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Hunting Purple Unicorns

I was interested in hiring someone with rather unique qualifications, so I met with Heather Roe Thompson at Creative Circle. “You’re looking for a purple unicorn,” she said.

A purple unicorn is someone with both talent and skill. Talent is latent ability. You are born with it. Skill is acquired through training and experience. A skill can be developed by someone willing to put forth the effort. It takes desire and persistence to learn a skill.

Not everyone with talent has the patience and determination to develop skill. And, skilled people aren’t always born with a talent for their vocation. It is rare to find someone with both talent and skill… thus the term purple unicorn. Purple unicorns are the rock stars of their field.

Everyone is hunting purple unicorns.

When Heather defined the type of person I was looking for, it immediately triggered an association in my mind with marketing (most things do). In marketing, the purple unicorn is the BIG idea. What is the next groundbreaking slogan, tag line, campaign, new product, new design, new feature, new benefit, or new approach to tackle the same old problem? What’s the big idea?

When I made the connection between purple unicorns and big ideas, I realized that I had not been hunting the purple unicorns of marketing over the last twenty years; I’d been fighting them. That is because most companies are so focused on finding their purple unicorn that they neglect their golden goose.

It’s the retailer with the checkout area so frustratingly chaotic during the holiday season that customers abandon their bags and walk out of the store at an alarmingly high rate. It’s the fast food concept that forgot they were in the food business. Their food is so bad that my kids would rather skip a meal than eat there. It’s the doctor’s office with the receptionist who was so unfriendly that I never went back.

These are examples of what I call barriers to success. They are not as sexy as the big idea, but they can be poison to your golden goose. They typically involve disappointing the customers you already have. Your current customers are your golden goose. Or, is it geese? Either way, without them you don’t have a business. So, don’t chase them away.

Barriers to success are often easy to fix, but you have to be willing to take an honest look at yourself. Finding fault with yourself or your company is uncomfortable, which is why hunting purple unicorns is such a pleasant distraction. We mistakenly believe the big idea will take our business to the next level, but it becomes a race to find the purple unicorn before our last goose decides to lay golden eggs somewhere else.

The next time you find yourself or your company chasing the illusive purple unicorn, ask yourself what you can do to take better care of your golden goose? Because there is real magic in pleasing your existing customers.

BTW, if you are looking to hire a qualified marketing professional and/or purple unicorn, contact Heather here:

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