What Purple Rain Can Teach You About Effective Online Marketing

Purple Rain

Ever had an idea that couldn’t miss?

You took immediate action, created the perfect warm-up content, the best launch strategy, and the perfect offer . . . .

And then it totally failed.

So yeah, the film Purple Rain contains the consummate lesson on this one.

No, really.

The Lesson of Lake Minnetonka

Upon mature reflection, the album Purple Rain is a work of genius, while the film . . . not so much. But any true Prince fan loves it anyway.

And as a teenage boy in 1985, the fact that a diminutive man sporting a Jheri curl and a ruffled shirt could score with gorgeous women was rather encouraging, you know?

One memorable scene involves Prince giving bombshell Apollonia Kotero a motorcycle ride through rural Minnesota. As he pulls up to the shoreline, Prince lets her know she has to prove herself.

“You have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka,” Prince says mysteriously. Then he says it again.

Next, fulfilling every teenage boy’s as yet unimagined wish, Apollonia strips down to her thong and jumps in the lake.

The freezing water provides an immediate shock. But the cruel surprise comes from a half-apologetic Prince.

“That ain’t Lake Minnetonka.”

Did You Jump in the Wrong Lake?

Often, you do everything right, except for the first thing.

You start with an otherwise great product and mistakenly try to sell it to the wrong people.

This isn’t always fatal, but it’s definitely frustrating. And it’s because you focused on what you want rather than who you’re trying to serve. You jumped right in without understanding all the critical facts.

While it may sound a bit kumbaya, understanding who you can help helps you. It’s the key to the kind of outstanding success that eludes those who don’t understand why the take, take, take strategy doesn’t work.

It’s really give, give, give to win. But only if you give the right things to the right people.

Missing the true needs and desires of your market is like jumping in the wrong lake.

You simply end up like Apollonia — cold, wet, and disappointed.

Start With the People, Not the Product

So where do online marketers go wrong?

There’s an old saying . . . start with the prospect, not the product. It keeps you from trying to sell stuff to the wrong people.

Even better, it keeps you from selling stuff nobody wants.

That truly unfortunate event happens when someone has an idea they think, for example, every small business owner should embrace. But it isn’t something the small business market wants to embrace.

It’s like trying to sell asparagus to kids because it’s good for them. If you’re competing against the jingle of the ice cream truck down the street, you’re not likely to get the results you want, because there’s simply no market for your offer compared to what else is out there.

In this sad case, the analogy is more Matrix than Purple Rain:

Do not think that the lake is cold . . . that’s impossible.

The truth is, there is no lake.

Ouch.

It’s About Them, Silly

You’ve heard it all before. But do you get it?

Wealthy entrepreneurs are essentially highly-compensated servants to their chosen market. Even when the market doesn’t know what it wants yet, its up to you to serve the market by channeling existing desires into new products and services.

And the benefits are way better than the numerable perks Alfred gets from the Bat Cave.

Wow, three film references in one post . . . did it work?

If you’re trying to make a match between your market and the right offer, subscribe to Copyblogger’s free newsletter on Internet Marketing. It starts with a 20-lesson tutorial on the four keys to building a sustainable business (one of which is finding the right product or service for your people).

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. It did work, Brian. I think you reminded us of another good point. You have to first see who your audience is and then go to them with the right product. You don’t want to have a great product but the struggle with trying to sell it to the wrong crowd.

  2. I did enjoy this post, with or without the movie references. My goal is to serve the cystic fibrosis community, and I need to do that more. Thank you for the head’s up! I look forward to trying to reach out more with what they need, not what I want.

  3. Whoops, typo: then* Sorry about that. :)

  4. Yes, it worked very well Brian. The parallels are perfect. I remember that scene in Purple Rain since it’s the one that stuck to my mind all these years. A wise man said before one blogs, they should spend time in forums about their chosen niche and find out what problems people are having/moaning about and THEN look for a way to address those problems in their ‘new’ blog, not the other way round.

  5. Well said, but I think there is still a spanner in the works (Hey, if you can site Prince, I can cite Rod Stewart!). Often marketing people are in a situation in which they don’t control the product quality, and have little control over the definition (or rather discovery) of the audience. And then we’re asked to put lipstick on the pig. Not the way it should be, but sometimes that’s the reality.

  6. It’s part of the very first thing any businessman should do before creating/selling anything, that is market research.

