Every brand has a cool factor that makes it unique. It can be a compelling story, a philanthropic mission, a must-have product — anything that makes the brand distinct from everyone else.
Whatever that is, brands must find a way to communicate it through their marketing channels and campaigns. That cool factor is what separates the brand from the competition, and it should be the cornerstone of all brand messaging.
“Branding is all about creating the right perceptions in consumers’ minds,” says Mitch Duckler, managing partner of marketing strategy firm FullSurge. The brands that are most successful at staying top of mind to consumers are the ones that have harnessed their cool factor and used it to create memorable customer experiences.
Here are 13 brands that have excelled at using their cool factor to build relationships with customers and set themselves apart from the competition.
The shoe company Toms was founded on the One for One principle of giving: one pair of shoes given for every pair bought. Since its inception, Toms has expanded its model into eyewear and coffee, helping restore eyesight and providing clean water for those in need.
The company has been successful because it has been able to consistently connect its values to consumer expectations through its marketing campaigns and digital channels. As Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan notes, Toms has been able to carefully balance stories about products with stories about giving.
Neil Weilheimer, executive editor at Penske Media, highlights some great examples of Toms communicating its distinctiveness, including the 2007 “One Day Without Shoes” campaign, the “Thrift Shop” music video and its first TV commercial, “For One, Another,” in 2015.
The “Day Without Shoes” campaign was a social media and eCommerce success. It engaged 3.5 million people on all social media channels — and resulted in 27,435 shoes donated to children worldwide.
Warby Parker knows how to communicate who it is — online and in store.
Take their California store, as Max Chafkin at Fast Company describes it: “The space is decked out like a 1950s beach club, with midcentury furniture and a burnished concrete floor in sea blue. Servers offer martinis and champagne flutes and trays of crackers topped with avocado hummus to a crowd filled with beautiful people.”
The store immerses shoppers in the company’s vibe: cool, hip, fun, affordable.
The company has also been extremely successful in harnessing the power of social media to communicate its it factor and connect to a wider audience. As former DMN special features editor Elyse Dupre notes, the company was one of the first to use the Instagram Shop Now option to drive eCommerce sales when customers are most interested, streamlining the path to purchase for a native-digital company.
The company also encourages engagement with customers by encouraging them to post about their experiences, and then uses those posts in marketing campaigns. Courtney Canfield, associate strategist at Pace, notes that Warby Parker gives its audience an active role in telling the brand story by delegating some of their brand-building responsibilities to their fans, specifically through social media.
Online clothing retailer Revolve knows its audience — a fashionable young woman who likes to have fun, dress trendy and document her fun on social media. And the company knows how to reach her.
Social media is the core of the company’s digital marketing. But what the company excels at is reaching its customers where they are and driving a demand for its products through Instagram photos.
For example, in 2015 Revolve hosted a house party in the Hamptons, carefully engineering the party scene so that every angle was Instagram-worthy, Erin Griffith reported at Fortune.
The company also made a splash at Coachella by outfitting 416 influencers, booking an entire hotel and opening up a pop-up shop for guests to snap pictures to share on social media. This venture, according writer Barry Samaha, resulted in 4.4 billion social impressions.
Watchmaker Daniel Wellington’s coolness comes from the affordable price point of its minimalist watches. The brand story is also unique — the founder says he got the idea for the iconic watch band from a James Bond-like wanderer named Daniel Wellington while backpacking through Australia.
The company’s marketing strategy is singularly focused on influencer marketing on social media to its core audience of teenagers and young adults. The company sends samples to celebrities and micro-influencers, offering free watches to some as incentive to post everyday photos with the watch as the focal point.
Those posts follow the brand’s aesthetic, explains the team at Influencity. DW’s feed consists of clean, elegant images in which the product is the featured element, notes the team.
And the strategy is working. The watches look great on screen, and the influencer photos emphasize how potential customers can recreate the watches’ minimalistic yet elegant look, ReferralCandy’s Shannon Lee writes.
