By: Dave Collins
What is cool? In the movies, it’s the guy who carries himself with an aura of superiority and swagger, with just enough similarities with ourselves that we can identify with him. In school, it was the kids who differentiated themselves…to a certain extent. What’s the difference between the quarterback in the varsity jacket and the kid in the ICP t-shirt? One remained different, yet conventional and normal, and the other stepped just outside the realm of normality, where people weren’t fully comfortable. Every audience has a limit of abnormality. For businesses, it’s the job of the marketers and the designers to remain conventionally unconventional.
According to Fast Company, coolness can be whittled down to 4 main traits.
- Cool is a social perception
- Coolness is relative
- Coolness is universally positive
- Cool diverges from the norm
The true key to coolness is being unconventional. However, unconventionality has its limits. One must be different, while simultaneously remaining normal enough to not be extreme. A brand that goes too far from the norm will not only fail to become cool, but will run the risk of being disliked. According to the study done by Warren and Campbell on “What Makes Things Cool,” coolness is simply a “very delicate balance of doing something that shows that you go your own way and do your own thing, but you do it in a way that is socially desirable or at least acceptable.” Products that are too conventional are considered boring and mainstream, while products that too extreme are controversial, and thus fail to achieve cool status.
For a business, the lesson is twofold. First, they must know their target market, and what they consider normal. For instance, a Titleist customer is more likely to consider a 9-5 job and a luxury car normal than a Harley Davidson biker who owns a tattoo parlor. Despite the obvious stereotypes, the point remains, normal is a relative term, and thus can only determined by the audience one targets. Secondly, the business must determine what the audience considers the limits of abnormality. Once these limits are determined, designers and marketers must ensure they do not cross it, or they run the risk of being either too extreme, or too “weird.” Therefore, the difference between cool and weird lies solely in the audience’s view of normalcy and convention. A product, or pitch, must be different while remaining tied to everyday conventional wisdom. Think white picket fence, with two kids and a golden retriever becoming a granite wall and two bulldogs. Same principles are involved, with just a little twist on the norm.
Finally, coolness has an expiration date. If you’re too cool, people will want to emulate you. If your product or service elicits a high enough demand, it will in turn attract more suppliers, and these suppliers will want to emulate your coolness. If too many people emulate your coolness, then the next thing you know, you’re mainstream and conventional, and therefore, uncool. It’s like when your parents friend you on Facebook. Suddenly, it’s a little too normal and accepted, or a little too weird for you. The lesson, always keep your messaging one step ahead of your competition, and stay one social media platform ahead of your parents.