The purple cow of government policy

The purple cow of government policy

It’s not your fault.

The policy that you communicate is boring. It is dry. No one actually cares about it.

How can you compete with the marketing efforts for the new iPhone or cat videos?

Private industry has seen one marketer answer this question successfully.

I, of course, talk about the marketing guru himself, Seth Godin.

Seth Godin’s work is famous in business, but little known by government communicators.

Over a decade ago, his book Purple Cow revolutionised marketing in business.

The concept of a Purple Cow came to Seth when driving his family through the French countryside. His family were fixated on the picturesque cows and their pastures.

After twenty minutes, everyone’s attention waned. The cows that were so beautiful not half an hour ago became common. They became average. No matter how perfect these cows were, over time they became boring.

A Purple Cow though, he mused, now that would be a sight to see. (For a while.)

A Purple Cow would be too remarkable to ignore. Everyone couldn’t help but talk about it. It is interesting. It is novel. It is exceptional.

In a Purple Cow, the marketing is embedded in the product (or policy). Now that would be an easy policy to communicate. You wouldn’t need to communicate the policy at all, because the policy raises awareness by itself.

How can a policy be remarkable?

In a blog post, Seth tells us how to be remarkable: “Remarkable doesn’t mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to me [the targeted citizen]. Am I going to make a remark about it? If not, then you’re average, and average is for losers.”

He goes on to say that “remarkability lies in the edges. The biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult. It doesn’t always matter which edge, more that you’re at (or beyond) the edge.”

You’re now telling me that you know for certainty that the policy that you’re communicating is not remarkable. And you’re probably correct.

Seth recommends that to have the most remarkable product (policy), the leadership must invest their communication budget into the development of the product (policy).

Let’s take an example. Say that your government is proposing to spend $10 million on a new fleet of police cars. They have allocated 4% of that to the communication strategy to get public opinion for it. The rest of the policy is dry and nothing special, as per usual.

Your first job is to change the allocation of resources. Instead of spending 4% of the budget on communication, only spend 1% of it and transfer the other $300,000 to buying the new fleet.

Sit with the policy makers to help design a policy that communicates itself.
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Thirdly, list all the characteristics of the new police fleet. This could be anything from the safety to the speed to the fuel efficiency of the vehicles, you name it.

Select one of the characteristics and maximise it.

Draft a press release to ensure your policy is remarkable and newsworthy.

Well done, you have successfully created a policy that communicates itself!

Through your discussion with the policy makers, you changed the policy from $9.6 million on boring police vehicles to $9.9 million on buying the most fuel efficient police cars on the market.

Once word gets out that your government will have the most fuel efficient police fleet in the world, you won’t be able to keep them quiet.

Your job as a communicator is to get a seat at the table with the policy makers.

That is the dream. However, this is not common in many government departments across Australia and the world. This is changing.

You must have a discussion with the leadership to begin the transition.

The longer you wait the longer your communication remains hit and miss depending on the remarkability of the policy.

Remember, “Boring always leads to failure. Boring is always the most risky strategy.”

If you want to start the conversation, send this article to your Head of Communications now.

Image source: http://economicdevelopment.org


Each week a staff member puts pen to paper to write about an aspect of content communication that speaks to them, and hopefully, informs you. This is a space where our passion for writing, learning and sharing information comes to shine.

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