Makeup company Glossier’s it factor lies in its authenticity and accessibility. The company maintains that authenticity by openly, and regularly, communicating with its customers. In fact, Glossier CEO Emily Weiss writes back to almost every message the company receives on social media, notes Alyssa Giacobbe at Entrepreneur Magazine.
Weiss, speaking at a StrictlyVC event, explains that the product development process is centered around what consumers want. She notes that her company has created a whole network of women who are connected through Glossier, which even has a Slack channel for its top customers.
The company’s tone in messaging is that of a best friend, not a product seller. Weiss has turned her customers into her spokespeople, which helps reinforce the company’s image.
The relationships and conversations with customers feed and drive product development and eCommerce sales, explains beauty reporter Jessica Schiffer. The company has grown from a single-product manufacturer to offering more than 23 products that have been developed to meet customer demand.
Retro is in, especially with millenials — and the co-founders of Chubbies Shorts are capitalizing on that trend. Chubbies makes retro-inspired shorts for men, and they are a fast-growing eCommerce company.
The company has built its image as a “weekend” brand. “We’re constantly building this brand around the weekend and the feeling you get around Friday at 5 p.m.,” Chubbies co-founder Tom Montgomery says.
Josh Larkin with eCommerceLift explains that the company’s images and message are all very humorous and reflect the retro feel that resonates with their target market. Larkin notes that Chubbies even has a slogan that their fans love to use in user-generated content — “Skies Out, Thighs Out.”
And, as with most digital-native companies, Chubbies focuses on social media and user-generated content to drive eCommerce. The company infuses humor that its fratty target market understands to create a connection with those potential customers. And it’s working, says former Forbes tech reporter J.J. Colao. During one day in March of 2013, the company sold 10,000 pairs of ‘Mericas shorts alone. That push was worth about $600,000 in revenue.
Refinery29 may be a fashion brand, but it’s known for being as diverse as its core customer base.
Nikki Gilliland at Econsultancy explains that the company, in recognition of the fact that its diverse customer base of women care about a wide variety of things beyond clothing and skincare, creates content on a range of worldwide interests. The company, Gilliland notes, places a big focus on diversity of people, lifestyles and opinions.
Its marketing strategy reflects this diversity. The company has successfully combined content and commerce on its website with beautiful photography, fun listicles, how-to videos and subtle — but visible — calls to action, Dawn Papandrea and Lauren Mangiaforte write at NewsCred.
It also hosts its 29Rooms event, which consists of 29 individually branded and curated rooms where attendees can experience something different in each one. As Gilliland describes in another piece, “it is an interactive art exhibition packed with pop culture references and creative technology.” The events are designed with social media in mind, with each room offering visitors the perfect Instagram opportunity.
Socially conscious brand DIFF Eyewear’s cool factor is ingrained in its mission to donate a pair of eyeglasses or fund an eye exam for someone in need every time a pair of sunglasses is purchased. Social altruism has become a key element of success for digitally native companies that are targeting millennials and Gen Z consumers.
DIFF Eyewear stands out in the trendy, and crowded, sunglasses market by combining quality, affordability and altruism into their brand and products, notes entrepreneur Tori Utley. She explains that DIFF has taken the common experience of wearing sunglasses to the next level by making a product that is unique and a brand that is easy to support.
DIFF has focused on using social media influencers to define and promote its it factor — trendy shades with a purpose. But, that isn’t DIFF’s only approach to marketing. In 2017, the company made a concerted effort to reach customers and drive transactions through email marketing via trigger campaigns meant to reach customers at different points of the sales cycle.
These campaigns were designed to influence customers by showcasing the products and the company’s mission of giving. As a result of these campaigns, revenue was up 142 percent for January–May 2017.
GoPro tells great stories in its marketing, which is what the product is all about. With a GoPro camera, users capture big moments that tell stories. The company is founded on the ideas of community and sharing, notes tech reporter Lisa Lacy.
And the company has done this through both scripted ads and user-generated content. That content has been the key to success for the company, especially since the majority of it is created using GoPro products. Where the company has been able to differentiate itself here is by encouraging sharing over shopping, says Liz Bedor at NewsCred.
