Purple Goldfish Strategy – Chapter 4


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[Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing excerpts as we work towards completing the manuscript for ‘What’s Your Purple Goldfish?’. Yesterday was Chapter 3 and today is a glimpse at Chapter 4]

Goldfish on the brain

OK – I’ll be the first to admit it. I am oddly preoccupied with goldfish. Mainly because the average common goldfish is 4 to 5 inches, yet the largest in the world is almost 5 times that size?

largest goldfish

5 Times Larger!!! – Imagine walking down the street and bumping into someone 20 feet tall? How can there be such a disparity between your garden variety goldfish and their monster cousins? It turns out that the growth of the goldfish is determined by 5 factors. Part of my obsession is my firm belief that the growth of a product or service is similar to that of a goldfish:

Let’s break down a ‘purple goldfish’ into two parts:

Why a goldfish?

Because the growth of a goldfish (your product or service) is affected by 5 factors:

goldfish growth five factors

1. Size of the Environment = The Market

growth of a goldfish size

GROWTH FACTOR: The size of the water the goldfish is in.

RULE OF THUMB: Direct correlation. The larger the bowl or pond, the larger the goldfish can grow. The smaller the market, the lesser the growth.

2. Number of Goldfish = Competition

growth of a goldfish competition

GROWTH FACTOR: The number of goldfish in the bowl or pond.

RULE OF THUMB: Inverse correlation. The more goldfish, the less growth. The less competition, the more growth opportunity.

3. The Quality of the Water = The Economy

growth of a goldfish water

GROWTH FACTOR: The clarity and amount of nutrients in the water.

RULE OF THUMB: Direct correlation. The better the quality, the larger they can grow. The weaker the economy or capital markets, the more difficult it is too grow.

FACT: A malnourished goldfish in a crowded, cloudy environment may only grow to 2 inches / 5 centimeters.

4. How they’re treated in the first 120 days of life = Start-up Phase / Launch

growth of a goldfish 120 days

GROWTH FACTOR: The nourishment and treatment they receive as a fry (baby goldfish).

RULE OF THUMB: Direct correlation. The lower the quality of the food / water, the more the goldfish will be stunted for future growth. The stronger the leadership and capital, the better the growth.

FACT: The difference between the largest and smallest goldfish is by over a factor of 10. The difference between an average and the largest is by a factor of 5.

5. Genetic Make-up = Differentiation

growth of a goldfish differentiation

GROWTH FACTOR: The genetic make-up of the goldfish.

RULE OF THUMB: Direct correlation. The poorer the genes or the less differentiated, the less they can grow. The more differentiated the product or service from the competition, the better the chance for growth.

FACT: The current Guinness Book of World Records holder for the largest goldfish hails from the Netherlands at a lengthy 18 inches / 50 cm. To put it in perspective that’s about the size of the average domesticated cat.

Which of the 5 factors can you control?

Let’s assume you have an existing product or service and have been in business for more than six months. Do you have any control over the market, your competition or the economy? NO, NO and NO. The only thing you have control over is your genetic make-up or how you differentiate your product or service. In goldfish terms, how do you stand out in a ‘sea of sameness’. How can you make yourself PURPLE?

Why Purple?

Two reasons: Mardi Gras and Seth Godin

Lagniappe is creole for ‘a little something extra’. Purple is an ode to the birthplace of the word [New Orleans] and the colors of its most famous event [Mardi Gras].

The accepted story behind the original selection of the Mardi Gras colors originates from 1872 when the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans. It is said that the Grand Duke came to the city in pursuit of an actress named Lydia Thompson. During his stay, he was given the honor of selecting the official Mardi Gras colors by the Krewe of Rex. His selection of purple, green and good would also later become the colors of the House of Romanoff.

The 1892 Rex Parade theme first gave meaning to the representation of the official Mardi Gras colors. Inspired by New Orleans and the traditional colors (purple – symbolic of justice, green – symbolic of faith and gold – symbolic of power), I created three types of goldfish:

3 types of marketing lagniappe goldfish

Purple represents the ‘little extra’ given to all customers, Green represents the ‘little extras’ given to all of your employees and Gold (inspired by Vilfredo Pareto) represents the benefits given to the top 20% of your customers and employees.

