Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What Makes a Brand 'Cool' in 2016?

[ed. 'Authenticity', if this article is to be believed, seems premised mostly on optimizing media platforms and leveraging stars to "brand" products by association or aspiration. But isn't that what all advertising strives to do (and has done for, like... oh, forever)? In other words, it's all about hype, and authenticity as a concept doesn't mean a thing, except as a selling strategy. It's all contrived. Do you really believe a brand 'cares' about you? If so, seek help. These are businesses, not your friends (and be sure to read the last paragraph, the pretentiousness is... mind-boggling). See also: How Branded Content Got Weird.] 

As consumers, we have all kinds of ways to demonstrate our "coolness." For instance, we buy $60 French candles, only to later repurpose them as containers for makeup brushes. We wait in line at Sweetgreen for lunch. We read indie magazines on thick, glossy paper stock. We own a leather jacket, maybe even one with a shearling lining.

But how do the brands themselves do it? Not only are they tasked with producing the next big "It" thing, but their success also hinges on knowing us, the customers, better than we know ourselves. Within fashion — an industry that has spent the last several years in a state of flux — this poses an especially difficult challenge. (...)

Today's well-informed customers see right through any inauthenticity, so it's in a brand's best interest to show its true colors and wait for the appropriate shoppers to respond. "I think brands that are cool and buzzy start with a really specific point of view and a unique take on fashion, and that manifests itself into cool and buzzy," Claire Distenfeld, owner of New York City's Fivestory boutique, describes, explaining that this sincerity allows for distinctive brands to rise to the top. "They're not machines; they [don't have] a conglomerate of people telling them what to do," she says. "With Rosie [Assoulin] and Monse, what they're putting out there is really them. Maybe they're guided by a retailer or a mentor, but what comes out is their vision of what they want their brand to be — not what somebody else wants their brand to be, or hopes for their brand to be." (...)

Few companies understand "Instagrammy" better than beauty brand Glossier, which has reached, perhaps, the very pinnacle of "cool" since its launch in Oct. 2014. While every item in its now-expansive product line is sleek, natural-looking and effective, its secret weapon lies in its devoted community of "real girls," both online and off. With the return of brand loyalty comes a desire to seek membership in and support a tribe, and Glossier's clubhouse is open to all. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Glossier (much like fellow millennial-favorite brand, Reformation) casts a bevy of objectively "cool" models and downtown types in its shoots — think top models, musicians, downtown creatives and multihyphenate "It" girls — which certainly adds to its desirability factor. "Glossier is a prime example here, using multiple social channels to nurture their followers and foster engagement," Owen says, speaking on the importance of brand-to-customer connection. "By speaking the consumer's language, they've tapped into the millennial mindset to feel more like a friend than a corporate foe."

Which perfectly explains why Instagram is so vital to any aspiring "cool" brand. Glossier employs a number of hashtags — including "#glossierinthewild" — so to easily find images to post on its own official channels, and much of @glossier's Instagram visuals come directly from its shoppers. Hewitt explains how this type of user-generated content allows for the most followers and engagement, as brands encourage its customers to both take and post pictures in hopes of being reposted on the brand page — a feat that, in a feed as dreamy and highly followed as Glossier's, is considered something of an honor. "Social media branding is so important, because you have a chance to constantly be feeding your customers with new product, pretty images and selling your lifestyle," she says.

Coolness, as it always has, spans across an entire lifestyle, and in 2016, it's more aspirational to have a feed filled with experiences (say, an exotic vacation) than product alone. Owen testifies that the coolest brands recognize this, "and thus lead their label from a 360-approach to incorporate all aspects of a cultured life." For Hewitt, it's not just aspirational, but inspirational, too. "With social media, everyone is getting dressed to go somewhere or do something," she adds. "Following aspirational brands and influencers encourages our audiences to want to work harder to be part of that world."

by Maura Brannigan, Fashionista | Read more:
Image: Vetements