Capturing Cool in Western Canada

Cool is the mecca of brand identity and any brand strategist knows it, however, the process of gaining and maintaining ‘coolness’ is no easy feat. Many brands have tried and failed to adopt this elusive characteristic, resulting in a tarnished reputation that can outlive the brand’s life itself. Recently, I presented research specifically conducted for the BC Marketing & Advertising industry on “What’s Cool in the West.” The presentation examined not only what is considered cool in Western Canada, but also, what brands can do in order to be cool. Findings showed that the perception of what’s cool has changed, and while the pursuit of achieving this enviable status is oftentimes challenging, the endeavor can be simplified by some easy steps.

What is cool

What our study revealed was that what is regarded as cool has certainly changed over the years. In 2015, the millennial generation agrees that experiences (30%) are now more valued than material possessions (29%). Young people are far more willing to spend their hard earned cash on a trip or a vacation rather than clothes or cars. Cool experiences include things like unique vacations (36%), outdoor adventures (10%) and once-in-a-lifetime events (like Coachella or Burning Man) (6%). Young people are more interested in life experiences, events they can share with their friends or followers. That being said, material objects still have appeal, with 32% of people regarding electronics as cool, followed by cars (14%) and clothing (5%). Finally, people are still cool too, with 46% of the population agreeing that family and friends are cool and 35% believing celebrities are cool. People have power over what we believe is cool, which brings me to my next point of who is cool and how did they obtain this heartedly desired trait.

Can brands be cool?

With 68% of engagement in what’s cool coming from the Internet and 58% from social media, people judge coolness by content, by who is posting that content and why. How a brand is represented on social platforms can absolutely project the longevity of their relevance, therefore, the brand persona needs to be universal over all communications if they want to convince buyers to adopt their brand. Today’s consumers are smarter than they have ever been and they will not be won over easily. Consumers want to buy from brands that they feel ‘understand’ them. People are no longer buying what your brand sells; they are buying what your brand is.

What are the coolest brands in BC?

We asked British Columbians what the coolest brands are, and prompted them with a list of 65 BC-based brands. The top ten coolest brands in BC were ranked as follows:

1: MEC
2. Vancouver Canucks
3. Lululemon
4. Granville Island Brewing company
5. EA
6. A&W
7. YVR
8. Aritizia
9. Vancity
10. Cactus Club

Our observation is that the one thing all these brands have in common is authenticity. They all espouse values that make their brands resonate with British Columbians, and all of their actions to support their brand remain authentic to what they stand for. Whether we’re talking about the focus that MEC has on the love of outdoor activities on the West Coast or the love of fashion that Aritzia generates among scores of fashion-forward women, all of the brands listed in the top ten remain true to their roots and exercise authentic brand experiences at every step of the way.

What can brands do to be cooler?

Our top ten brands have managed to capture the cool factor, demonstrating it isn’t impossible. There are proven ways to ensure your consumers consider your brand as cool. So how can we leverage this information on cool in order to promote brand equity? Certain actions studied are shown to be cooler than others with regards to brand operations. In relation to social media, some actions that a brand can take in order to seem cooler are:

Respond to customers
Offer contests/prizes
Educate/teach you something
Extra discounts to those following the brand
Allow people to post comments/ideas about the brand
Post things about local events/causes
Tell you about a sale

Meanwhile, knowing what is not cool is just as, if not more important than, knowing what is cool. Here are some things that are proven to be less cool or even uncool brand actions:

Post photos
Give you perks for liking or friending a page
Post videos/links/brands
Invite people to take pictures/videos related to the brand
Remind you of their product or service
Share content unrelated to the brand
Use memes
Post something related to a celebrity

Furthermore, as touched on above, one of the most endearing qualities a brand can possess today is authenticity. When a consumer buys from a brand they more or less begin a trusting relationship with that brand and when that trust is violated, the relationship is shaken. Consumers want their brands to be accountable, to be concerned with the well-being of the world, and to admit when they are wrong. A brand should always ask themselves how they can utilize authenticity to encourage: word of mouth recommendations, sharing with friends, and deep connection to said brand.

Be yourself

Being cool has never been formulaic or predictable, however, engaging in the actions discussed can elevate a brand to another level. Furthermore, studying what is cool in Western Canada also yielded the realization that what is cool here is cool across the majority of the country. All things aside, while the term cool has been thrown around considerably in this article, one should centralize on the concept that honesty and authenticity are absolutely paramount in today’s consumer-driven world. The smog of traditional advertising has been lifted with the birth of social media and transparency is considerably important to nurture an amicable brand/consumer relationship. Being cool and being authentic have proven to go hand in hand. Ultimately, consumers will choose who is cool enough to come to their party; however, by using the methods discussed here you will certainly receive your due invitation.

To view the full presentation from “What’s Cool in the West,” click here.