Q&A: Purple Cows and commodities

Earlier in this series, I wrote about the failure of Survival putting me at the end of my publishing rope, publisherless. Then I self-published Purple Cow (the original, now-out-of-print edition came in a milk carton) and the self-referential marketing, combined with great reader buzz, got me back into the good graces of the publishing world. That wasn't my goal, but in retrospect, it had a big impact on my output as an author.

Josh asks, "How do you turn something that is considered to be a commodity into a Purple Cow, when the lowest price is the only thing that seems to matter to customers?"

If you tell me that price is the only thing that matters to customers, I respond that nothing about this product matters to them.

When something matters to you, you talk about it, care about it, research it, tweak it… If all that we've got to care about is the price, then the price is the discussion, not the item itself.

Businesses have worked overtime to turn things into commodities, telling us that they sell what the other guy does, it's the same, but cheaper. No wonder we've been lulled into not caring.

Every time you say, "all they care about is price," you've just said, "they don't really care, they just want to get the buying over with, cheap."

The thing is, it doesn't have to be a commodity if you don't want it to be. It's easy to forget, but before the smartphone, cell phones were treated as a commodity as well. And that's the opportunity in every industry, in every segment, for any product or service that has become a commodity. [Edited out the Nucor reference, per insight from Professor Len Sherman.]

No, you can't magically make it interesting to all. But yes, with enough effort and care, you can find those that are interested enough if what you create that they'll choose to talk about it.

And if you can't, go make something else. Something that people will choose to care about and talk about.

We sell commodities by choice.