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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Chasing Cool. Standing out in Todays Cluttered Marketplace
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Strategic Direction, Volume 26, Issue 7
Noah Kerner, , Gene Pressman and , Andrew Essex,Atria Books, New York, NY, 2007, 248 pp., ISBN: 0-7434-9709-0, $24.00 (hardback)
Chasing Cool examines the much-revered process of identifying what is “cool” for today’s young consumers. Although named Chasing Cool, this book points out that as a result of chasing cool, companies are only uncovering the last cool phenomenon and not the next. Kerner and Pressman advocate for creating cool, rather than chasing it. “We believe that cool is not the outcome of a chase but rather the province of a tasteful visionary who maintains a personal, authentic point of view” (p. xiii).
The book uses interviews and many examples, and throughout every chapter the authors discuss their experiences – one as a disc jockey and the other as head of merchandising and marketing at Barneys – to make their points. Although a little choppy at times (the authors each have interjected their own experiences – one in bold and the other in bold italics), the authors’ insights into creating cool are interesting, but sometimes obvious. Summaries of each of the chapters follow.
All too often companies create new products with no real innovation or creativity. Their sense of “cool” comes from other successful examples, rather than finding one of their own. Chapter 1: “The iPod of my industry: whatever they did, i want that”, warns against following other companies and borrowing their “cool” findings. If you “hunt” for cool, you will only find what was cool, rather than what will be cool. It is best to seek to better understand your customer so you can create products that they need, even though they may not yet know that they need it. For this reason, the authors advocate for researching the market and presenting revolutionary products that meet, and exceed, the needs of the market. Marketers must realize that “cool” is perceptual, and it is wrapped around the total brand experience. Kerner and Pressman use Grey Goose as an example. Packaged in a frosted bottle, Grey Goose is shipped in wooden crates (like fine wines), is created in France (home of many luxury items), and is twice as expensive as Absolut (the most expensive Vodka when Grey Goose was introduced). These perceptual cues were important to the market accepting Grey Goose as a luxury good.
“A solid internal culture that knows what’s going on in the street tends to produce a strong and distinctive brand, and that’s key to attracting young consumers. The kids on the street are looking to you for guidance – not the other away around” (p. 61). “Chapter 2: ordering in: why outsourced vision doesn’t work unless you first take a closer look at what goes on inside your walls”, looks into the pitfalls of hiring an outside professional to do your “cool hunting.” Company executives are better positioned to understand the market, their lifestyle and mindset, and your company’s mission. This chapter warns that information acquired from an outside agency is probably already on the desk of every competitor you have.
Chapter 3: “Disruptive for disruption’s sake: buzz in a bottle vs aesthetic values”, makes an appeal to avoid the short-term marketing manipulation and trickery that may work, but only temporarily. The four tricky marketing tactics discussed in this chapter are:viral marketing under phony monikers;sex and the celebrity as a way to gain instant breakthrough from the clutter;full-court press to increase mentions in the press with no real legitimate news; andThe ambassador, which uses an army of paid representatives to spread the word about a product.In each of these cases, there is no “realness” about the campaign. Viral Marketing, one of the tricky marketing tactics discussed in Chapter 3, refers to creating the viral campaign without considering the effect on the brand’s customers and the brand’s equity. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken campaign was used as an example of one that did not really add anything to the value of the brand. Additionally, while trying to attract a younger audience Burger King may have turned off the existing audience. Paris Hilton’s appearance in the Carl, Jr’s campaign was noted as an example of a celebrity used to gain attention (sex and the celebrity) with no real benefit to the consumer or brand. As an example of full-court press, Jessica Simpson’s performance at the opening of a new route for a now-defunct airline sought to ensure the press would cover the new route. Jessica’s performance, again, had no real value to the customer or the brand – its only purpose was to ensure that the media would cover the opening. The same is true for the final of the four tricky tactics: buzz marketing. If the buzz (or message) is contrived and delivered by people who are paid and thus have no credibility on the street, the impact on brand and customers will be short-lived at best. “Long-term brand loyalty comes from real creative vision and a genuine connection to what’s going on” (p. 97). The end of this chapter discusses the organic process of developing value in the brand. It encourages adding value through an examination of the entire customer experience and being true to the brand. “A quality aesthetic lasts, and long-term loyalty derived from an improved aesthetic experience is worth the short-term losses” (p. 120).
