Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, the 2003 best-selling book by Seth Godin, proclaims that marketing in the 21st century is broken. Expensive television commercials and slick magazine ads are money wasted if you aren’t promoting something that stands out from the crowd.

Godin shares this story from a family vacation. While traveling through the French countryside, his family was at first enthralled with the picturesque fields and pastures along the highway – miles and miles of storybook black and white cows munching on beautiful green grass. But he noticed that within about twenty minutes, they were ignoring the cows. What had been amazing just a few minutes before was now boring. Cows, Godin says, after you’ve seen them for a while, are “boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring.

A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting.”

Godin observes that we are so inundated by products and media in this “post-consumption” market that the product you produce – even if it is the best and the brightest around – is invisible. You just can’t see it among all the rest of the cows.

So what you need is a Purple Cow, a product with something remarkable, something worth noticing, built right into it. Not added on as an afterthought – but created right from the beginning with being remarkable in mind. Godin goes on to give multiple examples and tips about creating and marketing the Purple Cow in your area of industry.

As a book written for marketing experts, there are many industry concepts in the book that are a given to the target audience, such as the Five P’s of marketing (which are actually more than five, but include product, pricing, promotion, positioning, publicity and packaging). Which got me thinking – in the Church, what is our product? Is it the number of people in our pews on a Sunday morning? Or is it bringing the people in our neighborhoods closer to the love of God?

I’d like to share my observation that we have an impressive history of innovation/Purple Cows here in Southern Ohio. Some are recent, like Gabriel’s Place, Praxis Communities such as Confluence and Brendan’s Crossing, the Pray Think Love House in Westerville and Theology on Tap in Portsmouth. Some go back into history, such as the creation of Forward Movement, The Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (now Episcopal Relief & Development) and Bishop Blanchard’s St. Paul’s Curbside Cathedral – an airstream trailer that took the cathedral to the people. There are more examples. And while they may or may not bring more people to our pews, they are definitely bringing people closer to God’s love.

My takeaway from this book is that we may do liturgy better than anyone around. We may have the best music, and we definitely do the best processing. Or as Godin puts it, we may be perfect churches, attractive churches, churches with great personalities, churches lit by beautiful light – but we’re still boring. In a world of all the perfect, attractive and beautiful churches people have to choose from (or no church, which is what more and more people are choosing), to succeed it’s imperative that we spend our time and resources on something else – something that makes us stand out from the crowd.

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Murray, Julie_bwJulie Murray serves as Associate Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio and editor of Connections. Contact her at jmurray@diosohio.org.