I recently read "The Purple Cow", Seth Godin's insightful book on how to "transform your business by being remarkable." The general theme of the book was that the best way to succeed in generating attention for your company is to build buzz the old fashioned way: by offering something worth talking about. Basically, the idea is to create and offer a product or service so unique that it markets itself. The simplicity of this concept is what makes it so brilliant.
There are very few, if any, industries where you can become the market leader by simply following the current leader. You'll always be a step behind. You can try to brand yourself differently in order to appear that you are offering something unique, but most consumers will see through this facade. Instead, create a product or service that solves a new problem that doesn't yet have a solution. Become the market leader from day one instead of chasing the top position.
Offer something different, something remarkable. It's easy to copy someone else's idea, but much more difficult to deliver a truly remarkable product. However, this doesn't need to be a daunting task. Consider the problems your company or you personally face on a regular basis. Then determine what could be done to solve these problems. This exercise should provide you with a wide range of product ideas. Not every one is going to be the next iPod or Facebook, but I guarantee that if you reflect long enough, you'll stumble upon an idea that could very well be the next craze.
At United Bank Card, we recently released a truly groundbreaking initiative that aligns perfectly with Seth Godin's description of a "Purple Cow". UBC is a nationwide provider of credit card processing and other merchant services, primarily serving small to mid-sized businesses. Our company's Harbortouch division offers point of sale (POS) systems, the touch-screen checkout terminals you see at many national restaurant chains and large retail stores. The new program we released is a "Free POS System Program". This initiative is sure to change the way that many restaurants and retail businesses think of POS systems. While POS systems offer countless time and money saving features for business owners, the significant cost is often prohibitive for small to mid-sized restaurants and retail stores. Previously, a POS system cost approximately $5,000-$7,000 per station; since a typical restaurant needs between 2-3 stations, this puts the total bill for an average restaurant somewhere in the $10,000-$21,000 range. Since POS systems were first introduced, they have been out of the budget for most mom-and-pop businesses. Our program changes that. Although they are being offered free of charge, Harbortouch POS systems feature top of the line hardware and software, providing the same features and functionality as competitors’ systems that are being sold for tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, Harbortouch systems are superior to more expensive POS systems in many ways. In short, this "Purple Cow" program now allows small and medium sized merchants to take advantage of the same benefits as the national restaurant chains and major retailers without the extravagant costs.
United Bank Card is no stranger to this type of groundbreaking program. In 2004, UBC launched the first free credit card terminal program, a model that has since become the industry standard. Before this initiative, credit card terminals cost merchants hundreds of dollars. In 2009, the company partnered with Casio to offer a free electronic cash register program, another substantial savings for business owners. In each of these cases, the job of marketer became much easier for the company because the market came to us. In fact, the free terminal program led to the company's impressive 2005 debut on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies in the nation at number 19. The following year, we were ranked #6, earning UBC the prestige of being the highest ranked company to ever appear on the list more than once. We followed up with three more consecutive appearances on the Inc. 500/5000 list. Although our previous efforts led to unprecedented growth, our most recent initiative promises to be even more powerful due to the value it delivers. The offering has already strongly resonated with our customer base and is earning us significant attention in the industry.
The moral of the story is that if we had followed the leader, we never would have seen the growth that we experienced. Our CEO identified a problem (the high cost of checkout equipment and the financial burden it created on small to mid-sized businesses) and solved it. By doing something new and different, UBC was able to surpass much of the entrenched competition. What is the "Purple Cow" opportunity in your industry?