Last week, The Brainzooming Group was in San Francisco for the Social Media Strategies Summit, where Mike presented a content marketing strategy workshop and a talk on collaborative engagement. In the workshop, he brought up the idea of turning seemingly boring brands into cool brands. That’s important, because brand strategy has everything to do with cool. This is true even if you’re an industrial brand, as Mike pointed out:

Well, okay, you might be thinking, But there’s nothing cool about our brand. There’s no fire. We’re completely utilitarian, unhip, the least sexy service on the planet. Possibly the galaxy. Hear me, friend: no matter what you do, there’s something inherently cool about your services, your product, your people, and maybe even all three. Marcel Proust was spot on when he wrote that the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. So let’s see about getting some new eyes and putting them to work for you.

3 Keys to Creating Cool Brands from Boring Brands

1. Define Cool

Start by making sure your definition is up to date. Cool used to be a narrow space occupied by a select few, but that isn’t the case any longer. Its definition has expanded, if not outright exploded, and now there’s much more space at this particular table. Within the current landscape, here are a few traits I see that fit inside the broad category of cool brands:

  • On trend
  • Intelligent
  • Humanitarian
  • Rebellious
  • Kind
  • Honest
  • Clever
  • Unique
  • Consistent
  • Simple

What makes these things cool? It all boils down to the same thing. And despite its recent run as an overused buzzword, at its core it’s all that matters. It’s authenticity, of course. When something is true, we know it on an instinctual level that can be hard to quantify. Perhaps it’s easier to quantify its opposite. It’s a scientific fact that phoniness disguised as authenticity creeps us out. To paraphrase the incisively smart Eve Callahan from Umpqua Bank, whose presentation at the Social Media Strategies Summit left my brain…well, zooming: humans are great at spotting blanks.

But when we’re interacting with authenticity, there’s a sense of order and peace about the interaction. There’s even, dare I say, a sense of fun and creativity about it. In this unreliable world, authenticity is as cool as it gets. So whether you’re authentically kind, consistent, rebellious, clever, or something else altogether: you’re cool. Humans love authenticity. (It’s essential for excellence. If excellence were a planet, authenticity would be its carbon, the basis for all its life forms.)

Chances are, your organization can identify two or three of these as descriptors, but generally there’s a standout trait in what you do and how you do it that’s become, in the mind of your customer, a kind of shorthand for your identity. (If that makes you nervous, don’t worry, just keep reading: this is going to help.)

2. Ask Your People

So what is that standout trait? Ask your people. For our purposes, “your people” comprises customers, colleagues, higher-ups, partners, collaborators, and, if possible, competitors. Reach out to as many as possible to get their input. You can do this in person (quickly ask someone on your way to a meeting, or when you’re grabbing a coffee, and jot down their answer), via email, via text, over the phone, using an online survey or collaboration — you get the picture. If you can get everyone to respond on one platform, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. What’s definitely necessary is to have the feedback of multiple representatives from each group.

When you feel you’ve gotten either as much feedback as you need, or as much as you’re going to get, take a close look at it. What words come up most often? Which one most closely matches your brand promise?* Once you’ve identified that, you can move on to the fun part.

3. Amp it Up

This is where you bring it to life. Set aside some planning time, then take that ineffable cool that’s central to your organization and walk it through every available venue. If you can include a couple of trusted associates to help, all the better. Make your cool the lens through which you see, the starting point of everything you do. What does honesty (or rebellion, or intelligence, or kindness, etc.) look like in social-first content, in print, over radio? What does it look it in customer service, in an internal newsletter, in an all-hands-on-deck meeting? How does a fundamentally honest organization start and end the business day?

Chances are, your organization’s doing some (or many!) of these things already, but you’ll find that you’re coming up with simple-to-implement ideas that had never occurred to you before. And while you can’t possibly change everything you’d like to change, there’s probably a whole lot you can amp up to shine a big spotlight on what make your cool brand as cool as it is. Which has the potential to drastically improve the strength and success of your entire organization.

And that’s pretty cool. Emma Alvarez Gibson

*If they don’t match, perhaps it’s time for a little internal disruptive thinking?

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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