Be a Purple Cow and stand out from the crowd
That’s right, you heard me, I’m telling you to be a Purple Cow.
Now your initial response may be, “Cool, I love purple!” However I suspect it’s probably going to be along the lines of, “What are you talking about Krissy?”
So bear with me as I dive straight in and tell you why I think you need to be a Purple Cow and why you absolutely must stand out from the crowd with your children’s activity business, in what is, a very very busy marketplace.
Ready? OK I shall begin.
Like many out there, I climbed on board the Instagram train to explore the types of businesses that were operating, to make connections with providers in the industry and to engage with you as the owners of those businesses.
And boy, did I find you.
There are hundreds of children’s activity providers out there. My Instagram feed is currently filled with over 700 of them, catering for everything from dancing and drama, music and messy play, arts and crafts, all the way through to Lego! If someone has come up with an idea for a children’s activity, it’s out there, on Instagram, and they’re running, and it’s brilliant to see.
However, one thing always jumps out at me when I’m scrolling through the posts that Instagram offers up. There are so many people out there, vying for my attention, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell one business from another. It’s all a bit samey. There are of course the exceptions. Companies like Little Kickers and Baby Sensory, have their brand identity down to a fine art and so are instantly recognisable; many others however are not. Yes it has taken them many years to perfect, but they’ve set the bench mark and at the same time provided numerous examples of what is best practice.
Whether you’re an independent, an emerging franchisee, or even long time franchisee, it’s possible/probable, that you’re not be getting seen. As I said earlier, even I am struggling to work out who is who. If I run a search on a hash tag, I get hundreds of photos, most of them showing the same thing, or variations of that thing, albeit in varying quality. Very few of those pictures include any branding and therefore they all look the same to me as my finger flicks rapidly down my mobile screen. As such it is still, give or take a few, only the big players that stand out in a sea of white noise.
So what can you do about it?
Step inside your ideal customer avatar’s shoes. She’s scrolling through her social feeds and all she’s seeing are lots of activities that look the same. She’s finding it hard to distinguish one provider from another. How will she decide which one to attend?
It’s your job to make your her stop scrolling!
There are some beautiful photographs on Instagram and when I see them I stop and give them a double-tap of love, or I write a comment, simply because they’ve stood out to me. They’ve grabbed my attention and I want to see what their post is about. I want to know more about that Purple Cow.
Your job, when you’re marketing to your customer, is to work out how you can be that Purple Cow. What do you need to do, so that you stand out amongst the black and white cows in that infinite grey field?
These were questions I found myself asking many years ago, back in the early days of Mess Around, as I worked to develop the brand into a Purple Cow; you see I’ve been in your shoes so I know the frustration you’re feeling.
So let me take you back to where it all began for me in 2011, when I lived on the Isle of Skye. There were no children’s activities as such. All we had were playgroups and for the first 6 months of my daughter’s life I attended only one, the one for new mums.
However, not long after, we made the decision to move to Warwickshire, due to my partner’s work, and I confess I was excited by the prospect of having a whole world of new activities up for grabs, to enjoy with my daughter.
As soon as we arrived at our new home, I signed up for Calypso Kids, with the fantastic Emma-Jane in Shipton upon Stour, and Baby Sensory in Stratford Upon Avon; we were hooked. Then fate stepped in and I came across a messy play class in ‘Toddle About’ magazine called ‘Make a Mess’ and I signed up.
Although I loved my time at the other classes, ‘Make a Mess’ appealed to me more because of its free flow format, and it became our number one activity.
At the time the owner was in the process of establishing the franchise company, now known as ‘Mess Around’ and an opportunity came up for a franchise business in my area. I decided to go for it.
Like many of you reading this, I wanted to be at home with my daughter and I wanted financial independence, and this franchise was going to give me the flexibility I wanted. It didn’t take me long to get established and I had my programme up and running when I found out I was expecting my 2nd child. I wasn’t prepared to give up on my franchise so I worked through my pregnancy, right up until eight and a half months and in 2013 after the birth of my daughter, when we decided to move back to the Isle of Skye, I took my franchise with me.
Remember I said earlier that the Isle of Skye didn’t have children’s activities when my first daughter was born, well nothing had changed. The concept of weekly paid classes was alien to the area, so I knew that plan wasn’t going to work. I also knew that the local population generally didn’t have a disposable income to commit to upfront paid courses. My strategy had to be volume, at a single class price, if I was to keep my business alive.
My franchisor supported me and off I went in developing what is now our event programme.
