iMedia Connection

5 signs your brand is becoming uncool

Drew Hubbard

Everybody wants to be cool. Even the geeks who have embraced their geekiness these days have done so because, frankly, that's cool. (Thanks "Big Bang Theory.") And this goes for brands too.

Coolness comes in all forms these days. As a brand, you don't have to be the jock (Red Bull) or the prom queen (Coach hand bags). No matter your category, you can be cool if your core customers think you're cool. (That includes you, CPG brands.) Coolness is an attitude. But it's an attitude that must be established and maintained.

If you're fortunate enough to have some people out there who think your brand is cool, be happy. But don't get lazy. Coolness does not maintain itself. Here are the signs that your cool factor is on the decline -- and some ways to counteract the lameness.

You start to believe that you're as cool as you say you are

There's nothing more uncool than thinking you're cool. It's as simple as that. As soon as your brand starts acting like it's hot shit, it's going to get knocked down a peg or two by a competitor. Just ask Apple.

Apple doesn't just sell computers, phones, tablets, and expensive cables. It sells an image -- bragging rights to the latest and greatest piece of technology. And without a doubt, Apple has been a strong driver in the adoption of new technology. But the thing that Apple fanboys don't like to hear is that the latest and greatest bits of technology often already exist on other devices. And in some cases, that technology has been available for a long time (by technology standards). Thus, as a direct dig on the fanboys and Apple itself, Samsung decided to bring its adoption of cutting-edge technology to the forefront of its recent "The Next Big Thing Is Already Here" campaign for its Galaxy S3.

In its ongoing campaign, Samsung openly mocks Apple's customers, specifically the smug ones who like to wait in line for new iPhones. Watch it here:

The differences in features between the iPhone and the Galaxy S3 aren't the point. Most knowledgeable people agree that Apple makes excellent products. The point is that Apple, by reveling in its own coolness and cultivating its fanboy culture, opened itself up to some incredibly effective lampooning. In the end, Samsung comes out on top by acknowledging the silliness of Apple's popularity.

How to make it cool again
These are simple schoolyard politics at play here. If you realize that your brand has left itself open to mockery due to its uppity or otherwise too-cool image, then you have two choices: Get more humble in your marketing, or poke fun at yourself first. The first can be a challenge, as it represents a complete deviation from a marketing strategy. But the second is simpler than you think. A couple of tongue-in-cheek online videos poking fun at -- in Apple's case -- the ridiculously long lines people wait in for Apple products would have gone a long way in cutting competitors like Samsung off before they could do it first. With hindsight being 20/20, Apple needs to anticipate the next assault and move first.

Your parents think it's cool

Yes, expanding your customer base to a new generation is great. Unless, of course, your brand is founded on the needs of a specific generation. Consider Facebook.

I can tell you the exact moment when Facebook stopped being cool for me. It was the day that I got a friend request from my wife's dad. Later that month, both of my own parents joined. Don't get me wrong. I'm not too cool for my family. In fact, I have a personal rule that prevents me from hiding posts from any family member (which can get -- interesting). I love interacting with my family on Facebook. But such family-friendly activity certainly demotes the social media giant into the same coolness category as Crock Pots and "Burn Notice."

And it's not just me. In April, an ABC News and Washington Post poll revealed that Facebook is viewed as "unfavorable" by three times as many people as Google and two times as many as Apple.

How to make it cool again
You don't. You just have to roll with it and stop trying to market yourself as the hippest thing since handlebar mustaches.

In the case of Facebook, as a user, you'll just have to seek your non-parent coolness elsewhere (try Snapchat). Facebook is a gigantic, profitable machine that continues to effectively stay on the bleeding edge of online technology as it revolutionizes social interaction. Facebook's goal has always been popularity, and it's winning that game rather effectively. Naysay all you want, but you have to admit that Facebook works pretty well most of the time considering that everybody you know is on it right now. Including your parents.

Your fan base tells you so

Obviously, the easiest way to know that your brand is becoming uncool is for someone else to tell you so. This is usually painful to hear. But hearing it is much better than having people talk behind your back. And luckily for brands, there is no shortage of consumers out there today who will gladly tell you when your marketing or products or customer service has become, well, totally lame.

The Gap is a well-trod but classic example of this. In late 2011, The Gap tried to change its logo, presumably to demonstrate that it was keeping pace with the times. But its customers were not pleased -- and they let the brand know via a torrent of social media criticism. As it turns out, The Gap's customers liked the classic logo. Classic is cool. Progress for progress's sake is not.

How to make it cool again
Listen and respond. It's as simple as that. Make sure you have your ear tuned to the social media sphere. Ideally, this would entail a robust social listening platform, but in the least, set up Google Alerts and have someone keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook for you.

In The Gap's case, the brand did it right. It returned to its old logo and hasn't looked back.

You've become so irreverent, you're offensive

Being irreverent is cool. But there's a line that should not be crossed. GoDaddy found that line.

If you piss enough people off with a TV ad, you don't even have to air the ad on television. The press coverage of a supposedly offensive spot can potentially dwarf the exposure of even a Super Bowl TV ad. This "any press is good press" attitude helped build GoDaddy into the household brand name it is today. One of the unfortunate side effects of this gimmick marketing strategy is that sooner or later, many people are going to start associating the brand with the gimmick rather than the core message. In GoDaddy's case, sleaziness. (The company's CEO did nothing to improve the company's reputation.)

How to make it cool again
Stop being such an ass. Irreverence doesn't have to disregard good taste. So be more cognizant of the people that you might annoy by pretending that you don't care.

As for GoDaddy, after seven years of producing in-house TV spots, GoDaddy hired Deutsch to produce its ads for the 2013 Super Bowl. The end of an era? If so, it's the end of an era in which GoDaddy had become decidedly uncool.

People are looking for your brand on a new platform, and you aren't there

Being a "cool" brand means knowing what your target audience thinks is cool and embracing those trends as they come to pass. Today, that means staying abreast of the social platforms that those people are on -- especially when they expect to be able to engage with their favorite brands on those platforms.

There are examples of brands that failed to get on the bandwagon at the right time with every new social platform, but the latest and most obvious example is Pinterest. This visual platform's user base skews heavily female, and as such, it has become a playground for health and beauty, culinary, fashion, and jewelry brands. As such, the big names in these areas need to be present by pinning and sharing the content and styles that they find cool.

With that in mind, Tiffany & Co. is missing out in a big way. It is still among a shrinking list of obvious pinnable brands that just isn't on the platform in a meaningful way yet. Yet few things are as ogle-worthy as Tiffany & Co.'s painfully luxurious products. Hell, the brand already has nearly 5,000 followers on Pinterest, despite having never pinned a single dang thing. People want the brand to be there. It just isn't.

How to make it cool again
Duh. Be there. Even if you need to start slowly, figure out a way to do it. You don't have to be the No. 1 brand in your category on the platform. But if people are looking for you there, they need to be able to find you. Otherwise, you're insulting your target audience -- and that's totally uncool.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.