The Age of Cool

This guy is cool. That's understood. Is your product?
This guy is cool. That's understood. But is your product?

And it came to pass that there was an Industrial Age. And the Industrial Age begat The Information Age. Some say we’re now in The Digital Age. Or The Connected Age.

I think we’re actually well beyond all of those. Here’s how I know:

Parents with all-encompassing tattoos. Hipper hair styles than their teenagers. Dramatic, wormhole-sized earrings. Spending hours upon hours playing Wiis and PlayStation3s. Wearing beanies, sagging pants and/or skinny jeans. Riding skateboards. Sporting soul patches. Texting others while we talk to other adults standing right in front of us.

Listen, I’m not here to judge. I’m guilty of at least a couple of these. It’s because we’ve entered The Age of Cool.

Even if you’re going after those of us older than the 18-24-year-old crowd, your new product better have the cool factor, or it’s toast. Toast isn’t cool. And incremental is overrated. Forbes specifically points out Neff Headwear’s cool-factor business model, for instance.

It would seem, then that these are the rules for new products and companies with these consumers in their crosshairs:

  1. The features need to be inherently cool.
  2. The benefits need to focus on making me look cool.
  3. If you’re building a web app, all of this needs to be packaged with a nice viral loop built-in, of course.

Voila. There’s your secret recipe for a successful product. Using your product needs to just scream “cool”, whether it’s a tangible product or a web service: Cool colors. Cool shape. Cool overall design. Cool name. Cool and clever spelling of that name. Cool surprises when using it. When you click or tap here, something cool happens.

Is this shallow? Are we in such pursuit of that which is cool? Do you really have to market coolness?

Yes. We could name a litany of products and companies — some that you might say have already run their course; some that are still chugging along because they either were or are cool. Let’s run through a little bit of the alphabet of these cool products and companies:

Amazon. Boxee. Craigslist. Campfire. Dropbox. Evernote. Facebook. Fake glasses. Flickr. The Flip camera. Foursquare. The Gorillapod. Gmail. Grooveshark. Hootsuite. iPads, iPods, and iPhones. iPod Nano watch kits. The Kindle. Pandora. Roku. The Scott eVest. Three-piece suits (they’re back).  Twitter. Tumblr. Woot. Wufoo. Yammer. YouTube. These are cool tools…or at least they started out that way. People spread them to their friends because they’re cool.

Kevin Kelly and a team of others share Cool Tools they find. Stanford even kicked off a Cool Products Expo this year.

The point here is that cool products beat boring products time and time again just because they’re cool. The key is making sure you look to the right source for what’s cool. It might not be the same sources you turned to back in high school.

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