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Jay Handelman, Professor of Marketing and Cool Hunting, Queen's University (INTERVIEW)

— December 24, 2006 — Marketing
Jay Handelman is an inspirational Professor at Queen's University who specializes in Marketing, Cultural Branding, and Cool Hunting. During my MBA, Jay was one of the top professors. In fact, he was an inspiration for Specifically, he introduced our class to the profession of cool hunting and how to use cool hunting to unearth trends and create a cultural brand. This guided my focus for the direction of Trend Hunter. For this, I am truly thankful.

I am such a huge fan of Jay Handelman's presentations that I hired Jay to speak at Capital One about Cultural Branding. He is a sensational speaker and received some of the highest ratings we've ever had for a presenter.

Jay is now an avid reader of Trend Hunter. He told us, “I enjoy sharing Trend Hunter with my current students. Trend Hunter is a great application of the cutting edge concepts of marketing, such the ideas of brand communities and cool hunting.”

10 Questions with Jay Handelman

1. How and when did you become interested in cool hunting?

My interest began with watching the anti-Nike boycott in the 1990's. It was very interesting to witness a major brand coming under such serious attack, an attack that was enabled by the rise of the internet. The power of this emerging dis-intermediated form of communication has meant that brands can no longer be managed from the corporate board room. Individual consumers and online communities of consumers are now able to shape brands as they wish. This has huge implications for how brands are managed on many different fronts. One implication in particular is that marketers must now always be on the hunt to understand not simply the latest trends, but the latest wave of where consumers are taking our culture.

2. What inspires you to follow cool hunting and trend spotting?

What we regard as "cool" is always changing, and the ways in which consumers can influence this constant evolution of cool is also changing. Even a year ago, who was talking about Myspace and Youtube? There is never a dull moment in this ever changing environment, so it is just plain fun to try to keep up with it.

3. How do you define a trend?

A trend is a wave of cultural activity that captures the imagination of a group of consumers for a given period of time. This period of time seems to be getting shorter and shorter over the years.

4. How do you define cool?

Cool represents a system of cultural meanings (for example, one system of cultural meanings might be around our understanding of gender, such as "metrosexuals" as one example) that pushes the boundaries of what society deems acceptable at that point of time, without actually crossing the line to what many in society might deem distasteful or offensive. In the 1950's, Lucille Ball of the "I Love Lucy" was cool because she pushed the gender boundaries by being the first person on Television to shown pregnant. This pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality. "Cool" is where a person or product pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable.

5. What types of products or trends interest you the most?

I am most interested in the trends surrounding "brand communities" whereby communities of people are formed around branded products, such as the Mac community; or the Burning Man community as a couple of examples. These communities are fleeting, they transcend geographical boundaries, and they often exist completely in cyberspace, yet the participants are passionate about their communities.

6. How and where do you discover the trends you cover in your classes?

Thank goodness for Trend Hunter (a very important source for me). Overall, through my own searches, reading, and word of mouth, I find many of the trends that I discuss in class.

7. Why do you feel it is important to track trends and hunt for cool?

This represents the cutting edge of marketing management. The days of slotting consumers into static consumer segments and assume the people in a given segment are homogenous and rarely changing in their tastes and interests, just does not apply anymore. Understanding the underpinnings of trends and cool hunting helps to develop an understanding of managing the marketing function in this new environment.

8. How can marketers use cool hunting and trend spotting?

This allows marketers to find competitive and first mover advantages. By keeping up with the cutting edge of where culture is evolving, marketers are able to anticipate the next big thing. Starbucks did this a couple of years ago by recognizing that Fair Trade coffee represented a "cool" trend because Fair Trade coffee takes on meanings of environmental protection and human rights. Before Fair Trade coffee, who ever cared where your coffee comes from. By being ontop of this trend, Starbucks has begun to grab a huge chunk of the Fair Trade distribution channel, positioning themselves with a major first mover advantage in this market.

9. How would you relate cool hunting to cultural branding?

Through cool hunting, marketers are able to identify the cultural meaning trends ahead of competitors. Whether those cultural meanings are around the sourcing of coffee, or gender definitions, cool hunting allows marketers to find cutting edge cultural meanings upon which to position their products. Traditional product positioning has been based on the physical attributes of the product and the physical benefits a consumer might get from that product. Cultural branding is based on positioning the product/brand on the cultural meanings that consumers draw upon to construct their own identities and brand communities. Cool hunting is the new source of product positioning, and positioning a product based on cultural meanings is called cultural branding.

10. Professionally, what do you want to be doing or studying in 10 years?

I love teaching and researching these kinds of topics, so I do not see straying from that path. Just keeping up with not only the latest trends, but the ways in which trends are formed (given the ongoing advances with internet technology) will keep me busy and occupied for many years to come. What I hope will continue to evolve is the application of these concepts. The teaching and much of the practice of marketing is still rooted in traditional concepts (segmentation, the 4 P's, etc.) developed in the 1950's. I hope that I can contribute not only to the study, but also the practice of marketing by helping to develop the practical implications of the kinds of cultural, technological, and consumer trends that we see occurring.

Thanks Jay!