How do brands maintain their cool?

Discussion
Queue outside of Supreme's Bowery store, NYC - Photo: RetailWire
Jul 30, 2019
Tom Ryan

University researchers have formulated a scale of 10 characteristics defining “coolness” that can be used to assess if a brand is becoming cool and staying cool.

According to the study from professors at the University of Michigan, cool brands are often perceived to be:

  1. Extraordinary
  2. Aesthetically appealing
  3. Energetic
  4. High status
  5. Rebellious
  6. Original
  7. Authentic
  8. Subcultural
  9. Iconic
  10. Popular

Not all of the characteristics are necessary for every brand and every consumer segment, but increasing any of these characteristics tends to make a brand seem cooler. Marketers can diagnose a brand’s strengths and weaknesses against the 10 components in order to make adjustments. 

“Our structural model allows managers to drill down into which component of coolness are of greater importance in shaping overall coolness and how these might vary across geographies, consumer segments and time,” said Richard Bagozzi, a co-author and University of Michigan professor, in a statement. 

Typically, brands first become “niche cool,” or hip to a small subculture. Examples included Quicksilver with surfers; Rocawear, hip-hop enthusiasts; Supreme, skaters; and Apple, technology geeks. Niche cool brands stand out for five components: original, authentic, rebellious, exceptional and aesthetically pleasing.

Extending to “mass cool” means embracing broader characteristics such as popular and iconic. Mass cool brands offer greater profit potential, although becoming more popular to mainstream consumers risks becoming uncool.

The study implied that staying mass cool involves retaining some of the characteristics that made a brand niche cool. 

Nike’s deep connections with elite athletes and its controversial marketing moves, for instance, have helped it be perceived as authentic and rebellious. Apple’s positioning as an edgier alternative to Microsoft has helped it retain numerous coolness characteristics.

Brands such as Google or Samsung are seen as more energetic and original by continuously innovating. Patagonia is perceived as authentic because of its founder’s messaging.

The researchers, however, said more research needs to be done to explore “how brands change as they move from niche cool to mass cool to passé. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are the benefits and limitations to brand managers of the measurement model of brand coolness presented in the study? What advice would you have for brands concerned about losing their cool as they move from “niche cool” to “mass cool”?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"As soon as a brand becomes mass cool, it starts to lose its coolness. Perhaps Apple and Google are a few of the exceptions."
"“Niche” cool vs. “mass” cool should also be a factor in itself. That’s about your brand positioning and knowing who your core consumer segments are."
"This is definitely one of those things where, you just ARE (or aren’t) … you can’t try to be cool, no matter what factors research comes up with."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "How do brands maintain their cool?"


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Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Image is essential, and a message that stands aside from competitors as to why consumers should use your product is vital to the success of any business. However that’s nothing new. The words change, the gimmicks change, and opportunities to get your point across have become different throughout the decades, but the principles are still the same. That said, you need to stand out and be different. You also need to have a product worth purchasing and using. You can fool the public the first time they try you with a cool and exciting message but, once they try your product, you have to deliver what they want or they won’t use you again. So niche cool, mass cool, very cool and extremely cool is all fine but remember quality, in the end, is how we build a brand and maintain loyal customers.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Interesting list but as soon as a brand becomes mass cool, it starts to lose its coolness. Perhaps Apple and Google are a few of the exceptions.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Interesting research and results. Particularly, investigating stages of coolness is an important contribution. The idea of becoming cool with a niche makes sense with the resulting challenge of migrating the cool image to a mass market and the challenge of how to keep a brand cool. The one question is how important the perception of cool is for which products.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

