Cool hunting in a recession

December 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

In my last post I left off as I sped on my way to Walmart with a short, but important shopping list. Well, sped isn’t the right word. I kind of puttered around a bit and eventually got around to it. The problem was the list. There wasn’t a sexy thing on it. Nothing to rev my engine. Just a few of life’s little essentials. Yawn.

Does a recession have to be boring? I’m craving a little pizzazz – I’m hunting for a sexy brand story to be my beacon of hope as these financial waves keep crashing.

So who has a little sex appeal and makes a strong brand promise? Who gives you what you expect every time? Who never fails to captivate, always commanding our attention? You could call him Mr. Aurum, but ask OldGoldBug and he’ll tell you… it’s gold! Shiny, shiny gold.

Oh you can argue about how it will perform at any given moment, you can argue about when to get in and when to get out, but we can never quite get gold out of our collective imagination. Gold happens. It is like a force of nature. But is it really the brand story that I’m looking for? I mean, who controls gold? We get on board, and ride the ride, but we don’t have the reins. We don’t have a hero. There’s sex appeal, but where’s the role model?

Gold may shine, but it is not a beacon.

So maybe we need more than sex appeal. Maybe the hunt is for a brand that sets expectations and consistently meets them.

What about Coke? Coca-Cola is like gold you can drink, right? In a world of choices it is one we love to choose. Small players will flounder, experimental flavors will come and go, but Coke will endure. It has all the comfort and nostalgia of gold – we can taste it in our minds before we even pour a glass. You can’t do a much better job of turning expectation into anticipation than that. It’s refreshing even in a recession. But where’s the new? Coke hasn’t been around as long as gold, but it is older than you and me.

So here I am in Walmart cool-hunting for a brand that might have a story to tell despite the economy. An”it” brand – a “brand that can” in the shaky days ahead. I know you’re thinking “cool” and Walmart… might as well look for a contact lens in a bubble wrap factory, but their might be a glimmer of hope. The rumors are flying about a certain brand phenomenon making its way into the world of “always low prices” – the iPhone.

Yes, I’m picking Apples over Blackberries this season. The iPhone promised fun and great design and usability and cool. And it delivered. RIM doesn’t know what it is promising anymore. It is slipping into the purgatory of “me-too” when it should be trumpeting its difference and focusing on context.

Now there are some who might argue that putting the iPhone in Walmart will dilute the perceived value of the brand, but at this point all the cool kids and early adopters are already on their second iPhone. The allure of the iPhone is now moving through the mainstream middle and starting to convert some late adopters. And they’ll find plenty of them at Walmart. But that’s only part of it. You see Apple gets the idea of context. Steve Jobs understands alignment. The iPhone exists in harmony with iTunes, the App Store, and a continuity of experience with Mac OS X. The iPods and iPhones are gateway drugs for a Mac experience.

Apple is a beacon and the iPhone is their bright light, and even in a recession we’ll be following that beam towards new and better designs, and consistently (and insanely) great brand experiences.

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