Manufacturing Purple Cows When Others Can’t


“All they care about is price.” Seth Godin reminds us that pure commodity thinking is deadly. If that’s all your customers can think about, they don’t care about anything to do with your product.

As PPC marketers wading into competitive (sometimes expensive) keyword auctions, we’re dead before we begin if we can’t suss out some so-called Unique Selling Propositions. Call it an identity. Call it differentiation. Call it a “story” (All Marketers Are Liars). Or just call it a Purple Cow.

Looking back over the long haul of efforts to win through sheer tactics, I can’t find too many businesses that have been unbendingly commodified to the point where we just throw up our hands, helpless. There have been a few. Web hosting is so bad it will make your eyes bleed if you’re a PPC marketer. Obviously, stuff like credit card deals and comparison sites will get pretty ridiculous as well. And even if you’re really good at working hard on the details — endlessly tweaking landing pages for conversion, even — you’re up against other companies that have Tim Ash or Conversion Rate Experts working on the same thing, up against obsessed PPC optimization and testing from the likes of yours truly (Page Zero Media), etc. It’s no picnic.

We were pretty impressed when one of our former clients, 50% of whose revenues came from various takes on web hosting, threw up their hands and divested all of their web hosting businesses in order focus on areas that were working, areas that weren’t so ludicrously commoditized.

Even at that, their other line of business — domain names (in various guises and areas of that industry) — is supposedly dangerously commoditized due to the well-known “GoDaddy effect.” The GoDaddy Effect has reached way beyond GoDaddy of course. Behemoths like Yahoo, various utility companies, web developers and yes hosting companies by the thousands — are all in on the act.

We certainly found that turning a profit on an $8 or $15 domain name registration wasn’t going to be a walk in the park via PPC. Over the years, we had our successes and failures in that endeavor. But the client, fortunately, kept building their unique take on their services, and an extremely loyal following. Plain and simple, what they offered was better and more tailored to the discerning customer’s needs. The sometimes-higher price point was simply a signal of that better neighborhood. And indeed, nearly 100% of the customers are buying from our client as a conscious protest against the GoDaddy’s of the world.

After years of staying the course, building great products, and telling their story in a supposed “commodity” business, this client has experienced a nice little breakout. (Their stock price is, in fact, up 82% in the past year, and business has never been better.)

Drawing out your unique qualities is almost always vitally important unless your competitors (and their agencies or in house professionals) are just stumblebums when it comes to logistics and campaign optimization. And it is almost always possible.

Like Seth says, it’s pretty rare that you can purely out-execute your industry peers by managing strictly to numbers. That is tablestakes, to be sure. But your big breakthroughs come from figuring out how people are going to react emotionally to your offering. Yes, emotionally.

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