My first event in September 2013 looked like a patchworked quilt, with sheets, our famous red and blue mats, tuff trays and tarpaulins dotted all over the floor. People came and they loved it. It was a huge success. I had gone from 15 children at a weekly class to 50 children plus parents and grandparents in a matter of weeks. In the same month, I had also gone from franchisee to franchisor and I had some very big boots to fill.
I knew that Mess Around had to be different from other providers out in the marketplace. I did not want to be a black and white cow. I wanted to be the purple one. I took the event model I had developed and started to trial it across Scotland in 2014. I went to Inverness, Fort William, Oban, Elgin, Aberdeen, and Stonehaven. The feedback that we were getting back from parents was fantastic. They loved the concept of one-off events that took place every month. They loved the fact that both parents could attend and grandparents, if they were visiting, were welcome too. We started to add extras to the programme like an arts and crafts table for the big kids so siblings could attend, event themes, music, and merchandise.
There was nobody like us. I was the only Purple Cow.
After trialling the event model for a year I was confident that this was the business model for the franchise as a whole, going forward. I went ahead at full steam, took out a business loan and started to re-brand the whole business from logo, trademark, website, copy and photography, all the way through to our video promos. By this time I had awarded franchises and we were off to launch officially in London. We were fast becoming known as a family entertainment business.
Looking back, as a franchisor, making Mess Around stand out from the crowd was my key role, my goal and my obligation to my team and the way I achieved it was with our event set up.
If you follow lots of your competitors on Facebook or Instagram you will get to see their setups, their props and their branding. I have followed lots of messy play providers over the years and I have to say I have always found it hard recognising which businesses the belong to; they all look the same.
Remember the blue and red mats that I spoke out about earlier, well they not only formed part of our risk assessment they were also a big part of our branding. They were unmissable. Tuff trays were placed on these mats meaning every photo taken had our mats in the background. I even went as far as having my Tuff Trays branded with the Mess Around logo so every photograph taken by me or a parent had our branding in it. We were instantly recognisable.
In 2015 we moved back to Warwickshire and I took our events across the Midlands working every weekend and showcasing the new event format. We continued to get feedback from our customers about how much fun our events were. Parents were always taking photographs of their children and laughter could be heard all around the hall.
Our event programme continued to develop. Word spread and as our events got bigger I started to increase our prices in line with demand. Now I’m not from an educational background, I’ve not trained as a teacher and therefore Mess Around was never going to be about providing an educational experience, there are lots of others out there doing that. What I was good at, was hosting a great event.
I love to entertain children and creating that wow factor, so I started to book other businesses for one off special guest appearances like Anna and Elsa, the Minions and Paw Patrol. Frozen was massive at the time and Anna and Elsa were regular attendees at my events, they even brought their own snow machine. When that thing came out, the children and even their parents, went wild for it; I knew I had to get one of those bad boys.
Music had also become a feature at our events, creating a party atmosphere. I wanted our events to finish on a high, so that when parents left the hall they were raving about the event and were keen to book up straight away for the next one. To that end I created the Snow Storm finale to the ultimate party anthem ‘We Like to Party’ by the Venga Boys. The marketing photographs were phenomenal. It rocked!
We had the event format down to a tee so the next stage of creating my Purple Cow was branding. I made sure that all of our branding lined up with our events, from the time that the customer saw a post on social media, through to the website experience, delivery of the event and the follow-up. I was thorough.
The business model and brand worked because we understood what made us different, what made us stand out in a crowd, and why our customers kept returning. Our values underpinned everything we did which were family fun, exploring creativity, making memories, creating bonding time for families, sparking children’s imaginations and creating the ultimate sensory experience.
As the brand developed so did our marketing strategy. Everything was “On-Brand”, from blogs, content posted on social media, graphics, photography, competitions, partnerships and all had to tie back to the business and our values. If it wasn’t right, we didn’t do it. Simple.
Now that I have shared my Purple Cow journey with you, let’s get back to you and your business. Take stock and see where you are at right now. Download my FREE 10 Questions to define your Purple Cow.
In summary, I’m going to leave you with some actions to consider once you’ve answered the questions in my Purple Cow Review.
- Go back through your content over the last 3 months and put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer. Is your content On Brand and does it make you stand out from the crowd?
- Take a look at your competitors and compare your content with theirs and see how you can make yourself different from them. Are they On Brand? Make notes!
- Start communicating your brand, your values and what makes you different to your audience and make sure everything you put out there is On Brand.
If you get this right, then you won’t need to advertise to the world and its dog. You will start to talk directly to your ideal customer and your business, your Purple Cow, will be instantly recognisable in that field of black and white.