even your packaging need to communicate your “something” so that you stand out among competitors.

Being purple is worth the investment

In Seth Godin’s Fast Company piece, he addresses a common objection marketers or their company’s leadership has to these ideas: Times are tough, we need to play it safe. We can’t afford to be a purple cow. Working in the fresh produce industry, we understand this because we know margins are thin. But Seth also points out that when times are good, those same people will say “relax, take it easy. There’s no need to innovate.”

You have two choices: you can play it safe and gamble that your competition will do the same. Or you can be the purple cow that creates brand value that contributes to the health and wealth of your business. Which will you choose?

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