You do not have to be the next biggest, baddest, coolest thing out there to have a strong brand that produces results. Sometimes it’s hip to be square.
We have found one of the most common attributes companies cite when asked to define the vision of their brand is “innovative.” It can be an uncomfortable conversation when we try to explain to clients that being differentiated does not automatically mean you are innovative. And that’s not a bad thing. You do not have to be the next biggest, baddest, coolest thing out there to have a strong brand that produces results. Sometimes it’s hip to be square.
Selling yourself on innovation requires an audience that sees themselves as risk takers. In other words, they see themselves as cool — and, by extension, you think they want their brands to be cool, too. Early adopters are a minority population, and they are fickle by definition. For true, long-term success, you are looking to build a relationship that reinforces loyalty. You don’t want to be behind the times, but sometimes a moderate approach isn’t so bad.
While “cool” may be a must-have for most consumer technology brands, for other brands being reliable, trustworthy, understanding, offering peace of mind are much more important characteristics. Financial services firms immediately come to mind, as do many B2B brands. But even for consumer brands being cool isn’t always where it’s at — but that doesn’t mean you can’t be relevant.
Oreo is a good example of how a brand that has nothing to do with innovation can use its brand to capture audiences and improve performance. Oreo cookies aren’t about being the most innovative cookie — in fact, the trademarked chocolate wafer imprint design has been the same since 1952. Their brand is about nostalgia, fun, playfulness, and escaping for from the seriousness of life. Yet, with their clever ad campaigns and smart co-branding and their of-the-moment tweet during this year’s Super Bowl, they manage to keep themselves in the hearts, minds and stomachs of their target audiences.
The Gap is an example of a company that tried to rebrand “cool” only to receive massive criticism and negative publicity. In 2010 Gap updated their logo — new typeface, lowercase lettering, gradated box as a secondary symbol. The immediate uproar screamed at Gap loud and clear what audiences considered their brand: classic, a staple, the strong foundation of your wardrobe. People who shop at the Gap are looking for the modern, quality basics not the latest avant garde piece. The backlash resulted in Gap reverting back to their original logo. But the company is still leading the charge with fresh takes on wardrobe staples (such as colored jeans) that keep the Gap one of the top fashion brands out there.
There are even technology-driven brands that have found their niche away from the “cool crowd”. Volvo comes to mind with their boxy design and brand build around safety. Or Maytag with their reputation for quality and reliability. No one is going to accuse the Maytag man of being hip.
When you talk branding, people want to hear about the leading edge — the Apples, the Samsungs, the Googles. But there are many more brands that have been successful because of being decidedly uncool.
So tell us: What are your most favorite “uncool” brands?