“And the Remarkable God Himself, lives in you” (Galatians 2:20).
On this day, November 17th 1972, 40 years ago, one of the worlds most enduring and successful creators of popular music, Pink Floyd, played a show at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, Germany. One of the songs played was Atom Heart Mother, an epic 24 minute instrumental piece for symphonic orchestra and wordless choir.
The Atom Heart Mother album was released with a photo of a cow on the cover. It was the first Pink Floyd album to be specially mixed for 4-channel quadraphonic sound as well as conventional 2-channel stereo. It was a remarkable album, a unique, magical, catching symphonic endeavor that was both commercially and critically successful.
Starting out as a chord sequence written by David Gilmour, the title track became a sprawling masterpiece co-written and arranged by Scottish composer Ron Geesin. The title suite features French-horn-led brass melodies riffed on by David Gilmour’s guitar and the rhythm section, all of which veers into choral passages and then almost atonal pulses of keyboards that mask reams of audio snippets swirling underneath.
Atom Heart Mother was a radical, innovative leap ahead for Pink Floyd, showing the extensions of form the band would engage in so successfully on the ever classic albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall just a few years later.
Among Pink Floyd fans, Atom Heart Mother lasts in our memories as it was so remarkable and innovative. Innovative songs have a tendency to do that, they get stuck in your head and go round and round, sometimes for days, sometimes for months. For no apparent reason you cannot help yourself from humming or singing a tune by Lady Gaga or Coldplay, or horror upon horrors, the latest American Idol reject.
Another remarkable piece of music is Symphony No. 9. It is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works of Western classical music. Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven’s greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written.
The radical innovation of Beethoven’s music, compared especially to that of Mozart and Haydn, is his extensive use of forceful, marked, and even stark rhythmic patterns throughout his compositions and, in particular, in his themes and motifs, some of which are primarily rhythmic rather than melodic.
My own favourite is another of his symphonies, Symphony No 7, opus 92. It was written by Beethoven in 1812, the year of la Grande Armée´s invasion of Russia, one of the most horrible and grandiose hostile undertakings in the history of military conflict and the turning point of the Napoleonic Wars.
Every time I listen to it, it moves me close to tears. Maybe this was Beethoven’s intention, given the epic proportions of events and momentous importance of this year for European history, as Leo Tolstoy captured so well in War and Peace. If you have good loudspeakers on the device where you are reading this text, then click on play below, think of that year of living dangerously, and I dare you to stay indifferent.
Another piece of music that has a similar emotional effect on me is Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, composed in Paris in the turbulent year 1888. That year Vincent van Gogh left Paris for the South of France and Paul Gauguin held his first major exhibition. It was the time of the impressionists.
This remarkable trilogy of compositions are short, atmospheric pieces, written in 3/4 time, with each sharing a common theme and structure and they are regarded as an important precursor to modern ambient music.
A third piece of music that has had an incredibly powerful emotional effect in my life is Michael Nyman’s Water Dances. It was originally written for a short film by Peter Greenaway but may be most famous as the music for the Italian movie La Stanza del figlio (The Son’s Room) by Nanni Moretti in 2001.
I will forever associate this piece of music with riding a Vespa through the busy traffic in Rome while I was there many years ago. For some reason Michael Nyman’s music has always been very popular with the Italians and maybe it is the incredible emotional power in the compositions that strikes a chord in the Italian national mentality.
Having given five examples of remarkable pieces of music, let me then get to the point of this blog entry. It is about what makes something remarkable, what this means and why it is increasingly more important.
When we say that something is remarkable, we usually mean that it is innovative, unusual and maybe extraordinary and breaks with convention and with what has existed before in a radical way. It stands out from the ordinary and etches itself in our mind and quite often influences what is mainstream by being different in a new way.
Enough said and point given about music. The purpose of this blog is to provide business insight and advice, so let´s turn to the business aspects of remarkable innovation.
Ten years ago, the marketing guru Seth Godin developed a set of ideas on what makes remarkable products and services stand out. He asked himself a simple question that turned the business world upside down: What do Starbucks and Apple have that other companies don’t? How did they confound critics and achieve spectacular growth, leaving behind formerly tried-and-true brands?
Godin used the allegory of a cow to explain his ideas. A cow is ordinary and invisible to most people due to how common it is. He later published a book where he illustrated his ideas with examples.
