Small Businesses, Content Marketing Struggles and the Purple Cow Formula

Kavin Paulson
Published on April 14, 2015
Purple Cow

If you are a small business owner or a small business marketer who was a content marketing enthusiast but lost interest as it didn’t deliver results, then this is a must-read article.

As you may know content marketing, atleast in theory, helps creating brand awareness and visibility. It helps you build a brand image and trust. It also helps you generate traffic and leads. It’s a long term process which pays off perpetually. It’s usually not easy to get an early break-through in content marketing.

How it works? You need to consistently create good, useful and targeted content worthy enough to be shared around and you’ll get labelled as a ‘subject matter expert’ over time. You also need to simultaneously build a strong social presence that’ll help you to promote your content. You build an audience gradually and people start seeing you as an ‘expert’ – that’s the stage where you reap the greater benefits of content marketing.


Well, it’s easily said than done. It takes a sincere and sustained long-term efforts and resources to take it forward to that stage. Hubspot and Moz are two of the best examples of content marketing successes. They always create awesome content and they also have a huge social media presence that helps them to promote their content heavily. But yes, they built things from the scratch. They started as small businesses and made it really big. So, it’s absolutely possible.

But, the hard truth is that many small businesses miserably fail when it comes to content marketing. They either discontinue after making a short, but sincere effort or continue to do without much success – just for the sake of doing it. Yes, it anyway helps creating some brand awareness and generates some traffic and occasionally a few leads. But the ultimate purpose of content marketing is to brand your business and establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Why do so many small businesses fail when it comes to content marketing?

Many small businesses allocate limited budget for marketing and their resources are limited. They prefer spending more of their marketing dollars on promotional methods that can bring immediate results, i.e. Sales, and ROI strictly matters. So, many small businesses, due to this vicious limited-budget cycle, focus more on sales and less on branding. On the other hand, content marketing is a long-term process; it requires sustained efforts and resource allocation to make it work. Sustained effort not only means continued action but also creating quality content consistently.

Some businesses discontinue their efforts after trying for a short period, thinking that it doesn’t yield results, rest do continue but just create content for the sake of creating it as they don’t have enough budget and the passion and insight to create content that can make significant impact.

Due to the content revolution that has happened on the Internet (thanks to social media), the Internet user is spoilt with choices. There are hundreds and thousands of articles on the Internet on various topics. There are various forms of limitless content available on the Internet. Why should a user consume your content? That’s the crucial question. So, now no matter how big or small your business is, if you can’t consistently create content that can break through the clutter and attract eyeballs, then you are already into a content marketing black hole. You keep creating content but won’t get significant results. Today, the competition is high and the demand for the mediocre content many used to create in the early days (when content marketing as a concept was at the initial stage) and many continue to create till date, has reached a saturation point. Your article on any random topic is just another among hundreds of articles out there on the same topic – luckily you may be able to grab a small piece of the readership pie. They come, scan through your article and leave and the result is nil – this is what happens when you create mediocre content as it doesn’t make an impact on your audience.

So, what should a small business do? Is it not possible to do content marketing with limited budget? Is it possible to create quality content consistently with limited budget? Shouldn’t we have to spend on promotion of the content?

Well, it’s really challenging to run a content marketing campaign with a limited budget. But, there is a way to crack this nut – use the purple cow formula.

What is this purple cow formula?

Seth Godin

If you know Marketing guru Seth Godin, then you must be aware of the term ‘Purple Cow’. In his book ‘Purple Cow – Transform your business by being remarkable’, Seth Godin writes that “the old ways of marketing are dead and being safe is now too risky”. He further states that “your product will only survive in a crowded marketplace if your stop advertising and start innovating. You must be remarkable – you must be purple cow*”.

If you haven’t read the book, let me explain the concept in short – he believes that traditional ways of marketing are dead and that most of the marketing dollars are wasted. Companies, instead of spending big marketing budgets on mediocre products or products that face market saturation, they should invest on R & D/innovation and come up with remarkable products/services with in-built marketing message/communication – meaning they should be remarkable enough to catch the attention of the audience. All that marketers need to do is to take part in product/service design processes and also ensure that those remarkable products/services get popular among the sneezers*.

Before explaining who the sneezers are let me explain the term ‘purple cow*’ – it can be a remarkable product, an out-of-the-box service or revolutionary improvements made to an existing product or service. It’s basically a remarkable idea whose time has come. Purple cow means something strikingly odd but awesome.

