Rise Above the Competition: The Power of 'Purple Cow' Marketing


February 29, 2024

In today's competitive landscape, associations are grappling with the challenge of not only attracting members but also staying relevant amidst a sea of relentless competition. To put things into perspective, Cause IQ statistics show that over 43,000 professional and trade associations currently thrive in the United States alone. With such staggering numbers, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder how, in the midst of all this noise, your association can truly stand out from the crowd.

Fortunately, there's a beacon of hope in the form of Seth Godin's concept of "purple cow" marketing. This innovative approach holds the key to transforming the fortunes of trade associations, helping them rise above the onslaught of countless rivals. By unlocking the secrets of "purple cow" marketing, your association can carve a distinctive niche for itself, capturing the attention and loyalty of members like never before.

What is the 'purple cow' concept? 

Picture this. You’re cruising through the countryside, bound to be awed by the breathtaking panorama that unfolds before your eyes, with farm animals scattered around adding to the charm. At first, the sight of a brown cow may seem exhilarating, especially if you're from the city and haven't seen one before. But as you continue, you'll likely notice more of these bovines, and they might start to feel a bit routine.

However, imagine stumbling upon a PURPLE cow in the midst of all these brown ones! That would certainly be a sight to behold and one to share with your friends.

Godin argues that safe, average products and traditional marketing no longer work. Nowadays, people trust in the power of word-of-mouth, using it to filter through the sheer multitude of offers and advertisements we're inundated with every day. By creating something truly remarkable, you're giving people something to talk about and share with others, immensely increasing your chances of success. For trade associations, this means developing and promoting benefits, events, and resources that are unique and valuable for your members.

How can you start changing colors? 

Rather than reiterating the same tired member benefits, look for ways to surprise and delight your audience. Could you provide high-level executive coaching or online collaboration tools that help members innovate? Launch a digital product like an online course, virtual event, or podcast that establishes your association as an industry thought leader? Develop a private online community to facilitate deeper member connections and discussions?

Standing out also requires rethinking your marketing. Consider the following:

  1. Host unconventional events. Stop the boring panel discussions and day-long conferences. Instead, organize short, interactive meetups at unexpected venues like food trucks, comedy clubs or escape rooms. These memorable experiences will get members talking.
  2. Launch bold initiatives. Tackle an industry controversy or challenge in an unexpected way. For example, if there’s a skills shortage, offer free training or education benefits to members. Take a stand on issues that matter to show you’re forward-thinking.
  3. Tell the member story. Don’t just list your member benefits on your website or in an ad. Tell stories that highlight how your remarkable offerings transform members’ businesses and careers. Use video and social media to spread these stories and make emotional connections. Collaborate with members who have had an impactful experience to share authentic testimonials.
  4. Personalize the member experience. Use data and AI to tailor content, offers, and benefits to individual members. Send handwritten thank you notes. Make every interaction feel VIP. When you personalize, you show how much you value each member.
  5. Create noteworthy content pieces. In-depth research reports on emerging industry trends with actionable insights. For example, an automotive trade group releasing a report on how autonomous vehicle technology will impact the workforce in 2025.
  6. Exclusive educational events. Create podcasts, webinars, and video series featuring interviews with top influencers and subject matter experts. For example, a biotech trade association launching a podcast where the host interviews Nobel laureates and discusses the latest breakthroughs or a medical device trade association hosting an event where the head of the FDA discusses the latest changes to the regulatory approval process.
  7. Leverage the vendor and supplier market. Partnerships with leading companies in the industry to provide members with exclusive access to executives, discounts, or new technologies. For example, a food and beverage trade group partnering with an AI-based supply chain management company to offer members a trial of their software.

In today’s crowded marketplace, safe and average won’t cut it. Following Godin’s purple cow philosophy, associations must develop a truly meaningful value proposition and share it in a compelling way. Do something unexpected that sparks conversations and new relationships. By giving members an experience, they can’t find anywhere else, your association can achieve sustainable growth and success. Be a purple cow, and watch as your members grow. MOO!

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