Purple Cows and Free Prizes – Seth Godin’s Marketing Insights

A few years back I stumbled across a wonderful little book called Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin.   The book introduced me to Seth Godin and his unique insights into the art and science of marketing and of spreading ideas.    That in turn lead me to reading his  ebook  “Unleashing the Idea Virus” and to the rest of his work  and finally to  his blog –  “Seth Godin’s riffs on marketing, respect, and the ways ideas spread.”    Even though Free Prize Inside was published many years ago, it is still a  classic with great nuggets of wisdom that are applicable to any business even today.

Free Prize continues from where Godin’s earlier book Purple Cow left off.  A “purple cow”  is something so remarkable that people are compelled to talk about it and tell others about it (“Have you ever seen a purple cow? I saw one the  other day”).  In other words your product’s inherent design or attributes itself make it viral.  Free Prize tells you how to make your product into a  “purple cow”  – how to make it remarkable.    Conventional marketing has relied too long on direct advertising – which Godin calls “interruption marketing”.   A far more effective and often cheaper way to get customer attention and interest is using “free prizes” which is another phrase for “soft innovation”.   These are the little attributes or extras tacked on to products that make the product more attractive – the classic example, of course being the “free prize”  packed inside cereal boxes – which makes  even the mundane act of buying and opening a box of cereal  an exciting one full of anticipation for millions of children (and maybe some adults).  This in turn earns their loyalty the next time the family goes grocery shopping.  The value of that little trinket  packed into cereal boxes is not much and may seem  like a gimmick but its impact and ROI in terms of marketing is substantial.  There are many other examples of soft innovations and free prizes – free shipping by Amazon,  frequent flyer miles, credit card offers,  swatch watches (a design innovation),  free wi-fi in coffee shops, and so forth.   It is also interesting to note that Godin followed his own advice – and  released the first thousand copies of this book by putting it inside a specially made cereal box.

Free Prizes do not have to cost much and everyone can offer it for their product, idea or service. All it requires is a little creative thinking and insight.   Godin introduces the concept of “edgecraft”  to come up with ideas for soft innovations.  An edge is simply a “free prize” that can make the product or service remarkable.  Once you pick an edge, Godin asks you to go  all the way to the edge  –  this is crucial and the key to success.  Here is a quote from the book:

“Go all the way to that Edge- as far from the center as the consumers you are trying to reach dare you to go.

You must go all the way to the Edge. Accepting second best doesn’t make sense. Running a restaurant where the Free Prize is your slightly attractive waitstaff won’t work- they’ve got to be supermodels or weight lifters or identical twins. You only create a Free Prize when you go all the way to the Edge and create something remarkable.”

This is the crux of Godin’s thinking and advice on how to make “purple cows”.  Taking something you know your customers would love and taking it to the Extreme.  That is what can make your product or service remarkable.  It can transform  the boring  to  exciting,  the ordinary to  extraordinary, the run-of-the-mill into the one-of-a-kind experience.

And this  made me ponder – are there any free prizes in the most popular products or services that exemplify taking an Edge to the extreme?  Here are just a few that  come to mind :

  • Apple  products offer the “free prize” of  near-flawless product design.  The Edge they have taken to the extreme is a near-perfect blend of design aesthetics and functionality.
  • Google’s free prize is the   speed and simplicity of their products.  The Google search bar is simplicity taken to the extreme.  Google search and Google instant are speed taken to the extreme.  Those are the Edges they have taken as far as possible.
  • Kindle’s free prize is its instant delivery of books and free 3G access.   They took the experience of buying a book to the extreme with instant gratification

Godin’s  book goes on to list 30  other  ideas to discover edges in your business, product or service and improve it.  And, Godin himself offers a great example of a free prize with his blog   –  in addition to the insights and pithy ideas on his blog it also has  one other remarkable attribute.  As far as I know it is updated every single day – whether it is just a couple of lines or a longer essay- there is a post every single day without fail.   Which makes it a free prize for all the subscribers to his blog – there is a nugget of wisdom waiting in their  inbox every day.

I continue to learn and be inspired by Seth Godin and his ideas and try to find the free prize to offer to customers of our products and services.  In an earlier post, I postulated that you need to be in the Top 10 of your customer’s “MindRank” to be a successful product or  brand.  And there is no better way to get there than to become a “purple cow”  – with your own “Free Prize”.  So what are you doing to make your product or service into a “purple cow”?  What is your free prize?

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