One of my thought leader heroes is Seth Godin (see left hand column), but even superheroes have their kryptonite. As I have discussed before, one blind spot I fear that Godin has is accounting for and investing in guarding the inevitable downsides of life and business. He eloquently makes the case dramatic and unfettered pursuit of upside opportunity, but I disapprove of the negative tone he casts ‘management’ in and the degree to which he explores the notion of ‘what if it doesn’t all go to plan’.
One of his greatest notions is the concept of a ‘Purple Cow.’ A literally colourful metaphor for what Steve Jobs called ‘insanely great’ products. It is the inspiration behind Hugh MacLeod’s perhaps most ambitious art piece. He cast the notion as something being ‘remarkable’ in both the literal and the etymological sense of the word. When I coach people in business and in marketing, one of the very first concepts I make sure they understand (and one of the first marketing books I recommend) is that of the ‘Purple Cow’.
However powerful the notion of the ‘Purple Cow’ is, it is not enough to ensure the success of a venture or product. Hugh MacLeod had a great tweet on 12th August which said “"If you have a great product and you love your customers, you will succeed, end of story." I would say that is most of it, but I would add boring addendum of ‘…and mind your Ps and Qs…’
Two great examples spring to mind. First, Krispy Kreme has struggled in the northeast USA. That is a company with an outstandingly good, cult-like product (Sex in The City episode called it ‘better than sex’) with great customer love (they hand out free, hot fresh donuts to people waiting in line). Why did they fail? Their coffee was not up to scratch. Donuts are great, but in the morning, the key thing that drives people is their cup of coffee.
The second example is Chucky Cheese. An absolutely breakthrough innovation in a customer experience for kids (robot entertainment, the first public ball crawl, kind of a subsurban track-mall mini-Mac-Disney). Despite the great product (the experience) and great customer focus, they floundered in the early years. Why? Not great pizza. Behind all of the experience, the staple of the visit was pizza and that was not great. When they improved the pizza recipe, the business took off.
In the wine business, a friend of mine once said ‘People buy the label and get the wine for free.’ In Hugh’s terms, he would probably adapt this adage to ‘People buy the story and get the wine for free.’ But an insanely great story/label (like Stormhoek) would actually go nowhere if the wine were crap. Getting the fundamentals right (which is what a great manager does to guard against the downsides), empowers ones to properly execute product greatness and customer love (which is what leaders do to go get upside opportunity).
Conversely, Hugh’s book, Ignore Everybody’, does hone in on this dynamic to balance upside aspirations with grounded practicality. Sex and Cash.
Purple Cows – remarkably great donuts or kids entertainment – are compelling, but just as critical to success is minding all of the boring basics.