It’s a brand new year filled with opportunity. You’ve resolved to focus your energy on writing more blog posts or maybe even publishing a book. There’s only one problem. There are thousands of people out there who’ve made the exact same New Year’s resolution as you.
The Internet is a crowded place. Every day someone writes a new blog post in your niche or publishes a new book on Amazon in your genre. In a sea of content, how can you get people to pay attention to your work?
I remember a shoe store my mom used to take me to when I was a little kid. It was called Merry-Go-Round Shoes and was quite unlike any store I’d ever been to. There was a merry-go-round in the center of the store that children could ride on.
The store also had a funny vending machine with a mechanical chicken. It looked like this. If you inserted a quarter in the vending machine, you’d receive a plastic egg with a special prize inside. (Yes, I begged my mom for quarters.)
What kid wouldn’t love a shoe store like that? Whenever my brother and I needed new shoes, we’d always ask our mom to take us there. Sometimes we’d even ask her to take us there when we didn’t need new shoes.
I’m sure that there were lots of other shoe stores near where we lived that carried the exact same shoes as Merry-Go-Round. But the owners of Merry-Go-Round had flexed their creative muscle and found a way to make their store unique and unforgettable.
In order to capture people’s attention on the Internet, we have to do the same thing. We have to look for ways that we can make our writing and marketing strategies stand out so that we don’t get lost in the crowd. Seth Godin coined the term “purple cow” (Amazon affiliate link) to describe this principle.
What is the Purple Cow Principle?
In a 2003 TED talk, Godin explained,
…My parable here is you’re driving down the road and you see a cow, and you keep driving because you’ve seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring. Who’s going to stop and pull over and say — “Oh, look, a cow.” Nobody.
But if the cow was purple…you’d notice it for a while. I mean, if all cows were purple you’d get bored with those, too. The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is: “Is it remarkable?” And “remarkable” is a really cool word, because we think it just means “neat,” but it also means “worth making a remark about.”
Now, the purple cow principle doesn’t mean you have to do something crazy to get attention. In an article in The Guardian, Godin clarified, “Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable. Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won’t accomplish as much. It’s easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful.”
Rather, implementing the purple cow principle means looking for ways that you can be remarkable in order to ensure long-term success, not just fifteen minutes of Internet fame.
This starts, of course, with crafting excellent content that you can be proud of. Excellent content will always stand out in a sea of mediocrity.
Second, it means looking for ways that you can draw on your unique skills and strengths to innovate on standard marketing strategies when you package your content and promote it.
For example, blog posts with a lead photo are usually read and shared more than blog posts that don’t have a lead photo. Thus, nearly every blog post nowadays has a lead photo. But some bloggers, who have an artistic bent, take this to the next level by using their own photos or hand-drawn illustrations rather than stock photos. That’s one way they make their content memorable.
You can also make your work stand out in more subtle ways, like simply changing a few lines of copy on your website. Read on to find out what happened when I did that earlier this month.
How I Used the Purple Cow Principle to Skyrocket My Email Conversion Rate
Recently, I wanted to update the email pop-up form on my website. I’d checked my analytics and noticed it wasn’t performing very well.
A pop-up form is one of those email sign-up forms that “pop-up” on the screen when you visit a website. Usually, you have to enter your email or close the form to continue scrolling.
Pop-ups are incredibly effective at reminding a visitor to subscribe, but they can also be annoying and intrusive. You don’t want to have multiple pop-ups on your site or create a pop-up that a visitor can’t click out of.
On my website, I have a slide-in pop-up form. It appears discreetly in the bottom right-hand corner of the website and doesn’t prevent the visitor from continuing to scroll and read a blog post. It’s been a few years since I edited the pop-up so I knew it was time for an update.
First, I decided to change the pop-up’s timing. Previously, I’d had the pop-up appear after about 30 seconds. This is what most websites do, but I wanted to try something different. I felt that this wasn’t giving a visitor enough time to look around my website, read an article, get to know me, and reach the point where they were ready to subscribe.
After all, who wants to be virtually yelled at with a pop-up when they first land on a website?
I checked my Google analytics account to see what was the average length of time that someone visited my website. It was about four minutes so I timed my pop-up to appear after two minutes.
And then it was time to tackle the copy. This is what my original pop-up looked like. It says, “Get the free eBook: Famous Writers’ Productivity Hacks. Join the mailing list to receive a free copy of the eBook + the writing newsletter.”
Yes, that copy definitely needed to be stronger. I thought about writing something like, “Want to boost your writing productivity? Get the free eBook, Famous Writers’ Productivity Hacks”. That’s the type of copy that most Internet marketers use on their sign-up forms.
But then I realized that people probably see hundreds of pop-ups like that every day. We’re getting bombarded with all kinds of freebies when we visit websites. How could I make mine stand out?
In order for my new pop-up to be unlike most pop-ups you see on the web, I decided to try injecting a little warmth and personality. My goal was for it not to look like an ad.
Here’s what my new pop-up looks like (if you haven’t seen it already):
Now it says, “Hey there! Can I send you a gift? I just wanted to say hi and thanks for stopping by my little corner of the web. 🙂 I’d love to offer you a cup of tea, but, alas, this is the Internet. However, I think you’ll love my eBook ‘Famous Writers’ Productivity Hacks’. It’s filled with the strategies of writers like Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, and many others. Can I send you a free copy? You’ll also get my writing newsletter right in your inbox. Just sign up below.”
Yes, it’s a little wordy. But it captures my personality so much better than the first pop-up. It creates a much more human connection with my visitors and hopefully makes them smile when they read it.
My original pop-up had a 0.6% conversion rate. The new pop-up right now is hovering around 5%. Wow, that’s a huge increase!
Of course, it’s a little difficult to track because someone who visits the site and sees a pop-up might already be a subscriber or subscribe through a different form. And this pop-up also hasn’t yet been shown to as many people as the first one has, but so far the conversion rate seems to be holding steady.
To be honest, I was afraid that no one would subscribe through the new pop-up since the copy was so different compared to what usually “works” on the web. Thus, any sign-ups through that form I’m considering a success. 😉
I’m planning to continue experimenting and split test it (create two pop-ups with slightly different copy and see which one performs better), but right now I’m very happy with the results.
Best of all, I believe that the copy on this new pop-up will attract people who genuinely want to be on my email list and read my blog posts and aren’t only after the freebie.
Ultimately, when you use the purple cow principle in your marketing, you attract the people who truly resonate with your personality, writing style, and message while filtering out those who don’t.
How will you implement the purple cow principle in your marketing efforts and writing this year? What steps can you take to make your work stand out on the Internet?
Maybe you can put a different spin on a topic everyone is writing about. Or maybe you can try updating your blog’s design. Or rewriting your bio or about page. Or astounding your readers with your generosity and creating incredible free resources for them.
Let me know in the comments how you will experiment with the purple cow principle this week. 🙂
As you craft your content and marketing strategy this year, keep the words of the famous adman Leo Burnett in mind,
Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.
Then you will truly be on your way to creating a purple cow that will delight and captivate your audience.
P. S. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to increase your online audience and grow your email list, make sure to get a copy of my newly mini-course How to Grow Your Email List: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers. It will give you a blueprint for creating a powerful brand strategy and effective marketing plan this year.