The Nonprofit Bookshelf: 5 Takeaways from Purple Cow

As a team focused on creating measurable social impact, we’re constantly thinking about ways to improve and innovate our strategies as the social climate continues to shift. Finding the best ways of utilizing the “whole whale” (shameless plug) means leveraging all of the tools at our disposal to create positive differences for our clients. One of our favorite methods of using the whole whale?  Reading books by Seth Godin.

Purple Cow, a company favorite by Godin, focuses on moving away from traditional marketing tactics. Godin reviews why they no longer work, as well as ways to pivot into new, more innovative strategies. Packed with theories, tips, and case studies, Purple Cow does a great job of not only providing the framework for innovative change, but also providing powerful lessons to keep in mind when planning campaigns.

I know what you’re thinking: How does Seth Godin apply to the social impact world? While this book focuses on marketing, the ideas can be mapped onto any situation where we want to affect change. In this spirit, we’ve pulled out our five biggest takeaways that can be applied more broadly to the social impact space.


1. Think outside the box

Those of us working in the social impact space have the luxury of being in a field that lends itself well to creativity. We get to know how people think, understand their behaviors, and can get special insight into their needs and wants. We can use this to our advantage (for good!) and  explore any number of avenues to meet the needs of the people we are working to serve, leaving ample room for creative thinking.

Consider your own identity (Outsider? Oldest? Newest?) and all of the tools you have available; think about different ways they can be used to help serve a greater purpose. As Godin writes, “If there’s a limit, you should (must) test it”.


2. Be flexible and take (strategic) risks

When you’re creating the (numerous) aspects of your social impact strategy, it’s easy to set a foundational road map and run with it, especially if you’ve seen it work in the past. While it’s great to have a compass, it’s important to be able to assess the current climate of the industry (audience behavior, market trends, etc.) and adjust your path accordingly.

For example, we’ve seen legacy organizations struggle to catch up in the digital era because they are focused on using older, tried-and-true methods of engaging their audience. In Purple Cow, Godin illustrates how the traditional Ps that marketers had used for decades — pricing, promotion, publicity, packaging — were no longer working the way they used to. What’s more, they left little room for new tricks. Being flexible means strategically taking risks —  industry data and trends are great tools to inform the new methods you try.


3. Keep your finger on the pulse of your industry

In order to find out which tactics to try, you must know what your audience needs. What are they talking about? How are they talking about it? What trends are you noticing? By keeping your finger on the pulse, you stay in tune with your target audiences and learn the best ways to rally them behind your cause. For example, if your goal is to engage 18-24 year olds, you wouldn’t use a direct mail campaign to get your message in front of them. You’d meet them where they are: social media.

By keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry, you stay in tune with your target audiences and learn the best ways to rally them behind your cause.Click To Tweet

4. Think along the lines of innovation

Consider what other organizations that are similar to yours are doing well. Think about how you can improve what’s already been done and how you can be the best at it. Identify how you can be a pain killer rather than a vitamin (in other words, something somebody needs vs. something that’s nice to have). Godin suggests marketers “identify a competitor who’s generally regarded as at the edges, and outdo them.”


5. Be remarkable

The “purple cow” is a reference to anything that’s “exciting, phenomenal and counterintuitive”. A purple cow would stand out in a sea of boring, brown cows and be something that consumers will not only take notice but pay attention to (emphasis on pay). Consider the ways in which your organization stands out from others that have a similar cause as you. Then, use that uniqueness to your advantage.


What book should we read next at Whole Whale? Tweet us your recommendations @WholeWhale with the hashtag #NonprofitBookshelf!