What does it mean for a brand to be cool?
In the past, whilst creating a new media brand for a construction niche, I remember speaking with another marketing professional, telling her that I wanted to build a 'cool brand'. That was what the niche was missing. There were plenty of old fashioned publications in the industry - stuffy types. Something fresh and cool would stand out.
She corrected me, and rightly so, stating that cool didn’t mean anything. It was an abstract concept that meant different things to different people. In that context, she was right.
There was a feeling around the brand I was looking for, but labelling it cool didn't tell her what I was trying to build. I needed to get specific about the position.
That said, cool means something positive, and it has value. Think about the brands you’d define as cool. My bet is they have high margins on their product and services.
What’s critical is a common understanding of what cool means and why it enables brands to position their business in a premium space.
Well, research has been conducted, using qualitative interviews, to understand how consumers determine whether a brand is cool.
Brands identified as cool don’t cover all of these traits (some contradict one another). But, when a brand covers between two or four, they’re generally considered cool, and this factor supports their high ticket items.
Brand Cool #1 - Extraordinary
I think of extraordinary, I think of Seth Godin's Purple Cow.
The market thinks your product is of better quality than the alternatives available. Doesn't matter if the product is or isn't better quality. What matters is that the market thinks it's better quality.
You can find examples in every industry. Music and instruments are good examples. Steinway is a cool brand because it has a reputation for being the best quality piano.
If customers notice a drop in quality, the 'cool' factor fades.
In the past, a pair of Dr Martins could last for decades, which was why they had such a cult following. A pair made today, not so much, according to the tribe that were avid fans. Their star fades a little.
No brand was ever high status with a product considered average.
Brand Cool #2 - High Status
Chic, elegant, glamorous, sophisticated.
Think Channel and Louis Vuitton.
These brands are exclusive. They're not available to everyone, which means that their market thinks of them as cool.
It doesn't matter the perception of anyone outside their customer base.
Brand Cool #3 - Aesthetic
To be cool means to be desirable in your market. Desirable means more sales and often better margin. It means queues out the door and pre-orders. Valid for any market, any business.
If the technical team members try to bat away the importance of aesthetics, they're batting away 'selling'.
It's not design over function or function over design.
It's design and function.
Apple built an empire on it, and so have Juul in e-cigs. Study your industry, and you'll likely find similar examples.
Brand Cool #4 - Rebellious
Humans like binary opposites. We want to categorise everything in groups A or B. You’re with me or against me. Us vs Them
In 2007, the UK beer market consisted of mass-market lagers and micro brewing cask ales, which generally had a stuffy image.
BrewDog launched with a new position as a modern, ‘cool’ brand that would offer quality, microbrewed craft beer.
They’d use a ‘Punk’ anti-establishment personality to carve out the position, creating contrast against the traditional ale producers and the established industrial lager producers.
They'd employ polarising PR campaigns to polarise:
- the strongest beer in the world poured through squirrel roadkill
- they’ve hired ‘little people’ to campaign with them outside the Houses of Parliament.
Some people love the campaigns. Others hate them. This feeds into their punk mentality.
It’s cool to fight convention, to follow your own path. When folks in the other camp tell us to hate the brand, it makes us want to love them even more.
Brand Cool #5 - Original
You did yesterday what others are doing today.
It doesn't mean you have no resemblance to anything done before.
You're a copycat when you take ideas from one brand and replicate them. When you take ideas from ten brands across different markets and bring those ideas together to create something new, that's original, that's cool.
Brand Cool #6 - Authentic
Front stage mirrors back stage. Your messages to the public are supported by how you behave behind the scenes.
BrewDog built a brand on outrageous PR campaigns. They championed craft and individuality in an industrial beer market.
But, it's meaningless if they don't support that PR with genuine action to back up this supposed love of craft ale. BrewDog did support the hype with an obsession with beer, demonstrated with a vast back catalogue of expert beer content.
Without the backstage, it's just fluff and hot air.
Brand Cool #7 - Subculture
Many people associate cool brands with those made for a specific subculture.
Take Supreme, a brand for skaters. Everything about the product and brand is made with the subculture in mind. All their clothing is designed to appeal to skaters. Then, they focus all attention on growing status amongst this subculture: influencer marketing, events, product placement, advertising, etc. It's clearly made for skaters, giving the brand the best shot at becoming a high status, 'cool' brand amongst that crowd.
Some brands expand into broader categories, inevitably becoming less 'cool' with the subculture but more accessible to larger markets (e.g. The North Face).
Brand Cool #8 - Energetic
Active, outgoing, youthful.
All of the above are anecdotally associated with 'cool.' Energetic is at the core of them all.
It's not about age. It's about energy.
Desirable brands have energetic personas. A vibrancy. Could be in PR. Could be in design. Pick your industry.
Red Bull is the obvious example, but you could equally display energy as an innovative, enthusiastic real estate brand, sharing videos of yourself exploring locations and hangouts in your area, championing the local town for folks considering relocating there.
Energy is attractive.
Brand Cool #9 - Popular
Counterintuitive to subculture.
When a brand reaches the masses, popular is associated with cool. This is essentially the impact of social proof on a wide scale.
The opposite of niche brands. If you're in a mass market, it's cool to be perceived as popular across cultures and nations. Think Nike.
If you want to sell a premium product, it certainly helps to be considered cool in your market. Some of the characteristics of cool are easier to attain than others. For example, as an SME, you're not going to go after #9 Popular.
Extraordinary, aesthetic, and subculture traits are available to any business, regardless of size. If you produce a quality product, work with an excellent designer to deliver beautiful brand assets, and target a tight niche that needs what you sell, you've got a premium business on your hands.
Research Source: Warren, C., Batra, R., Loureiro, S., & Bagozzi, R. (2019). Brand Coolness. Journal of Marketing, 83(5), 36-56.
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