Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace

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9781400154241: Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace
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The former creative director and co-CEO of Barneys joins forces with a celebrated twenty-eight-year-old marketing maverick to teach readers how to break through the clutter and achieve a relevant point of difference in this entertaining and imminently readable book.

Cool isn't just a state of mind, a celebrity fad, or an American obsession-it's a business. Combining Gene Pressman's revolutionary creative vision with Noah Kerner's marketing expertise, Chasing Cool digs beneath the surface and reveals how emphasizing long-lasting relevance trumps a fleeting preoccupation with what's hot and what's not.

Although other books have zeroed in on a single aspect of the cool factor, Chasing Cool expands the playing field by including interviews with business icons, in-depth research, and personal anecdotes. This stunning reference includes interviews with more than seventy of today's most respected luminaries, from Tom Ford and Russell Simmons to Richard Meier and Bonnie Fuller. In a multidimensional, entertaining, and imminently readable book that redefines how to appeal to today's savvy consumer, Pressman and Kerner explore the lessons to be learned by America's shortsighted search for the ever-popular concept of cool.

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About the Author:

Noah Kerner is the president of Noise, a marketing firm featured on 60 Minutes.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: The iPod of My Industry: Whatever They Did, I Want That

A killer application is a powerful thing, which is why people are always looking for one.

In the age when more and more people believe there is a shortcut to cool, however, companies are increasingly frantic in their chase for one of those killer apps. And as a result, they're more likely than ever to be looking in someone else's backyard.

Of course, companies have always looked longingly into other company's yards. "In the '50s you wanted to be the General Motors of something," adman and Adweek columnist Tom Messner told us. "In the early '60s you wanted to be the Xerox of something, then it became the IBM of something, then the Nike of something, and the list goes on and on. At one point people even wanted to be the Japan of something. My friend Bill McGowan, CEO of MCI from 1968 to 1987, said this to me: there's always something that somebody wants to be the something of."

Today, the paradigm has shifted to another popular brand, and everyone wants a piece of it. What used to be about being like IBM or Japan has been replaced by something white, plastic, and highly portable. Today, everyone wants to be the...iPod of their industry!

How many times have you heard someone utter that phrase or a phrase just like it? And how many times have you thought to yourself, Like, who doesn't, dude?

Of course people want to be the iPod of their industry. Who doesn't want to be behind an amazing, original idea that single-handedly revolutionizes a business model?

(Exactly how revolutionary? Here's one eye-opening stat: according to the New York City Police Department, after years of falling numbers, subway crime recently went up 18 percent. The cause? iPod theft.)

But as Martin Puris, an advertising legend responsible for such campaigns as BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine," told us, this Peeping Tom approach is usually the first step to not being the iPod of your industry. "Looking in another person's backyard is usually a replacement to thinking for yourself -- and unless you can execute better than your neighbor it's a surefire way to be second-best."

The next time someone says they want to be the iPod of their industry, ask them this: before he came up with the iPod, did Steve Jobs walk around telling people he wanted to be the Sony Walkman of his industry?

Think different is what should define every company, not Me-Too. The question is, How do you operate according to that philosophy? Do you give consumers what they want, what they're already expecting? Or do you give consumers what they don't yet know they want?

We believe that you give consumers what they don't yet know they want -- just when they're ready for it. In order to do that, it's necessary to go to market with a perfectly timed disruptive idea that breaks from the norm and fulfills an unmet need.

Fortunately, there are different ways to get there. Sometimes creating what feels as original as an iPod is a manicured illusion. Sometimes it has to do with change in the face of popular wisdom. Sometimes it's about being first to market; sometimes it's about being second. At times, it's both, or neither. And other times, as they used to say in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's just a step to the right. The trick is seeing the difference between that surefooted side step and the flatfooted chase for consequence.

AN ACQUIRED TASTE

There is nothing quite like the story of Grey Goose vodka to illustrate the complexities of creating a killer app. Consider for a moment the plight of the clear spirits industry. Modern vodka brands suffer from the same dilemma that plagues all digital audio players that aren't iPods. Not only are they peddling an often indistinct product that has very little color, taste, or character, but they must also compete with the iPod of their industry: Grey Goose.

By any objective standard, in less than seven years since it hit the market, Grey Goose has drowned the competition. Walk into any nightclub in New York City and you'll see the "it" vodka on about 80 percent of the tables. Goose can be found at all the high-end fashion events. Meanwhile, its urban cred is massive: rappers namecheck it while guzzling it down in videos. After rap duo 8Ball & MJG's Almost Famous came out in November 2001, sales of Grey Goose went up 600 percent. Goose is "super-premium." Sometimes, it gets upgraded to "ultrapremium." Just the feel of the brand name slipping past your lips -- "Goose, rocks, two limes, please" -- is considered prestigious.

