Here's how Sony can make its brand cool again

Sony - still a brand we love
Sony - still a brand we love

In the land of the cool Apple rules the roost, upstarts like Netflix and Instagram blow past massive car brands and poor old Sony are dropping away. It's a dog eat dog world where everyone wants to be a cool brand but only a precious few can genuinely claim that title.

The annual CoolBrands survey brings together a council of influencers and the general public to try to get to the heart of what's cool over a huge range of industries, and its rankings are eagerly awaited each year.

As well as contributing to the expert voting, techradar caught up with Steven Cheliotis, Chief Executive of The Centre for Brand Analysis and the chairman of both the UK Superbrands and CoolBrands Councils to find out what exactly it takes to be a cool brand.

Original, innovative, authentic, desirable

PS4 - still working

"We ask our council to use four criteria to judge cool," he told us. "originality, innovation, authenticity and desirability. But actually we don't like to be too proscriptive.

"For originality, a brand has to be doing, or have done, something that is different to its peers. If you take something like Chanel, when it first came out fashion was very different and it did something original, now the industry is in a very different place but that brand started out with this sense of originality.

"Innovation ties into that - it's about market leadership and the passions and belief in what you do is the authenticity.

"Desirability is about whether the celebrities, gatekeepers and influencers rate it highly."

Unstoppable Apple

Apple riding high

Apple has looked pretty much unstoppable at the top of the rankings, swatting aside all comers by managing to be both mainstream and retain the cool factor with both experts and celebs alike, something that's not the best for a splashy press release but adds its own authenticity to the rankings.

"Apple ticks those boxes and most celebs you see are still running around with iphones, and the public by and large aspire to have them as well," adds Cheliotis.

With Netflix and Instagram storming into the top 20, some of the more traditional brands are inevitably cast aside, and one of those pushed way down the rankings this year was Sony.

The Japanese giant dropped to 37th, although its PlayStation subsidiary was higher and topped the gaming brands, but Cheliotis doesn't think that this slide is irreversible.

Comeback kid

Sony PlayStationVR

"I'd say that it's brand loyalty that has kept it up there for years," he said, "and that doesn't just evaporate overnight. If Sony were to do something significant there's a big group of people who have grown up with the brand and that could arrest the decline.

"Take something like British Airways in the Superbrands rankings - it has five awful years where everything was disastrous. It kept its ranking for a long time then suddenly dropped to more or less where Sony are but they recovered it.

"Sponsoring the London Olympics was significant and the campaign around it worked so well. They got new planes and sorted out their product then rebranded under 'fly to serve' which tapped into the heritage but talked about the current product. Now it's back as the number one Superbrand.

"A brand like Emirates might tick a lot of the boxes in terms of its technology, but it doesn't have that heritage so BA is the classic equivalent to Sony in the superbrands. Sony can recover quickly but if it doesn't do what BA did in terms of addressing its issues it simply won't recover that cool."

Cheliotis is adamant that there is no excuse for not appealing to your customers, even when the product type is not in itself considered cool, pointing to hair straightener brand GHD.

"You look at what they were doing before GHD came along and it was just adverts with a woman straightening her hair. They talked about it differently and portrayed it differently - you can still have a brand that's cooler than what it's compared to. They said 'let's be customer-centric' and understood that you don't want your hair straighteners to be minging."

Timing is everything

Sometimes there is a disconnect between what the experts think and what has filtered into the mainstream, with Cheliotis raising the interesting case of social darling room-renting service AirBnB.

"If the voting was purely the expert council then AirBnB might well have had the votes to be troubling the top 10, but although it ranks well it just hasn't quite had the brand recognition from the public, and with some brands you see that when it hits the mainstream, the council are a bit bored of it!"

What is clear from the research is that we've taken back cool and decided that the best arbiters are ourselves, and the brands we now love are often the ones that reflect us as people and not what somebody else tells us we should be.

And that's pretty cool.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.