“In an effort to get noticed, companies seem to make noise for the sake of noise – buying bigger billboards, creating crazy street stunts, and staging events with huge stars for the sake of it” (p. 135). Chapter 4: “Borrowing equity: the lure of luxury, ethnic shoplifting, and authenticity by association”, discusses the use of borrowing equity to break through the crowded marketplace clutter. Three types of borrowed equity discussed in this chapter include swiped semantics, cultural imperialism, and musical chairs. Swiped semantics is the use of a trendy word – the book uses “bling” and “luxury” – in order to make an association with a company or brand. Although easy, this practice sometimes pairs brands with words that have no relevance. Brands must deliver on the promises made by the word associations in order to truly increase brand equity. Cultural imperialism (or “co-optation with acculturation”) is when a company targets a subculture with little understanding of the group. This, of course, leads to a disingenuous attempt to market to the group. “If you’re a company trying to borrow from a culture, you’re obligated to have a real bottom-up understanding about who you’re talking to – and what you should be talking to them about” (p. 154). The use of pop stars to build equity for the brand is called Musical Chairs. Kerner and Pressman talk about the pitfalls of using celebrities, and the need to choose a celebrity that classically reflects the values of the brand; or perhaps even helping to grow an emerging celebrity. Companies need to consider how to make a real connection with the audience – one that shows their understanding and interest in the audience. “So if the goal – and who doesn’t share this goal – is making a real (and profitable) connection to a particular market, the answer is: Share your equity. Move forward with a genuine understanding of how to authentically speak to a market, empowered by a real passion to nurture that market” (p. 168). Starbucks’ use of selling music in their stores is discussed. According to Kerner and Pressman, Starbucks sold 3.5 million CDs in 2005. Starbucks carefully selects those artists that enhance the Starbucks’ experience, balancing “its own equity with the equity of its musical artists.” A recent headline from Ad Age’s Madison and Vine publication reads “McCartney sales get big boost from Starbucks: album debuts at no. 3 on billboard chart.” Borrowing equity works only when the shared equity is relevant to the audience.
In Chapter 5: “Risk management: the greatest risk is not taking one”; Kerner and Pressman discuss the necessity of taking calculated risks in order to be considered cutting-edge or cool. “Achieving genuine relevance for any brand is impossible without taking major risks. The trick, as I arguably learned as well as anyone, is to find the perfect balance between risk-taking and risk-management” (p. 188). The authors discuss that the ability to take risks is partly the outcome of the corporate culture.
Chapter 6: “Don’t fill up your cup: the power of a little less”, points to being able to identify when the consumer has had enough exposure to the brand, and being able to pull back. Brands must be willing to continuously reinvent and differentiate in order to remain relevant. The authors cite the following ideas as those which were continuously repeated in the interviews conducted for the book:Stay focused on a vision but remain open to inspiration from everywhere.Begin with one great idea that’s better than the alternatives.Develop a total aesthetic but always leave room for surprises.Borrow equity authentically and share at the same time.Take big risks with a healthy dose of risk management.Become Goliath but always behave like David (pp. 201-202).Kerner and Pressman encourage using “cool” as a point of differentiation. As previously mentioned, there should be special effort in being genuine in capturing attention, and in the pursuit of cool. Only through thorough research and a genuine connection with customers will companies identify and execute the strategies necessary to achieve coolness in the minds of their consumers.
Reviewed by Traci Warrington, Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, USA.
This review was originally published in Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 27 No. 1, 2010.