Purple Cows

A client of mine invited me to drinks and a talk he was hosting near Trafalgar Square last summer. I agreed, thinking maybe it would be a good networking opportunity, would keep my client happy and it was hardly out of my way considering Indigo is based in the City. At the same time I was concerned that the event would be a terrible bore with endless chat about how expensive it is to get on the property ladder, the general theme of most conversations with strangers at dinner parties, cocktail parties and any other event where twenty-to-thirty-somethings are in a room with a luke-warm glass of non-descript white wine in the hand. So I decided to bring along a friend, and at that time, colleague, Dickie, a fun guy with a slightly odd gun obsession (he is in the Great Britain Rifle Team, not a Brixton yardie, just in case you were worrying about my taste in friends) as protection from such boredom, being able to fall back to his position should such a conversation start to rear its ugly head.

We traipsed into the venue on a hot sticky evening, dismayed to find out we had to pay an entry fee and made me wonder whether my cynical view of this event could ever be dispelled. Within five minutes an odd thing happened. We were talking to this South African guy, an accountant (I remember because we ended up doing a job for his firm), who had been on the Indigo Clothing website in the past and seemed genuinely interested in what we were up to. After about 2 minutes into the conversation I realised I had forgotten to introduce Dickie. To my astonishment the South African turned to him and said with out any prompting,
“Oh so you are the Dickie that shoots for Great Britain and wanders around the Indigo office, shirt untucked, hitting Tim sporadically with a toy light sabre left over from a BUPA marketing conference.”
I think my jaw actually dropped open, in a cartoon fashion.
“How did you know that?” I exclaimed.
“I read your blog,” he replied simply.

The evening wore on but this conversation left an impression on me that from this day I have never shed. The point of the Indigo blog was to personify the company, to have a quirky medium for publishing news and to go beyond the ‘press-release’ model of marketing. This was all well and good in theory but to meet a stranger who knows about you and the inner workings of your company was a great affirmation that I wasn’t wasting my time typing about what staff were doing and what websites we were reading.

The talk later that evening was given by the US marketing guru Seth Godin. Seth is very American, bald and short, but talks in a confident, punchy way, peppering his talk with funny anecdotes. He talked specifically about one of his books, ‘Purple Cow‘ (available at all good bookstores). The point of a ‘purple cow’ is it is remarkable. In a field of black and white cows it stands out. And so he argues so should your business have a remarkable element, something that defines the product, service or brand that makes it shine out from mediocrity. For Indigo our purple cow (excuse the pun) is our use of the Internet. The blogging story earlier was not a piece of self-aggrandisement but an example of how our blog has given us an ‘edge’ in a market full of product catalogue pages and second-rate clothing models.

What interests me is what other purple cows exist and are going to appear in our Printwear and Promotion industry. Some companies like Continental Clothing with their sexy models and slick catalogues are clearly onto something. Their brand makes a difference from a Fruit of the Loom catalogue and both companies (like us) and end users stand up and take notice. As for the clothing wholesalers there is little to differentiate them yet. Their brands are so similar, with similar catalogues and even more similar products. I can’t wait for one of them to start being different! Perhaps give away free catalogues rather than charging for them, come up with unique product lines, invent different pricing strategies, even have staff who sound enthusiastic about their job? I have heard colleagues in the advertising industry sneer at our end of the market. We aren’t TV, nor Radio and not New-Media so they don’t credit us with much respect. It is time the marketing snobs had something to notice down our end of the market. Let’s see more purple cows. It is good for business.

[Note: This article was written for a future edition of Printwear and Promotion, a trade publication. Alex is a regular contributor]

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