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Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace

Noah Kerner and Gene Pressman

(Simon and Schuster)

While they aren’t the first to explore the notion of a formula for “cool”, marketing maverick, Noah Kerner and fashion visionary Gene Pressman, may have the most comprehensive analysis of the elusive subject to date. In their new book Chasing Cool, Kerner and Pressman take the reader on an insightful journey revealing the most fundamental reasons why some brands, companies, gadgets, ideas hit the “cool target”—while others fall drastically short. 


Making for a more colorful and poignant chronicle, nearly 100 celebrities and successful “brand-persons” are interviewed and the insight they provide is often simple, sometimes comical, but surprisingly almost always profound. Popular artists, retail chain managers, magazine editors, restaurant and nightclub owners, fashion designers, and more, give personal testimonies on how they are able to “stand out in a cluttered marketplace”. The wealth of examples and opinions provided give the book a “multi-authored” flavor, setting it apart from others in its genre.


Becoming the “iPod of your industry” (a reference made repeatedly throughout the book) requires more than mimicking a “cool” brand, more than due diligence and an elaborate marketing plan, and contrary to popular belief, more than arriving first on the scene. In fact, one of the more interesting analogies comes from hip hop mogul Russell Simmons who admits being “slow to recognize trends”. When speaking on the success of Def Poetry Jam, Russell states “Spoken word had been around a long time; I didn’t recognize it until it was more popular”. Russell’s show provided the vehicle to deliver it to the masses when “they were ready”. Russell concludes “I didn’t actually start anything from the beginning. I got there just in time”.
 
The underlying sentiment expressed by the authors and interviewees is that “cool” starts with a feeling, a motivation, a passion, rather than a well devised business plan. “Cool is not about being formulaic”, explains Pressman, former co-CEO of Barneys New York (his grandfather, Barney Pressman, founded the department store in 1923). “It’s a very organic thing”, he attests. And while he is careful not to suggest that there is a “formula for cool”, he rambles off essential qualities like the ingredients of a tried-and-true recipe: “authenticity, passion, spontaneity, willingness to take risks ...” 


Amy Sacco, owner of New York City’s uber-chic Bungalow 8 nightclub, explains that “brand value is the most important currency today”. It’s why she chooses not to subscribe to the “VIP Table / Bottle Service” offered “for a price” by most of her competitors. “You can not buy into my place” she proudly affirms. The type of exclusivity and respect birthed by staying true to her personal vision for the brand is what has allowed Sacco to stay relevant in an oversaturated market.


Yet another testament to the importance of maintaining brand value is demonstrated in the comparison of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. The book illustrates in detail how Ralph Lauren has been able to maintain relevance in the retail clothing industry by staying true to the brand’s vision, while Tommy Hilfiger, by chasing market trends, lost brand value and, subsequently, relevance. 


Chasing Cool emphasizes how long term relevance trumps preoccupation with fleeting trends. “I love looking at trend reports because then I know exactly what I shouldn’t be doing,” declares John Demsey, group president, Estee Lauder, MAC Cosmetics, Prescriptives, Sean John, and Tom Ford Beauty. The authors, as well as nearly every field expert questioned in the book, echo Demsey’s opinion on foregoing trends. In fact, despite a multitude of different backgrounds, there are obvious universal patterns and characteristics shared by the accomplished. The book points these similarities out and even offers solid advice to struggling companies on how to increase brand value without breaking the bank. 


Whether a marketing student in search of ideas for the next project, an innovator looking to launch a unique and relevant product—even an industry insider aspiring to bring new light to an old brand, Chasing Cool is well worth the read, if only for inspiration. The black and white matte style photos emblazoned with noteworthy “cool quotes” sprinkled throughout the book makes thumbing through an amusing treat as well.

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