    Unfortunately yes I’ve had this mistake a few times, more often than I expected. :-(

  7. I’m about to launch some very small info products based on no more research than traffic to specific blog posts… I have a lot to learn. Just going for it has really helped me learn how all the pieces fit together, and that was important to me.

    @David Walker – That’s really good advice, and I’ve heard from one other successful marketer, now that I think of it.

  8. Loved it! And I totally agree. But I actually read a quote from Henry Ford that flipped my world upside down…I’m sure you’ve read it. Where he mentions that if he would have “Listened to the people he would’ve built a better horse and buggy…” or something like that.

  9. So, exactly how could you tell that Appolonia was cold?

  10. To further underscore the Henry Ford quote, his company DID in fact build a car based almost exclusively on input from the people…it was called the Edsel and is still regarded as one of the classic marketing/manufacturing fiascoes of all time!

  11. You know I have to admit that I really have always admired Prince.

    Not only because he is a genius, but for his approach, confidence and ability to grow a niche.

    Not to mention he invented text-messaging script with his title and lyrics.

    BUT the one thing that has always made me remember Prince not only as a genius but a hero and someone to immulate is this:

    There is a somewhat cult-famous video of a James Brown concert in which he calls Michael Jackson out of the audience and onto the stage. Michael sings and dances backed by the J.B.s then he whispers in James Brown’s ear and the Godfather says, “Michael is saying there is a Prince in the crowd, is there a prince? Come on up.”

    Prince comes up and the rest is history. How?

    Because he realizes that although he can sing and dance as good as the other two, well maybe not dance as well as Michael, but he realized that what he would normally do on the stage would impress anyone, it might not tonight next to two equally great artists.

    So he grabs a guitar from one of the J.B.s and does what you would never imagine, he starts leading the J.B.s and then soloing over them, and he flips out, he shows the whole Purple Rain persona he was in one guitar solo, erotic, weird, soulful, inspired, crazy.

    He let himself be shown in a way that the other two couldn’t. He leveraged a niche and with it took the breath of every person in the room, and myself included whenever I think of it. Not just because I am thin, short musician, because I am so much more than that, a writer, a business man, etc. Just like everyone.

    But Prince reminds me that there is always something that you have in your pocket that you might not always pull out on a regular occasion, but it’s there, it’s something you can do, and you can use it to show who you are.

    Prince pushed in the direction the concert needed.

    Come on James Brown & Michael Jackson fronting the J.B.s, you don’t need another cook, you need some more meat to put in the pot and that’s just what he did.

    Thanks for the great post.

    jesse poe

    @dmdxd

  12. That’s good stuff Michael! I’m gonna have to look that up…

  13. Dave, it’s true that often you can’t depend on people to tell you what they want, because sometimes, they don’t know. Ford was right in his bet that people wanted cars… he understood the market better than they knew themselves.

    It’s only when we bet wrong that things go badly. Often *listening* to a market is not the same as asking them. Much better to just listen. ;)

  14. Jerry curl? Maybe in the suburbs!

    J-H-E-R-I, cap J (it’s somebody’s name).

    Even in the community, we spell it wrong with a G, but that’s only because some manufacturers put that on the bottle. Oh, never seen the bottle, there, dude?

  15. Hey Brian,

    To get effective results you need to make sure the foundation is right.

    Like you mentioned, you could be taking all the right steps with building your project, but if the foundation is wrong, then you’re either building it in the wrong place, or it’ll collapse.

    Finding the right audience is building the foundation the right way first. Finding the right spot, and making sure it’s strong. This applies to anything, from selling a product, to your website/blog itself, to your art, business, or whatever.

    Thanks for the entertaining and smile-inducing reminder to make sure we build a solid foundation by finding the right audience,
    Oleg

    Oleg

  16. Thanks Tony, fixed. I guess I was out of my suburban white boy league on that one. ;)

  17. I am amazed that you were able to bring this point up by using Purple Rain. I love this post. You may think you have a great idea, but if nobody else can use it, what’s the point?

  18. Brian,

    A good reminder of the importance of market research and the end customer. This applies across the entrepreneurial spectrum.

    When I was funding ventures, we used to occasionally note that a business was a “product in search of a business model” – which amounts to the same point.

    BUT – I think you can also go too far in the direction of serving what your customer “wants.” Much progress involves innovating new products and educating the customer in the benefits of use (electronic medical records for example).

