Ask any founder in Silicon Valley to use the best adjective to describe the life of a founder in Silicon Valley and the answer they’ll give you would probably be tumultuous. That’s because the life of a founder in Silicon Valley is often exciting, confusing, and disorderly…all rolled into one on a daily basis. For some of you, that may be too much of an emotional rollercoaster to willingly purchase a ticket to ride on. But for the rest of you, that sounds exactly like the life you’d love to lead.

The thing that makes the life of not only a founder, but also every executive that works at a startup in Silicon Valley so tumultuous, is that the stakes are so high. Silicon Valley is the new California Gold Rush. And just like the original Gold Rush, there are miners everywhere fighting to find the same gold nuggets that you’re mining for. This makes Silicon Valley an extremely competitive place for startups.

What other place in the world can give you such a great opportunity to become a billionaire in three years based on an idea that you came up with this morning?

However, the only way for a startup in Silicon Valley to attract both customers and investors in a crowded market is to have a great marketing strategy. Here’s the two marketing strategies every startup in Silicon Valley must use in order to strike gold.

Create a Neon Deer

In 2003, author Seth Godin shook up the marketing world with his book Purple Cow. Godin stated, “The key to success is to find a way to stand out — to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins.” But the approach that a startup in Silicon Valley has to take to stand out in 2021 and beyond is so much different than the way a company could stand out back in 2003. Every brand in Silicon Valley is trying to be a purple cow.

While the purpose of standing out remains the same, the method used to stand out has changed. Hence the reason startups in Silicon Valley must create a neon deer in order to advance.

A neon deer is a brand that is so bright you can’t help but notice it. A brand that stands out even at night when the purple cow can’t be seen in the pasture.

While the purple cow is a brand that stands out by being remarkable, a neon deer is a brand that stands out by being distinctive, interpersonal, and agile. And since Silicon Valley is so crowded with startups that are still trying to stand out by being purple — but slow, the neon deer will stand out because it’s a brand so bright that you cannot help but notice it because you’ll either see it or you’ll hear about it from others. A neon deer demands attention from its audience.

The way to create a neon deer is to create a brand that is interpersonal. This means that it’s constantly reaching out to its target audience where they are on social media and connecting with them on a deeper level than ordinary brands do. The brand must also have what I call a “differentiating point of emphasis”. Which means it emphasizes whatever it is that makes it distinct from what’s currently in the marketplace at every touchpoint of its marketing.

It also must be agile, by being able able to adjust to changes quickly. Put all three of those elements together and you have a neon deer.

Paint the Purple Cow Black

While creating a neon deer is an innovative approach to marketing. A disruptive approach for a startup is to use the strategy of painting the purple cow black.

If a competitor in your category is standing out by being a purple cow and you don’t want to take the approach of creating a brand that’s a neon deer — the only other option for a startup in Silicon Valley to take in order to survive is to paint its biggest competitor as being a black cow.

This means making your biggest competitor that’s standing out in the marketplace look ordinary (like the rest of the cows in the pasture). The way to do this is to target the biggest benefit that makes the competitor stand out and use it against them for your brand’s benefit . For example, let’s say that you’re the CMO of a startup in Silicon Valley that produces commercial electric vehicles and the biggest competitor in your market is currently standing out by having the longest lasting batteries in the industry.

You can use their own strength against them by highlighting in your advertising the fact that while their batteries may last longer, the materials that go into making your batteries are actually safer for the environment than those of your competitor. Those who care about the environment (most people who purchase electric vehicles) will now think twice about purchasing a vehicle from your competitor.

The caveat to this approach is that your claim must be true. But if it is — you’ve just painted the purple cow black by taking away the biggest advantage it had in the market.

Fair warning, by taking this approach — you’ve now challenged your biggest competitor on the frontier to a duel. And if they’re faster on the draw with their ad spend or have a much bigger marketing budget than you — just like in the wild west, it could end up being fatal for your brand.


The life of a startup in Silicon Valley will only be as good as its founders and marketing team allow it to be. To survive and thrive in the new California Gold Rush known as Silicon Valley — a marketing team only has two approaches to choose from. Either create a neon cow or paint the purple cow black. Whichever option you choose, be ready to stand on it and stake your claim. Once you do, you’ll find those gold nuggets all the others are searching for.

Originally published here.