Seth Godin: Nobody makes a purple cow by sticking with what’s safe

Yesterday’s over. Being different is what’s going to help you win tomorrow – not simply repeating your previous success.

A century ago, Henry Ford made headlines with what seemed like an outrageous decision to double minimum wage. Instead of the standard $2.34, Ford workers would take home an unprecedented $5 for each working day.

It was a great move for the brand, as its workers were suddenly able to afford its products. However, Seth Godin – the legendary marketer, author and speaker who delivered the opening keynote at ClickZ Live New York this morning – pointed out that you can’t just make one great decision and then coast on it. Because the world never stops changing.

“The idea of the assembly line is that we codify the work. We figure it out step-by-step and figure out what [workers] did yesterday to make the KPIs go up and make things more efficient,” said Godin, adding that managers inevitably want more.

“The challenge of that four-letter word is simple. Mass leads to average products for average people,” he continued. “If you want to reach everyone, you better have something everyone wants to buy, which leads to average, which means the same thing as mass.”

Opening keynote with Seth Godin @alt_MBA #CZLNY

— Tetyana (@mitetyana) April 12, 2016

The point there is that just because something worked, doesn’t mean you should just stick with it indefinitely.

Ford is still around today because the brand didn’t achieve success and then rest on its laurels. Ford recognized that having the best factory is ultimately not what brought on the brand’s prosperity.

“You don’t win because you have the better factory,” said Godin. “You win because you were connected because people were loyal, because people are interested in hearing you.”

Godin added that all of the brands who have thrived in the last decade or so hasn’t followed the status quo of what’s worked for brands in the past. The Airbnbs, Zappos and Lululemons of the world have, instead, focused on being purple cows.

The title of one of Godin’s 18 books, the term “purple cow” refers to the idea that you can drive through Texas and see thousands of cows, not noticing any of them. But if you see a purple cow, you’ll not only look twice, but probably stop your car to Instagram it.

“You know what a purple cow is? Remarkable. You know what that is? Something worth making a remark about,” said Godin. “Almost all marketing pain is caused by organizations who don’t have the guts to make something remarkable, instead trying to use money to solve a problem.”

The thing that’s remarkable isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But it’s going to appeal to the right people. For example, there are roads everywhere, but people still fly out to Hawaii and pay thousands of dollars to participate in the Ironman. Why? They feel like they’re a part of the tribe.

To put this example visually, Godin said that nobody gets a Suzuki tattoo. (On Twitter, someone commented that actually, yes, they do, but the Harley-Davidson logo generally adorns far more people’s bodies.)

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Closing out his keynote, Godin put one of his favorite photos onscreen. It shows the attendees of a long-ago Solvay Conference, a periodic meeting for the best and brightest in the world of physics. People in the photo included Albert Einstein and Marie Curie; 17 of the 29 people pictured have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

“You didn’t get invited [to the Solvay Conference] because you won the Nobel Peace Prize. You won the Nobel Peace Prize because you got invited,” said Godin. “You need to be in the room where it happens and then you get to decide what to do about it.”

What you can do is stop being afraid and just do something different. You can choose to redefine your industry, rather than being a cog in the system. And you can choose to matter.

“You have the dials, the levers, the trust and the privilege to take responsibility,” said Godin. “What people are saying to you, as clearly as they can, is they need you to lead them.”