Product coolness is determined by three product attributes, and an efficient and effective WOM and buzz campaign that helps the product reach the mass market quickly:
Cool products fill a genuine consumer need. Apple’s products, for instance, fill the consumer need for mobile communications, computing, music, and distinction. Nike offers consumers top quality shoes, apparel, and accessories. Starbucks offers consumers a “third place,” away from home, where they can enjoy a cup of coffee and socialize. Red Bull offers drinks that give consumers fast energy.
Cool products seduce consumer fantasy and imagination by delivering better value than conventional products, and address emerging trends; they are simple and easy to use. Google’s glasses, for instance, allow consumers to use Internet search in ways once seen in futuristic movies.
Cool products must appeal to the right group, the early targets of the marketing campaign. Google’s and Apple’s products usually target the two groups that are most sensitive to WOM and buzz campaigns, the “pioneers.” That means the young, restless and curious, consumers enchanted with the new and the exotic; and the “early adopters;” and consumers who are always on the lookout for products that will improve their personal and business lives—a larger group than the pioneers, the bridge to reach to an even larger group, the “early majority.”
Product appeal is usually supported and reinforced by a marketing campaign that should have a message which conveys the product attributes to the target groups. The message should be clear, credible, transparent, direct, and sticky — using characters and stories familiar to consumers.
The message should be launched in the right context, the “conditions and circumstances,” the place and time the message is launched. And it should enlist the “agents of influence” i.e., consumers who are more effective in influencing others or be influenced, by others, and therefore spread the product message, by telling their neighbors, their friends, their co-workers and fellow club-members.
The marketing campaign should add emotion and hype to the controversy surrounding the product to speed up the spread and the diffusion of the message to a critical mass of consumers.
Coolness isn’t something tangible. It’s not something you can measure in the same way that you can count screen size or memory capacity. It’s more powerful than that. It can come from a design that speaks to the market and turns buyers into members of an elite club (in the iPod’s case, a club of devoted music fans). That can happen even if the club is enormous, non-selective and open to anyone willing to open their wallets wide enough.
It can come from being sharp enough to change your industry even when you’re so small the industry has barely noticed you. That’s a coolness connected to your competence – the fairest kind – but it’s also a coolness that can disappear once you become established.
And it can also come from careful marketing. That’s the hardest kind of coolness to create and maintain. In fact, one of the things that makes Apple so cool is its ability to still be cool despite being a big company that produces proprietary software, distributes copy-protected content and runs a capricious monopoly over the applications created by independent developers.
It is possible then to create coolness, but you have to be cool enough to know how to do it.
The bottom line: What distinguishes cool products and sets them apart from uncool products are value, innovativeness, and appeal; and a WOM and buzz and campaign that enlists the “agents of influence” to spread the right message to the right consumers, in the right place and time.