When visitors are engaging with content on GoPro’s Channel, users can click on an “Info” button. When a user selects it, they receive a small dropdown with a description of the video, a link to related content and a “Get This Shot” CTA with a small image and product name. By clicking the image, the user is directed to the eCommerce section of the website to buy the product.
Bedor explains that the “Get This Shot” CTA and small image ease the user through the buyer journey, as opposed to overwhelming the user with product information.
And as HubSpot’s Lucy Alexander points out, the company excels at taking viewers on journeys to new places. By using its own equipment, the company shows off the value and versatility of its products while appealing to the adventurous side of its target audience.
Airstream is iconic Americana. The brand has made a comeback recently by shifting its content focus and revamping its website and other digital marketing channels to focus on positioning the brand as a lifestyle.
Owning an Airstream is synonymous with living a certain laid-back lifestyle, and the company has been able to communicate that in its content. For example, the company created guides and e-books with title such as, “Road Trips Across the U.S.,” “Farms & Wineries” and “Why Airstream?” MarketingSherpa’s Courtney Eckerle writes.
The company has also partnered with such as Eddie Bauer, Quicksilver and Nintendo to reach out to new audiences to show them what Airstream trailers look like on the inside (and to prove that very little, in fact, has changed in that interiors since the 1930s).
Lush takes a story-first approach to its marketing (or “un-marketing,” which is how the company’s brand team describes its philosophy). The story is that Lush’s “handmade products are developed with fresh, ethically-sourced ingredients, and are not tested on animals,” explains Amanda Pressner Kreuser, managing partner at Masthead Media.
Lush tells its story through unique experiences and smart copywriting.
Visitors to the Lush Creative Showcase can immerse themselves in all things Lush. Not only do visitors get to learn more about the products and sample new products, but they are also treated to guest speakers who speak to social issues such as animal welfare and human rights. These issues are a key part of the Lush story.
When it comes to copy, few companies have nailed quirky as well as Lush. The tone is one of fun, filled with puns and rhymes alongside product information. The names of products are also silly, such as “Rocket Science” and “Cheer Up Buttercup” bath bombs, but they connect with consumers.
And for all of its success, Lush has spent zero dollars on advertising, focusing instead on organic reach by creating brand advocates out of its in-store staff to communicate with customers, note Mark Jones and Nicole Manktelow, hosts of the CMO Show.
The Middle Finger Project
Ash Ambirge knows her company’s voice, and she is not afraid to use it. This is why The Middle Finger Project, part of the copywriting company House of Moxie, has been so successful. Ambirge does not apologize for the brand tone, nor does she mute it for anyone. She communicates it — loud and proud.
Sarah Putnam at marketing firm Kaye Putnam explains that the company’s content is designed to “empower and liberate” its mostly female audience in the workplace, with the goal of changing the way these women think about running their businesses. Ambirge wants her audience to throw out convention and ignore business as usual.
For Ambirge, her focus is on selling digital products, which is a bit different from tangible products, but still a significant force in eCommerce. For example, she offers online classes titled “Learn How to Talk Business with Confidence” and “Brandgasm 101: DIY Design and Copywriting Course.” Her products, services and content all communicate her desire to buck trends, notes writer Jillian Richardson.
Blender’s Eyewear sunglasses are a big part of the company’s cool factor. The product designs are meant to convey a laid-back southern California vibe. The company has taken that vibe and translated it into its marketing practices.
As with so many other direct-to-consumer startups, Blender’s Eyewear has relied on social media and word-of-mouth marketing to grow its business. But where the company differed a bit was being very selective of the influencers they chose to promote their products, notes Raul Galera, partner manager at ReferralCandy.
By being selective, the company was able to identify influencers who were genuinely thrilled to be a part of the project. Those people could be counted on to communicate the brand in a way that showcased the product and enticed others to buy.
Communicate Your Cool to Stand Out
Brands that can communicate their wow factor create a space for themselves in their industries and make a mark on their audiences. The key is to be consistent in a messaging, content and branding so customers can see that uniqueness and want to form a relationship with the company.