Apple – The Purple Cow Company

While there were many aspects of Purple Cow that challenged me, I am left here with two major concepts…

  1. Remarkable rarely comes through better advertising. It comes with making a product that stands out.
  2. While a purple cow would be quite the site, after a while, even a purple cow wouldn’t seem that remarkable anymore. That leaves an organization with two choices:
    1. Soak every last drop of profitability out of their purple cow, desperately trying to hold onto marketshare.
    2. Invest the profits of the one purple cow into developing their next purple cow.

As I reflected on what this looks like, I was struck by the dichotomy between Apple and Microsoft. In the interest of full disclosure (in case you don’t already know this about me), I am a big Apple guy. That said, consider the difference of approach. Microsoft in the late-80’s and throughout the 90’s built this empire on the back of Windows. Now, they are desperately trying to hold onto their marketshare and profitability. With the possible exception of the XBox, they have done little to no innovation. They have simply tried to tout the virtues of their product.

Conversely, in the mid-90’s, Apple was dead. The multi-colored fruit company was hemoragging money and hadn’t had a good product in ages. Their major innovation in that time, the Newton, failed miserably (a bad combination of awful hand-writing recognition and being way too early on the curve for PDAs). Then, desperate for a modern OS and a new future, Apple bought Next, bringing Steve Jobs back to the company. 

Consider the course Apple has taken since then and the accompanying purple cows…

  1. In 1998 Apple introduced the iMac. In retrospect, this purple cow turned out to the hinge on which the entire history of the company turned. Many people laughed at the idea of a colored company with a hockey puck for a mouse. Well, they laughed until Apple sold millions of them and became relevant again.
  2. Instead of just riding the profitability of the iMac, Apple reinvested in the next big thing – digital music. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod (and the iTunes music store – the first legally downloadable digital music) and had themselves another purple cow. Unlike the Newton, which was way before its time, the iPod hit just on the very front edge of digital music going mainstream. Apple sold millions and made millions. This gave Apple a two-pronged profitability structure – computers and iPods.
  3. Then, right as the market for digital music players was nearing its saturation point, Apple released the iPhone in 2007. On the strength of the money made from selling computers and iPods, Apple innovated another purple cow and completely changed the cell phone industry. 

What’s next for Apple? I don’t know. I’m not privy to those conversations! But that’s not the point anyway. The point is that instead of just trying to maintain a once-remarkable product and squeeze every penny out of it, Apple continued to reinvest and innovate, looking for the next puple cow.

Interact: How do churches ride out their once remarkable products? How could they reinvest (not profitability, but momentum/resources/etc) into developing a new purple cow?

Just for kicks, enjoy this Mac vs PC commercial that highlights well the difference between investing in improving your product versus more advertising…


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