According to Godin, most businesses are like a brown cow. Ordinary. Plain. Common. An “ordinary” brown cow business is probably toast eventually as it will not survive the hyper competition. Customers today are overwhelmed with information. Which, by the way dear reader, makes us really appreciate that you are so many who read these blog posts. 🙂
So, if there is nothing special about your business…. then why would customers buy your product or service in the long run, and why would you be able to charge a price that makes sustainable profit over time?
Consider your view when you drive down a road past a hundred brown cows on the adjacent fields. You will ignore them. But if there is one purple cow on the field? That is something different. You will notice it among all the plain brown cows as it is remarkable. Likewise you need to be remarkable and stand out to cut through the clutter in the mind of today’s customers. You need to be uniquely placed in the sweet spot of customers demand where no one else is.
For years, marketers have talked about the conventional "five Ps", being:
1) Product: Not so surprising, the first P is Product. You want a product that stands out, above the fold, has a unique selling proposition. Analyze your competition; establishments or products like your own & those that compete with alternative products so that you’ll know how others in your market are succeeding.
2) Price: The price must be competitive, reasonable, and fit the budget and income ranges of the market to which it is intended.
3) Place: Where you will sell this product, be it in a store, at various public venues, or online.
4) Promotion: Advertising and promotional action plans are necessary for any product’s success.
5) People: The focus of marketing has shifted from being product centric to relationship centric, particularly in the last 15 to 20 years. Businesses and entrepreneurs have realized the power of relationships.
Sounds familiar? This has become the basic marketing checklist, a quick way to make sure that you’ve done your job. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it used to be that if you paid attention to your five Ps, then you were more likely than not to succeed. A new product or service would never be a success unless the market demanded it and market selection is the key to a successful business.
The new ideas developed by Godin are based on his fundamental belief that creative advertising is less effective today because of clutter and advertising avoidance. He advocates that companies should instead differentiate and focus on producing remarkable products and target people who are likely to spread word of mouth.
The lesson is simple: The more intransigent your market, the more crowded the marketplace, the busier your customers, the more you need a Purple Cow. Half-measures will fail. Overhauling the product with improvements in things that the right customers care about and no-one else provides, on the other hand, can have an enormous payoff.
Therefore marketing should begin with a differentiated product or service that gets attention (like a purple cow does among a field of brown ones). Be sure that those who care deeply about that differentiation learn about your product or service (as Spotify does by providing free access to music online).
Those who care will tell everyone they know. Keep adding new differentiated enhancements to your product or service and start looking to innovate in other dimensions, for example for totally new business models that provide a breakthrough like your first purple cow did. Don’t waste your time and money on advertising. Alternatively, it’s dangerous not to do this because your product or service will be lost among all of the other brown cows (undifferentiated offerings).
If being a Purple Cow is such an effective way to break through the clutter, why doesn’t everyone do it? Set Godin says one reason is that people think the opposite of remarkable is "bad" or "poorly done." They’re wrong. Not many companies sell things today that are flat-out lousy. Most sell things that are good enough. That’s why the opposite of remarkable is "very good." Very good is an everyday occurrence, hardly worth mentioning, certainly not the basis of breakthrough success. Are you making very good stuff? If you do, then how fast can you stop, reinvent and differentiate?
As the ability to be remarkable continues to demonstrate its value in the marketplace, the rewards that follow the Purple Cow increase. Whether you develop a new insurance policy co branded with a micro credit, make a hit record, or write a groundbreaking book, the money and satisfaction that follows are extraordinary. In exchange for taking the risk, creators of a Purple Cow get a huge upside when they get it right.
Even better, you don’t have to be remarkable all the time to enjoy the upside, once you have achieved a sustainable sweet spot. Starbucks was remarkable ten years ago. Now they’re boring. But that burst of innovation and insight has allowed them to become the market leader and expand to thousands of stores around the world.
Compare that growth in assets to Maxwell House. Ten years ago, all of the brand value in coffee resided with them, not with Starbucks. But Maxwell House played it safe (they thought), and now they remain stuck with not much more than they had a decade ago.
For coffee I dare to predict that the new exclusive product line from Davidoff is the new purple cow. As Davidoff themselves say, “it is an exquisite masterpiece of coffee composition with unique quality, with fine nuances, and complex compositions of flavors. Its unsurpassed taste and exquisite aroma make Davidoff Café an incomparable coffee experience, entirely in the spirit of Davidoff’s unique brand philosophy: ultimate quality for the connoisseur with the highest standards.”
Unfortunately it is not available in all markets yet. Until now I have only found it in Dubai and at Istanbul international airport. What this says about the relative purchasing power of consumers in Europe and elsewhere can be an an interesting topic for another blog post.