Shauneen Procter chats about the art of cool in the age of social media…which is “informed by a 21st century communication context featuring unprecedented transparency between brand and consumer”.
Cool is the holy grail of 21st century marketing… and while most brands chase the cool factor in one way or another, for youth orientated companies cool is quite simply a bottom line imperative.
But what actually makes a brand cool? If most brands and their agencies are perpetually striving for the cool factor, how do some achieve it while others are written off by their target markets as trying too hard?
Well it starts with the product. You can market as much as you like, but the product has to meet the functional needs and demands of the consumer as the first point of departure.
This approach sounds like common sense, but it is actually a significant shift from the method established in the 1980s, and is informed by a 21st century communication context featuring unprecedented transparency between brand and consumer.
As recently as 10 years ago brands with a big enough budget could simply buy up mass media space and dominate the market. Today, however, the innate transparency of social media means shouting louder than other brands simply doesn’t deliver the bottom line rewards it used to.
Business fundamentals and sustainability are more important than ever. If the Research and Development basics are not well engineered, to add voice to a brand in the classic mass-media sense can be futile, at best, and dangerous at worst. Social media platforms are word of mouth on steroids, and so one needs to add fuel to this fire in a very strategic way. Communication is an ingredient that must come at the end of a long process. It’s the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Two of Idea Engineers’ clients, BlackBerry® and Gold Reef City Theme Park, recently won key categories in the Sunday Times Generation Next 2011 Brand Survey Awards. BlackBerry® was named Coolest Brand Overall, unseating Coca-Cola for the first time in years, took top honours in the Coolest Cellphone category and emerged as the Coolest High-Tech Gadget. BlackBerry® Messenger (BBM™) was also named Best Cellphone Application, while Gold Reef City Theme Park was identified as the Coolest Local Fun Destination. Idea Engineers manages public relations and advertising for both brands.
Generation Y is a tricky market to please because they are mobile, tech-loving, connected consumers who are very vocal about the brands they love or hate. If you end up on the wrong side of this equation, marketing campaigns can unravel, and quickly. Conversely however, when you market convincing brands the cool factor can grow exponentially thanks to the viral effect enabled by social networks.
Ultimately, the key to establishing and maintaining a cool brand identity lies in taking strategic control over the complex interplay between public relations and advertising. Get the relationship between these two elements right and you have a brand mix able to punch well above its weight.
Nowadays advertising is accepted as part of modern life. But brands need to be careful to ensure that they’re advertising products that deliver what they promise, and that the door is always wide open for consumer feedback and comment. The mix is crucial if the advertising is going to be accepted and not resented as misleading or invasive by the target market.
It is also vitally important to differentiate between seasonal fads and genuine cool. There are seasonal trends, and then there is genuinely embedded coolness. Think Madonna vs. Tiffany, to draw the analogy at the simplest level. The key point is that seasonal cool is transient, while genuine cool can only be based on fundamentals that speak to what the market wants, and that evolve over a sustained period of time, along with the market.
The BlackBerry story offers a case in point. As little as two years ago the brand had practically no traction in the South African youth market and was perceived as a business person’s tool. Yet in 2011, BlackBerry swept the board at the Sunday Times Generation Next 2011 Brand Survey Awards. So what really happened?
The apparent miracle was achieved via product innovation and rounded off by innovative communication. As a case in point, take the pioneering BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), and a relevant innovative communication platform in the shape of South Africa’s burgeoning spoken word scene, and you have the makings of cool.
Shauneen Procter is managing partner at Idea Engineers, based in Johannesburg.