When Twitter emerged nearly ten years ago, it was just another social media site rivaling Facebook.
“We discovered through call center conversations with our customers that they were interacting with each other on Twitter and we decided to join them,” Rob Siefker, senior director with Zappos
That early adoption has helped the brand set the tone that the online shoe retailer is hip.
“Hip sells because it makes consumers feel that they are part of a conversation and engaging with a hip brand is an attempt to belong in a specific place in society,” said Rachel Weingarten, author of "Career and Corporate Cool" (Wiley 2007).
Appearing hip has and is paying off for Zappos whose revenues have grown from $50 million in 2013 to $54.5 million in 2014 and a projected $97.5 million in 2015, which is a 77.9% jump from last year.
Not bad for a new brand that claims it is just keeping up with the times.
“There was no pre-meditated plan on that front,” said Amy Stewart, merchandise planner with Zappos. “We simply live by our 10 Core Values, which are the foundation of our culture and the backbone of how we run our business and that seems to be different enough from more traditional companies to be noted.”
But experts report that there are specific things that brands can do online, with their logos and in advertising to portray an image of hipness.
“You don’t want to try too hard but sponsoring design contests appears to a younger demographic and having a younger demographic is associated with being hip,” said Weingarten.
Doodle 4 Google is a contest where Google invites students in the United States to use their artistic talents to redesign Google’s homepage logo for millions to see. Other companies that have used design contests to stay relevant include Firefox and Walmart.
“Design contests call out to a community of young artists and they are on the bleeding edge not leading edge of what is hip or not,” said Weingarten.
Coca Cola seeks to listen to its customer base not at call centers like Zappos.
Instead, Coca Cola maintains social media listening rooms on Twitter and others social media sites.
“Coca Cola hires employees who are younger and usually millennial aged to track posts and tweets about Coke and hip trends, which are then reviewed by the advertising and marketing department," said Sundar Bharadwaj, the Coca-Cola Company Chair of Marketing at the University of Georgia.
At Whole Foods, it’s the website that determines what’s hip. The social media team partners with the digital team to review popular search topics that emerge in chronological order from most searched to least searched on Wholefoods.com.
“Coconut oil is a high search word for us,” said Lisa Grimm, associate director of social media for Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. “When we come across a trending topic on our website, we create and post more social media friendly content about it.”
That content ranges from interviewing experts to uploading 2 minute how to videos on Whole Foods’ youtube channel to creating a tweet series and Pinterest infographics that all link back to the organic grocer’s website.
“It’s the top ten search topics that we look at closely to determine if we have enough content and what we have to do to promote the content further,” Grimm told CMO Digital Forum.
As design has changed from skeuomorphic to flat in the past 5 years, many brand logos are looking outdated and updating a company logo can be key to keeping a brand hip,
according to Growth Hacker Drew Moffit.
One example is AirBnB. The home exchange website used what looked like clipart as its logo on its website, which illicited thoughts of college humor until the website underwent a massive overhaul.
"AirBnb's logo is now pink, artistic and appears minimalist,” said Moffit, founder of NeedGrowth.
Remaining relevant requires brands to identify new ways to connect with consumers.
“A great way to do this is identifying something the youth will connect with that creates value, such as an e-commerce business introducing youthful fashion styling,” said Moffit. On the retail side, Burberry was once perceived as the plaid behind a high-end, blue-blooded mature woman’s cloak. But Rosie Huntington Whitley helped spruce up the brand after she bared all except for a Burberry heritage scarf in the designer's Christmas campaign.
“Celebrity endorsements are a classic solution to stodginess,” said Kerri Konik, a brand expert and the CEO of Brandscape Atelier, a boutique brand agency in Philadelphia. “The use of iconic fashion models, singers, musicians and movie stars, such as Nicole Kidman for Chanel or Cindy Crawford for the Omega watch brand, brings instant brand identity and personality through association.”