In my ongoing effort to be my own boss, I’ve been reading some books on business and marketing. In my latest read, Purple Cow, Seth Godin argues that the only way to sell a product in today’s overcrowded marketplace to be remarkable. I noticed that some of his ideas about business success parallel nicely with fitness success. For those of us trying to improve our physical selves, a cow is probably the last thing we want to be. But trust me, Seth’s “Purple Cow” is a good thing. Give it a chance!
In Seth’s book, a “Purple Cow” is something remarkable, something that gets people talking. Seth argues that Purple Cows are the only way businesses can succeed in a world where television and mass marketing are no longer the most successful ways to reach an audience.
The fitness industry is full of Purple Cows, diets and books that do something remarkable, be it remarkably extreme, cheap, lazy, high energy, or high cost. For example:
- Atkins – Atkins gained widespread popularity in 2003 and is STILL talked about as THE low-carb diet of reference.
- Body for Life – An extreme 12-week diet and fitness regime where the ultimate goal is more than to just lose weight, it’s to be totally transformed into a musclebound badass.
- Spinning – Take a boring exercise bike and add high-energy music and bouncy instructors and you get a workout that fills classes at gyms all over the world.
The cool thing about reading books like Purple Cow is that it gives me some insight into what makes companies like these tick. When you look at it from a business perspective, it’s much easier to understand why diet fads don’t work and why the only true key to fitness success is to be remarkable (i.e. a Purple Cow) as an individual. Yes! Purple Cow ideas apply as much to individuals as they do to businesses, and we can use some the same approaches that made Atkins so great to make ourselves even greater. Here are a few of those ideas that seem especially relevant to us fitness geeks.
Stop following the leader
The reason it’s so hard to follow the leader is this: The leader is the leader because he did something remarkable. And that remarkable thing is now taken – it’s no longer remarkable when you do it.
Anyone who’s been on Atkins or Body for Life will tell you that they are not sustainable diets (so much for the “for life” part). Stop chasing diets that won’t work for the long haul.
Awareness is not the point
People know that they need to eat better and exercise more. If that’s true, then why do so many people struggle with their weight? If diet and exercise isn’t the answer, what is?
The will and the way
What’s missing isn’t the knowledge to know how to get fitter. It’s the will to do so.
Many people will say that they don’t know how. That may or may not be true. The point is – if you have the will you’ll find the way that works for you.
The problem with being a Purple Cow…
… is actually a problem with fear.
If eating well and doing exercise was such an easy and effective way to be fit, why aren’t more people doing it?
Fitness is rare because people are afraid. Seth attributes this fear to criticism from others. With health and fitness, fear is a bit more complex than that, but the effect is the same: we do nothing.
We often respond to our aversion to criticism by hiding, avoiding the negative feedback, and thus (ironically) guarunteeing that we won’t succeed! If the only way to cut through is to be remarkable, and the only way to avoid critciism is to be boring and safe, well, that’s quite a choice, isn’t it?
Being safe is risky
When I was working a desk job, most people I worked with ate lunch at their desks in less than 5 minutes while reading BBC news and then promptly went back to work. They thought this would make them more successful at their jobs. Many of these people also skipped dinner in favor of the pub because that’s the norm for some workplaces.
Playing it safe. Following the rules. Those seem like the best ways to avoid failure…Alas, these rules set a pattern for most people, and that pattern is awfully dangerous. These are the rules that ultimately lead to failure.
Safe is risky. How risky? Diabetes. Heart disease. Metabolic syndrome. Need I say more?
If that’s true, how do we break out of safe patterns and do something different?
The process and the plan
There’s good news and bad news here.
Is there a fool proof way to get fit? Not really.
The eventual slowdown of almost every Purple Cow company indicates that there’s no rule book listing things that always produce. That’s one reason that seeing the insight of the Cow is so difficult.
There is no plan, but there is a process: go for the edges. Challenge yourself to find out what those edges are and test which edge is most likely to deliver results. When running gets boring, try swimming. Sick of egg white omelets? Switch to oatmeal. Fitness is a life-long process of changing and adapting. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
It’s this process that makes The Purple Cow so remarkable.
The power of a slogan
According to Seth, “a slogan that accurately conveys the essence of your Purple Cow is a script.” When it comes to products, the slogan is the product itself – Tiffany’s blue box, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Apple’s industrial design.
What does this have to do with fitness? A slogan can serve as a personal mantra, a credo, a handy catchphrase to remind us what all this health stuff means to us. Look at a few slogans for some cool health bloggers out there:
- Because fitness isn’t about fitting in (MizFit)
- Unleash your inner badass (Fitness Fixation)
- Healthy living for busy people (The Office Diet)
All these slogans do a great job of summing up what that blogger is all about. What’s your health and fitness mantra? What’s your goal? Think about it. Write it down. Put it on the fridge. The is your swift kick in the behind whenever you need a little motivation.
The art of projecting
What if you simply don’t care? Seth talks about marketers who have to sell a product they just can’t get passionate about. But he argues that people who aren’t passionate about what they’re selling won’t do a good job. Similarly, people who aren’t passionate about eating well and doing exercise are going to quit after a few weeks. Is it possible to learn to care?
You don’t need passion to create a Purple Cow. Nor do you need an awful lot of creativity. What you need is the insight to realize that you have no other choice but to grow your business or launch your product with Purple Cow thinking. Not
hing else is going to work.
Seth offers two techniques: learn the art of projection, get inside the heads of people who do care deeply and imagine what they’d do. Or, learn the science of projecting. Build a discipline of learning, trying new things, seeing what happens, and doing it again. Chances are you do care about something, you just need to find out what works for you.
Dieters No Longer: Now We are… SmarterFitter?
Seth argues that marketers must now be designers. I argue that dieters must now simply be smarter. There is no script for getting fit, and the only way to do it is to become immersed in the process. Learn. Be critical. Read books about food and physiology. Learn how to cook. Experiment with recipes. Try new exercises until you find something you like. And when that gets boring, learn a few more. Don’t stop until you die. (This is the true body for life!)
Yo body is yo business!
My goal in Purple Cow is to make it clear that it’s safer to be risky – to fortify your desire to do truly amazing things. Once you see that the old ways have nowhere to go but down, it becomes even more imperative to create things worth talking about.
Seth’s book may be all about Aeron chairs and Volkswagon beetles, but there’s a lot here for anyone who has wanted to do something remarkable but was afraid to try. You can even use Seth’s business rules to free yourself from businesses (i.e. faddish diets) themselves. Screw diets, useless products, marketing hype, and other corporate garbage. Be your own fitness guru. Or, as Seth says, be a Purple Cow.
You don’t need a book about creativity or brainstorming or team building…You don’t need more time or even more money. You just need the realization that a brand new business paradigm [a brand new you?] is now in charge, and once you accept the reality of the Cow, finding one suddenly gets much easier.