Musing VIII: The "Purple Cow" Syndrome and Identity Fusion


Having personal brand equity means that one has created an identity around the self that is recognizable nearly to the point of being iconic. The quintessential example of personal brand equity that I always cite is Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was so iconic that it's almost hard to think of her as someone who was an actual human being. As soon as you hear her name, if you know anything about her at all, a powerful image is conjured up in your mind.

It shouldn't be surprising that I believe the basic tenets of marketing are wildly relevant to sex work, and I feel particularly so about branding. The other night I was scrolling through the TED talk archives and watched a clip of Seth Godin (to view it, click here). Godin is the author of Purple Cow, and in this talk, he explained the meaning behind the concept of the "Purple Cow". If you spotted a normal, black and white or brown cow grazing in a nearby field, would you pull your car over to the side of the road to ogle at it? Likely not. Why wouldn't you? Because cows are ordinary and very common. However, probably all of us would pull over if we were to see a Purple Cow, since a Purple Cow is extraordinary and, in our minds, an impossible find. In today's world where we are bombarded with new products every day, it doesn't suffice to offer consumers an average packaged product geared toward average people who would settle for such. As Godin proclaims, "The riskiest thing you can do is be safe."

All of the men and women I have fallen for in my adult life have been Purple Cows. They are remarkable, they stand out in a crowd, and they may not appeal to everyone, but they appealed to me -- and my guess is that they appealed to enough people that they had plenty of admirers and pursuers. I am attracted to Purple Cows because I deem myself the same. It is important for a woman (especially one who engages in the high-end companion lifestyle) to establish a brand that is unique; a brand that will stand out among all those blushing beauties clad in those conventional lingerie sets using the same photographers seasoned in the art of airbrushing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these women; they are undoubtedly attractive and can surely satisfy their suitors' needs exceedingly well. There is also nothing wrong with using the same cookie-cutter brand -- except that it is everywhere. It won't showcase a Purple Cow. And there is little that is more disheartening than having your brand say about you, "I am easily replaceable." Every single one of my lovers (a.k.a. 'clients') recognizes and appreciates the qualities that make me different, that make me stand out amidst a sea of "uni-branders", and that clearly establishes me as a Purple Cow.

How does one establish her own unique brand? I attended a talk some time ago given by David Ronick of UpStart Advisors, and this subject came up for one woman who was having trouble defining her brand as an artist. She told us she was a photographer, a director, a producer, a writer, and "etcetera". And despite her success in the past, she was out of work and was having trouble defining her abilities to potential employers. I raised my hand and asked if I could comment. Usually people think of it in this fashion: if you are, say, a photographer, you must choose what kind of photography you specialize in -- e.g., are you a portraitist, a nature photographer, a fashion photographer, a nightlife photographer? And then you must narrow even further -- if you are a portraitist, what kinds of people do you specialize in photographing? If you are a nature photographer, do you specialize in landscapes, or wildlife? And so you narrow and narrow until you define yourself as the photographer who specializes in capturing the meerkats of Botswana at sunset.

I'm not against narrowing one's target markets and audiences. In fact, I'm quite in favor of it. However, I think there's more than one way to narrow. I chose widely different archetypes on which to base my brand. Strongest among them are Vargas pin-ups, Victorian vixens like Madame Recamier, fearless leaders like Catherine the Great, Hollywood fire pistols like Ava Gardner, and smart, powerful Silicon Valley icons like Sheryl Sandberg. I draw inspiration from women who speak to me and to the multiple facets and dimensions of my character. These figures may seem to have very little to do with one another. However, when fused together, their commonalities become apparent. They all share the following characteristics: they are wickedly powerful, assertively feminine, acutely intellectual, sharp-minded, decadent, exhibits a hint (and then some) of superiority, and a bit of tease. Yes, even Sheryl -- who doesn't hesitate to take photographs in delightfully colorful and stylish outfits for her Forbes covers. So when you put them together, you form a blended archetype that is unique while bearing indefinite echoes of remark. I am a wonderful fusion of all of these powerful figures, but yet enchantingly special in my own right.

I suggested to this woman that her roles as a photographer, theater director, film producer, documentarist, etc. could find a common thread. What would be in the center of her own personal Matrix? What is the core that links all of those together? There isn't just one method to creating a personal brand or archetype. You don't have to pull from external wells of inspiration, and if you feel that you can define yourself as something that is you and you alone, then that's great. But nearly every woman I know can name at least a few of her brand heroines (Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's recently came up in a conversation, for example) and the women they see in their lives, in the media or throughout history who they can relate to and who inspire them.

Some may posit that in assimilating others' behavioral traits, we can potentially lose our own identities -- or that in doing so we are basically asserting that we're not good enough as we are. This is nonsense. You can never change the core of your 'self'. But the trappings of your identity are malleable -- and this is something to be happy about. We should be grateful that we have the ability to do this. We yield the power to make our own creations of me. As Nancy Etcoff wrote in her scientific tome Survival of the Prettiest, "The reason we have a universal passion for adornment, the reason that photos are doctored and painted representations idealized, is that we long to be not only works of nature but works of art."

For me, I only want to pursue and be pursued by those who are Purple Cows and will settle for nothing less than the same. Unique seeks unique, special seeks special. If you find a Purple Cow, do yourself a favor and stop your car to admire and adore. Your life will surely be the better for it.


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© 2020 Grace Lee Riley