    Admittedly, this can be a tight wire act – if you’re evangelizing efforts are not successful. Like many other entrepreneurial decisions, I think the key is to gather the knowledge so the decision is made consciously as opposed to in ignorance.

  19. Dude … 1985? I was three.

    Thanks for including the Matrix.. at least I could relate to that one!

  20. I believe that there are too many people doing things for the wrong reasons. A lot of people are looking at blogging industry as this new gold mine where money is abundant.

    It is. I know that. But just like with gold mines -it requires a lot of hard work. See, because the actual gold mine is helping people, not the actual gold itself. Doing things for the wrong reasons will get you nowhere.

    People just have this unique sense of telling when somebody is trying to take advantage of them and when somebody is trying to provide actual value and help.

    The best way to become a great blogger is to do for others and forget yourself. Give people what they are looking for. Do not sugarcoat things. In other words, do not sell urine as cold lemonade on a hot day.

    It is yet another paradox in life: forget yourself to make others remember you.

    Thank you for inspirational article.

    Best,

    Tomas

  21. @Jesse, thanks for the cool story! Sounds like an amazing moment.

    “Listening to a market is not the same as asking them” is a point that doesn’t get made nearly often enough. Probably because quiet, ongoing listening is more difficult and not as neat.

  22. Couple things: that movie is a CLASSIC. A CLASSIC I tell you.

    And of COURSE it’s the most memorable scene. Apolonia is hawt.

  23. Brian,

    I must say this is one of the best posts I’ve seen about this subject in quite a while.

    It’s really difficult to get this concept across to clients and this analogy rocks. Not news to me, as I preach this gospel on a regular basis, but the perspective is fresh and a good one to add to my repertoire. Thank you. It was a great read.

    And Jesse, fantastic contribution. Just fantastic.

  24. @Sonia Simone thanks, I’m pretty sure that you can youtube it. There is so much that can be mined from music as a way to build community and to market socially.

    Maybe just because its my background but I find that many of the things people write about how to do social media are things musicians have been doing for years.

    I try not to write about it too much, but here is an example of how to build a social media following like the grateful dead.

    http://www.dmdxd.com/blogs/post/235-social-media-the-dead-how-to-build-a-following-like-the-grateful-dead

  25. You had me at “Purple Rain…”

  26. Hey Michael, thanks. What do you do? Would like to check out some of the sermons you are preaching on this gospel.

    send me a link !

  27. This is an excellent reminder:
    “Wealthy entrepreneurs are essentially highly-compensated servants to their chosen market.”

    Love it!
    Off to serve!

  28. @Mandi, me too, been humming it all morning.

  29. Brian — man that was good. I’m a new to your list and I have to say the info is great. It’s so informative and really, really helps.

    Please keep it coming!

    Btw — I like the last name. Hopefully we’re related – then you’d throw a few extra tips my way. :>

    Be well,
    Dan “Nitro” Clark

  30. And when you find the right things to give to the right people, don’t be scared to share them like Prince’s father was.

  31. Hi Brian.

    It sure is about “them”, as you said, and the jumping into the wrong ocean analogy is easy to remember. Someone who wants an orange isn’t likely to purchase a lemon from you regardless of how you sell it, although some marketers would claim otherwise.

    We have to survey our audience at times to make sure we aren’t giving meat to a vegetarian.

  32. I’m trying to find a lake to jump in at the moment.

    At the moment i’ve found a small, brown puddle at the side of the road. Not even my dog will drink out of it.

    I must say i’ve never seen the movie Purple Rain. Maybe I should.

    Anyone got suggestions.

    I’ve got a report that i’ve written, it’s for new snowboard instructors. How do I find people to give it to?

    If I put it in the brown puddle it’s not going to be very useful afterwards.

  33. Thanks for the informative post. I remember something similar from Zig Ziglar: You’ll get what you want when you help enough other people get what they want. Still true even in blogging!

  34. Great post. and one based on movies! Yay!
    starting with the prospective customer is the right move. While there’s nothing with doing what you are passionate about but the starting point is not the marketer but the customers.

  35. Hello Brian,

    Yes, I reckon it did work!

    And your points are valid, you certainly have a way with words and express yourself very nicely.

    Prince was pretty cool in the eighties, as you allude to, and many guys were jealous. But I think the way to do things is not to copy but to be original. And originality in this world is uncommon.