“Resonance” is a key characteristic that brands need to include in their metrics. If there is weak resonance with the audience, all these other factors are irrelevant.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Food and drink brands can be cool at first if they herald breakthrough categories. Examples include Red Bull and Monster (energy drinks), Mike’s Original Hard Lemonade (hard lemonade), and Impossible Burger (plant-based meat alternatives). They will lose their coolness over time unless they come up with new flavors, sizes and packaging, backed by cool marketing campaigns.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Coolness implies brand purpose and differentiation. The challenge is to sustain energy over time to keep early fans engaged while gaining new market share.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust
Growing from a new or little known brand to “mass cool” is dependent on a large number of factors that come together, sometimes with luck, to have the right product at the right time for the consumer. Coolness always moved from fad to trend and if a brand is well received, to become a lifestyle brand. Otherwise, the brand is no longer cool. The ability for an organization to stay cool is dependent on the brand staying out-front of the consumer fads and growing trends. It is critical to expand offerings of the cool product(s), but innovation and expansion into additional products is critical to maintaining growth as your initial products become “uncool” in decline. A portfolio approach is key to survival. The plant-based meat category is a great example. This category was popular with the vegans and vegetarians of the world for a long-time. The category is now breaking out into the mainstream and becoming a trend. The question is whether the innovators (Beyond Meat, etc.) will become mainstream brands for more lifestyles. Expanding… Read more »
Bob Andersen
Guest
A cool brand image can be created and maintained with creative advertising. With Apple it started with their iconic Super Bowl ad in 1984. Nike even changed their brand positioning from discount shoes in the ’70s to a premium brand in the ’80s with their “Just Do It” ad campaign. Thirty years later both brands maintain their coolness with edgy advertising. Clever brand stunts can also boost a cool image. Remember the Tesla in space with rocket man at the wheel? The Colin Kaepernick “controversies” have reinvigorated the Nike brand. Accident or brilliant strategy? Clothing brand Diesel cleverly combined the trendy “pop-up” shop concept with a brand stunt when they opened a one-off store in an area of Manhattan known for offering cheap fakes of well-known brand names. To make sure customers thought the items were truly knock-offs, the T-shirts, hats and jeans were labeled with Diesel misspelled as “Deisel”. But all of the items were genuine Diesel products made in their manufacturing plant in Italy and sent to the pop-up shop on Canal Street. The… Read more »
Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

“Niche” cool vs. “mass” cool should also be a factor in itself. That’s about your brand positioning and knowing who your core consumer segments are. Without innovation in your product portfolio, (targeted) marketing and something new to keep your consumers engaged, you will lose them over time. I think about how Abercrombie & Fitch fell from grace. There were business reasons but a big one was that they were no longer trendy/cool/with it.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I was relieved that the article did not provide an algorithm for how to be cool. In the world of science + art, cool is heavily driven by art. So is cool product or marketing? I’ll say yes … all of the above.

At its peak, I’ll even say that the Gap was cool. In the late ’90s when Gap ran the “Swing” campaign, I would argue that in that moment they were cool. They took the world’s most boring product, chino trousers, and made them cool. That cool was momentary. It proved to be not sustainable. So what went missing? FUN.

I’ll add fun to the list of 10 attributes. Gap could not figure out how to maintain the fun. That may have been impossible in that specific instance, but I will still argue that fun belongs on the list. And wouldn’t fun also be what we now want to call experiential retail?

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

A brand is only cool when it is “authentic” (to use the now passé and overused term — but it’s valid here). In other words, there’s a truth behind the brand (like Nike’s athletes) which is the core of the brand.

This study, as a result, has little value in it. It’s a mistake I see often where academics look for “concepts” to tie everyone together. Unfortunately, the specifics of cool are the most critical things. (This is an ancient error — the nomothetic vs the ideographic. And it’s a very serious problem in academia where no one gets promoted for saying “it all depends on the situation.”)

I wrote about this issue recently and observed that “Searching too hard for “laws” creates error where there was none previously.”

Paco Underhill
BrainTrust

The trouble with cool is that you can also get uncool. Gap and Levi’s were cool at one point and then lost it. Victoria’s Secret was hot, then unhot. We also have “lighthouse” brands like L.L.Bean which was New England, outdoorsy, comfortable and relaxed. The problem is also what gets cool in one place in the world can get uncool somewhere else. Fashion used to dictated by New York, London and Paris — yes they still influence — but cool is so much more fluid in 2019.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

This is definitely one of those things where, you just ARE (or aren’t) … you can’t try to be cool, no matter what factors research comes up with. You have to just KNOW that say, backing Colin Kaepernic is a cool thing to do or that closing on Black Friday works or telling people that buying your stuff is “stupid” makes it even cooler. This is not something you can train, you either get it or you don’t. The key is hiring people that do get it and no matter what your uncool instincts tell you, let ’em go!

We always say, “Don’t tell us you’re cool — we’ll all be the judge of that.”

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"As soon as a brand becomes mass cool, it starts to lose its coolness. Perhaps Apple and Google are a few of the exceptions."
"“Niche” cool vs. “mass” cool should also be a factor in itself. That’s about your brand positioning and knowing who your core consumer segments are."
"This is definitely one of those things where, you just ARE (or aren’t) … you can’t try to be cool, no matter what factors research comes up with."

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