Expert's Opinion

Why Consumers Crave Cool

By Donna Sturgess, Buyology Inc. | August 11, 2011

Donna Sturgess on what women want from their cosmetics.

Imagine you are escorted into a room where laid out before you is every cosmetic brand available at retail. You would see big brands, small brands, new brands and niche brands. Now quickly, pick out the coolest brand from among this glittering array of choices. When asked to make your selection in just seconds, you are choosing based on nonconscious mental processes to intuitively assess cool. If you were then asked to explain your beauty selection, you would probably search for the words to post-rationalize why the one you picked is indeed cool. And, what you will quickly realize is it is tough to put into words why we find something to be cool.
The interesting thing about cool is that is an idea or a word with no clear definition. It is based on culture and attitudes and as a result, cool is a moving target. So perhaps the power of cool lies in its constant reinvention of our attitudes in a way that ignites our wants and desires and motivates us to pick one beauty brand over another.
Today, cool is an untapped motivation in many markets, not just beauty. Cool is showing up in consumer research as a strong driver of brand favorability across a variety of categories. But there's a hitch. If you ask consumers in a survey to tell you how important cool is in their product choice, it won't work. It is like having to explain a joke. Cool (like laughter) is assessed by our nonconscious mental processing, distinct from the rational mental processing. One of the most fundamental insights in recent brain science research is that most of the processes that underlie our buying decisions (or any decisions) are unavailable to our conscious thinking. Therefore, if you want to understand cool, you have to access consumers’ nonconscious thinking to get a meaningful assessment.
We know cool is a strong motivator of brand preference and choice because we have a physical response to things we assess as cool. In research, cool has been shown to trigger activation of the reward center of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. For perspective, when smokers crave a cigarette a similar activation in the nucleus accombens has been demonstrated. The reward response to cool is meaningful for marketers to activate.
Cool emerges from the intersection of art, technology and culture and is a distinct trigger of desire in consumers.

About the Author
Donna Sturgess is the president and co-founder of Buyology Inc and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Advertising Age and many other publications. Donna’s latest book is Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive

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