Ode to Seth

Purple also represents differentiation. Seth Godin established purple as the color of differentiation in his seminal book, Purple Cow back in 2003. Seth outlines the why, what and how of becoming ‘remarkable’. If you haven’t read this already, run don’t walk to your local bookstore or b-line it to Amazon.

Seth sets up the premise of the book with a story:

“When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling about how beautiful everything was. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what was once amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring.”

He further defined where marketing is heading:

The old rule: Create safe, ordinary products and combine them with great marketing.

The new rule: Create remarkable products that the right people seek out.

The Difference Between a Purple Bovine and a Purple Goldfish

Think of the Purple Cow as your product. Your product needs to stand out and be remarkable. Your Purple Goldfish is the distinctive way that you deliver that Cow and the extra value you provide. It’s difficult to make your product ‘remark’able.

I had the opportunity to comment on Marketing Pilgrim to emphasize this exact point. Joe Hall wrote a great post about the importance of being memorable. He talked about how all cell phones are similar and his hesitation to upgrade or switch.

Joe made the following assertion:

“Why can’t I get one shaped like a banana with pink and purple stripes? I want one that can also open a bottle of beer, or something else equally ridiculous. Seth Godin will tell you that your brand has to be remarkable. However, before your brand can be remarkable it has to be memorable. It has to stand out from the crowd. It has to make me want to know more.”

Here were the thoughts I shared:

January 9th, at 11:40 am

Great points Joe. You absolutely need to be memorable. Stand out or perish. The difficulty in Seth Godin’s PURPLE Cow principle is that you need to bake that remarkability into the product. That is extremely difficult. A phone is a phone. It would have to be really remarkable for you to overcome the friction (p.i.t.a. factor) associated with making a switch.

However – let me offer another take on how to color that phone PURPLE. That is by creating a few PURPLE Goldfish. A purple goldfish is something a whole lot smaller than a cow and much easier to create. It’s based on the concept of ‘marketing lagniappe’. Lan-what? Pronounced ‘Lan-yap’ is a creole word that represents the ‘little unexpected something extra’ thrown in by the merchant at the time of purchase. In Louisiana ‘lagniappe’ is part of the vernacular and represents anytime someone goes ‘above and beyond’.

Do small ‘PURPLE’ things make a big difference? Absolutely. Imagine if you asked that same friend for a recommendation and he started gushing about Product X because they did these little things that were unexpected and extra. It could be the customer service they received (think Zappos), a feature that they decided not to charge for (think Southwest and ‘Bags Fly Free’), or a ‘thank you’ with free minutes if you spend X per month (think Stew Leonard’s).


Let’s compare it to the critically acclaimed model called BLUE OCEAN STRATEGY. According to authors Kim and Mauborgne:

Blue Ocean Strategy is based on the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost. It’s goal is not to out-perform competition in the existing industry, but to create new market space or a blue ocean, thereby making the competition irrelevant. The opposite of blue ocean is red ocean. Characterized by competition and a crowded space, red ocean is bloody water.

Is there a middle ground or better yet a middle ocean?

purple goldfish strategy

Purple Goldfish Strategy is differentiation by added value. Finding signature elements that help you stand out, improve customer experience, reduce attrition and drive positive word of mouth.

Customer Experience is now more important than ever

Here are three leading indicators:

  1. The cost of customer acquisition continues to rise, making increasing retention the lowest hanging fruit in marketing.
  2. Consumers now have a stronger voice given the emergence of social technologies like Blogs, Wiki’s, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Yelp.
  3. Competing solely on price can commoditize your product or service.

In a recent Temkin Group survey The State Of Customer Experience Management, 2011, more than 200 large companies were asked about their customer experience efforts. While 7% of respondents think that their company is a customer experience leader today, 61% want to be their industry leader within three years.

Everyone wants to go to heaven…but no one wants to pay the price.

Are customers complicated?

Perhaps we can learn a few lessons from the common goldfish. Similar to customers, there are many myths about the common goldfish.

3 biggest myths about goldfish

Takeaways: Find ways to maximize lifetime value, reduce attrition, and drive positive word of mouth.

[Next Up Chapter 5 – Leveraging surplus and the power of the Gift Economy]

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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