Yes, there's no doubt that Grey Goose has succeeded in becoming the iPod of its industry. The fascinating part is how it got there.

A Matter of Taste

Is Grey Goose really the world's best tasting vodka? Is the iPod the best functioning portable music device? It doesn't matter. As the infamous expression goes, print the legend.

But let's seriously consider the question for a minute. Or, better yet, let's respond with another question: what, exactly, makes a vodka taste great?

The fact is that the appeal of a premium vodka is more about the absence of taste, the lack of any notable distinction: the less a vodka tastes like "liquor," the more likely one will be to guzzle it down. It was this very reason why the flavored-vodka market soared: all those peach and vanilla vodkas happened to taste even less like straight vodka. Vodka, for most consumers, is about mixing. The so-called "highly sophisticated" vodka drinker will scoff at that notion. But as Mr. T used to say, "Who the fool?" For is there really such a thing as a sophisticated vodka drinker (as opposed to, say, a sophisticated Bordeaux drinker), or is this a personal branding device?

Does anybody "taste" vodka when they're drinking it with cranberry, orange, tonic, or the ever-so-delicious Red Bull?

The factors that make vodka palatable are highly subjective. You can hang the prestige of your brand on taste, but there will always be yet another taste test, with a brand-new champ -- as the following well-documented New York Times study makes clear. If you're one of those lucky people who can actually discern the putative superiority of Grey Goose, the winner of this study may surprise you:

It was not exactly a victory for the underdog, but chalk it up as a triumph of the unexpected. The idea for the Dining section's tasting panel was to sample a range of the new high-end unflavored vodkas that have come on the market in the last few years in their beautifully designed bottles and to compare them with a selection of established super-premium brands. To broaden the comparison, or possibly as a bit of mischief, our tasting coordinator, Bernard Kirsch, added to our blind tasting a bottle of Smirnoff, the single best-selling unflavored vodka in the United States, but a definite step down in status, marketing and bottle design. After the 21 vodkas were sipped and the results compiled, the Smirnoff was our hands-down favorite.

Wait? Smirnoff? The best-tasting vodka? As the Times wrote, "Shocking." They concluded by adding, "[by] the end of our tasting it was Smirnoff at the top of our list, ahead of many other names that are no doubt of higher status in stylish bars and lounges. Some of those names did not even make our Top 10. Grey Goose, from France, one of the most popular vodkas, was felt to lack balance and seemed to have more than a touch of sweetness" (italics ours). Clearly, there's a critical lesson to be learned here: in a category that is based almost exclusively on a bland product -- a commodity like, say, vodka, tissues, water, whatever -- to truly break through, your point of difference often needs to be engineered. The late Sidney Frank, the man who built Grey Goose, crafted his great idea with a simple plan based on gut instinct, personal vision, and the notion that perception is an incredibly powerful elixir. He used a frosted bottle. He shipped Goose in wood crates, as wine bottles are, so it appeared more valuable. He produced his vodka in the "great vodka region of France," an association that certainly doesn't hurt when you're trying to communicate prestige. He priced his product at thirty dollars, which was two times the price of a bottle of Absolut -- the most expensive vodka at the time and another former iPod of its industry. Frank gave away Grey Goose to any charity or society event that wanted vodka poured -- a shrewd way to reach the exact target audience he was pursuing. And he named his vodka Grey Goose, a moniker that certainly didn't carry much perceived cachet at the time.

Frank went out of his way to indoctrinate distributors and bartenders, which meant of course that bartenders would in turn indoctrinate consumers.

But most important, Frank very shrewdly coopted the tagline "The World's Best Tasting Vodka" after it was awarded that distinction by the Beverage Tasting Institute, and it developed an entire advertising campaign revolving around the phrase. That "World's Best Tasting Vodka" positioning statement subsequently led to Goose being officially enshrined as the best by tastemakers and followers alike.

We had planned to talk to Mr. Frank for this book but he passed away shortly before our interview. So his publicist, Sarah Zeiler, shared Frank's thoughts on the matter with us: "Sidney believed that France was the perfect place from which to import a vodka because he loved the country and so many other luxury items that came from it. He felt that the best food, wine, champagne, and fashion came from France and so should the world's best vodka."

All of this seems perfectly logical in retrospect but it was totally radical in the mid-'80s. After all, who ever heard of a vodka-making region of France? Shipping vodka in wooden crates was considered perverse. Who would have imagined that consumers would suddenly pay double, and how in the world could someone possibly name a superpremium spirit Grey Goose?

While companies ty...

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9780743497107: Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace

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ISBN 10:  0743497104 ISBN 13:  9780743497107
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