    As for the “”Wealthy entrepreneurs are essentially highly-compensated servants to their chosen market.”” This is very well put. I got a lot out of reading this blog post, and will back to read more,

    Thank you,
    Jim Cassa.

  36. Ok..I’m here to be your 36 comment…because of your last tweet. Actually I had read this from email…and I loved it! I’ve been on many wrong lakes and am only looking for the ocean now:)

  37. Hey Brian,

    Just saw your tweet and figured I would help a brother out and build up those comment stats. No one, including yourself, should have to bear the indignity of having “only” 35 comments. Oh and I did read your post…made me think of the purple rain gear I used to wear when that movie was all the rage…Prince would not have been happy.

    Dean

  38. At the danger of inflating Brian’s already massive ego, let me go ahead and say it: this post was astonishingly well-written. Sometimes I start feeling uppity and think I’m going to surpass you, and then you go and write something like this. Damn.

  39. And when Jon tells you you have a massive ego, you have accomplished something. :)

    (Nah, not really, actually they are both pretty swell guys. But neither is cursed with a lack of confidence.)

    I agree with Jon, this one was stellar.

  40. Hahaha. Yes, it’s true. You better watch out; we might rub off on you.

  41. I’m as bad as either of you, I just come across as sweet and saintly. :)

  42. your title is so interesting, i think that is one effective way of online marketing too !

    i love purple rain !

  43. Great post that really conveys some important points. It is always about the consumer and the people you are trying to target. With this in mind it’s vital that they you market everything in the right way.

    Great examples you use to express your point I must say.

  44. Sonia: “I just come across as sweet and saintly.”

    Have you heard your voice lately. :)

  45. The Prince reference all but knocked me out. LOVE IT!

    The the fact that you thought to relate the faux Lake Minnetonka to the blogosphere is nothing short of brilliant. Thanks for making me smile *and* think.

    Jesse, that story is amazing! As a Prince & MJ fan, I’ll have to see if I can find that video…

  46. I say focus on people, not things. People new to internet marketing tend to focus on things: numbers, websites, etc. You’re not selling to websites. When you’ve placed backlinks on a number of websites, that doesn’t mean you’re selling to anybody. You’re wasting energy on things before people.

    When you decide to connect with people interested in your product, to network, build trust and established relationships, you are on the right track.

  47. Thanks for the article. Right now I’m marketing a book and I’m mentally formulating how to generate sales. So far I’ve used texting, emailing, facebook, and myspace. But I have one question I notice one of my purchases came from an unexpected person. I didn’t know she was into my ebooks genre.

  48. I think Shane just said something saucy to me but I’m not sure. :)

  49. Sonia, you have a radio voice for sure.

  50. As long as I don’t have a radio face, I’m happy.

  51. If I had been drinking water just now, I would have spit it up laughing!!!!!!

  52. Exactly, Brian. The first step every business owner must take: Uncover the felt need of the customer that you are willing and able to meet. Until you can speak to the customer’s felt need, how can you possibly hope to persuade them?

  53. Feels like I just read the Purple Rain (the film) of Copyblogger (the blog) posts for true Copyblogger (the man)-slash-Prince (“The Kid”/The Artist) fans.

    Glad to be a part of that audience of 60 or so people!

    My only disappointment is that you didn’t use the sordid power struggle between Prince and Morris Day — both for Apollonia’s love and nightclub dominance — as analogy fodder for keeping our eyes focused on what truly matters.

    If we’re too focused on the distractions of The Time at hand, we risk losing our most valued relationships (Apollonia), ignoring product development (Vanity 6), and The Revolution never happens.

    It was all there for you, Brian. ;)

  54. Robert, a blog post based on Morris is inevitable… and he would demand that he have the spotlight all to himself. ;)

  55. Great work, the heading has done her job. I had to read the post just because the heading made me curious. Thats th way you create markets. ;-)

  56. Great article – I saw the title on Twitter and had to read it!

    I was 16 in 1985 and remember Prince well but never saw the Purple Rain movie for some reason.

    I’m always telling my clients to find out what their clients want, not what they want to sell them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is ask some questions or do a quick survey to get a feel for what your target market is looking for.

    I’m looking forward to more movie references. Perhaps a blog post linking Wayne’s World with the Bill and Ted movies could be next!