Whether you're a rock star or a small business owner, the one way to ensure continued success in your field is to master the art of cool.
Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Colorado at Boulder recommend offering a moderate amount of rebellion to your target market, and the products or celebrity you're trying to sell will become a marketable icon.
Two researchers unlocked the secrets of being cool through a test designed to measure a consumer's definition of what makes musicians and products popular. The results were published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
"The question that we wanted to answer is when does following your own course rather than conforming to the norm make a brand or person more or less cool?" said Caleb Warren, an assistant professor in the Mays School of Business.
Warren co-authored the article What Makes Things Cool? How Autonomy Influences Perceived Coolness with Margaret Campbell, a UCB professor and chair of the Doctoral Curriculum Program Committee.
"We tested this by designing a series of experiments in which brands or people engaged in behaviors that either conformed or diverged from either a descriptive norm (i.e., what people typically do) or an injunctive norm (i.e., what people are ideally expected to do)," Warren wrote in an email.
Among the brands meeting consumers' expectations of cool were Nike, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Virgin Records. The test also included hypothetical musical groups, presenting themselves through an artist's description.
Warren said the results showed brands that bent the rules or broke away from the norm in a small capacity were selected as "cool" among the consumers that were polled.
"Conversely, indiscriminate rebellion and extreme divergence make people and brands seem bad or strange rather than cool," he said.
Campbell commended Nike for its continued success at using athletic individualism -- Johnny Football, anyone? -- through its "Just Do It" campaigns.
Virgin Records got its street cred by creating an ambiance of rebellion and innovation in the music industry.
Both companies in their initial stages exhibited the traits of a "passionate outsider," she said.
Warren listed musicians Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits and Outkast among the cool cultural figures he admires.
"They all created music that differed but remained palatable and accessible, at least to people familiar with the musical genres from which they parted," he said.
Actors are just as equipped in offering characters that attract legions of fans. From Happy Days' The Fonz to Breaking Bad's Walter White, each character exuded cool through this mastery of moral autonomy.
"One of the interesting things about Breaking Bad is how Walt becomes increasingly autonomous (i.e., criminal) as the show progresses, but his actions retain at least an air of appropriateness because he is breaking the rules in order to support his family (or so he says)," Warren wrote.
One of the ironies of being cool is the way hipster culture inadvertently cultivates trends through its own pursuit of autonomy.
"For example, PBR initially appealed to hipsters because the brand wasn't mass marketed and very few other people were drinking it," Warren said. "Once hipster subcultures started drinking Pabst, the brand still seemed more autonomous than the mass marketed beer brands, but also seemed more acceptable to a wider range of consumers."
For businesses that make it to the cool club, the next challenge is to remain relevant and adequately rebellious.
"It is difficult for brands to remain cool to a large group of consumers because popular brands eventually become the norm [and thus no longer are cool]," Warren observed.
To read the article, go to www.jcr-admin.org/files/pressPDFs/051514145529_676680.pdf.