Seth Godin writes “A brand (or a new product offering) is nothing more than an idea. Ideas that spread are more likely to succeed than those that don’t. I call ideas that spread, ‘idea viruses’. ‘Sneezers*’ are the key spreading agents of an ideavirus. They are the experts who tell all their colleagues or friends or admirers about a new product or service on which they are a perceived authority. Sneezers are the ones who launch and maintain ideaviruses”.

“Innovators or early adopters may be the first to buy your product, but if they’re not sneezers as well, they won’t spread your idea.”

A purple cow product/service also has a life cycle like any other product thus you need to keep innovating and come up with more purple cow products or services.

Now, how this formula can be applied to content marketing?

It sounds simple but the implementation takes significant efforts but the results can be efficient and far-reaching. As discussed above, if budget is your constraint you should allocate most part of your content marketing budget on creating remarkable content that can have the potential to go viral. Creating remarkable content worthy-enough to be talked about and widely recommended. Well, won’t creating remarkable content take significant time and effort? Yes, but you don’t have to create content regularly like you usually do and those lots of mediocre content that you create don’t yield much results.

Allocate most part of your content marketing budget on creating one or two remarkable pieces of content every month instead of creating 20-30 pieces of mediocre content. It should be awesome enough to catch the attention of your audience and all you need to do is to leverage your existing social presence and influence and ensure that your content reaches the “Sneezers” – rest of the job will be done by them.

The advantage of using this formula is that you’ll get noticed and remembered by your audience as a result of that remarkable content Vs. lots of mediocre content may bring some traffic and sometime leads but may never be able to give you the kind of impact you expect from your content marketing campaign. A series of remarkable content can make you a popular brand within a short period of time.

If you want to know more about getting a remarkable content go viral or make it reach the ‘Sneezers’, you can read my previous article on Viral Marketing for small businesses.

Creating a purple cow content costs you less as you may need a very small team or maybe you can do it yourself if you have time and thus it’s budget friendly. A lot of brainstorming, sharp business acumen and tremendous creativity are the essentials. I’m sure a lot smart small businesses or start-ups have the potential to make it happen.

What is not purple cow content?

The content that is just good enough to get shared around is not purple cow content. It should have the ability to go viral. It should be remarkable, rare or one of its kind. It should have the ‘stickiness factor’ (in other words, inbuilt appealing factor).

Dare to Be Remarkable

Purple cow content can be any form of remarkable content – It can be one of its kind industry survey or a great interview with a popular person who doesn’t often give interviews or it can be an extraordinary video or even a mind-blowing PPT that reveals never-known before stats and what not. Be unconventional and experimental – take risks. Dare to be as creative as possible.

Okay, if you are still not convinced, let me give you an example. We have a very small team and we allocate nominal budget for content marketing. Though we don’t regularly create ‘purple cow’ content, we occasionally do. Once our team came up with a brilliant idea of sending questions to top 21 social media experts around the world and publish a compilation of their answers. We also wanted to leverage their respective networks to promote the content. We had doubts if they would respond, we went ahead anyway. Wow! The response was amazing – most of them we contacted responded positively. We could successfully create a purple cow content ’21 Interesting Social Media Questions Answered by Top Social Media Experts’. They not only responded positively but also actively took part in spreading the word – we could effectively leverage their respective networks and the post went viral as their followers too joined the party. An ‘IdeaVirus’ or ‘purple cow’ content was created and facilitated to reach the ‘Sneezers’ – it spread like fire and boosted our blog’s popularity many-fold. The purple cow formula worked!


Kavin Paulson


Kavin is a seasoned digital marketer with more than 10 years of hands-on experience handling multiple projects of various clients from different industries. A decade-long career in digital marketing has helped him gain diverse skill sets, rich experience and in-depth knowledge of how things work in the digital ecosystem. As a digital marketing consultant over a period of 10+ years, he has led many digital marketing campaigns to achieve set objectives and have delivered impressive results. Apart from working on digital marketing projects and handling clients, he does read, analyze and write about all things digital. "I welcome you to the community and invite you to be a part of it. Hope you like what we do here at The iMarketing Café. Your valuable suggestions and feedback is always welcome. Stay tuned!" - Kavin

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