If you’re in the marketing space, chances are you’re familiar with the concept of coolhunting. As defined in this classic 1997 New Yorker piece by Malcom Gladwell, coolhunting is the art of discovering the next big thing. In Gladwellian terms, coolhunters “provide a window on the world of the street.”
Coolerhunters read the invisible cultural signs all around us to see crazes before they happen. They’re the ones who see the man-bun coming a mile away, predict the rise of yoga pants, or even foresee the Instagram revolution.
For marketers, the value of a good coolhunter is obvious: two steps ahead of the next big thing is a pretty safe place to invest your dollars.
This article is not about coolhunting, however. This article is about a defining trait that coolhunters inherently possess, but that anyone can develop. It’s called Openness, one of the Big 5 personality traits psychologists have been studying for decades.
Openness and Its Benefits
Openessness is associated with imagination, insight and emotionality. People with low-trait Openness are often stubborn and resistant to change. But if you work in the communication field, whether it’s marketing or PR, chances are you’re familiar with Openness. It’s why we so often identify as storytellers, artists and creatives.
If coolhunters have one strength, it’s a naturally high degree of Openness – and it’s a trait every marketer should strengthen over the course of their careers.
How does Openness manifest in our line of work? Let’s look at an example.
An Open Field
70 years ago, content was… limited, to say the least. Any marketer weighing their options only had to consider a handful of broadcast channels.
Flash forward to today. Forget about television channels, the US orders over 500 new shows every year. On YouTube, over 2,000 channels boast at least a million subscribers. Audiences take their pick of streaming services between Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO, the list seriously goes on and on.
Content doesn’t come to us via one screen in the family living room, but one screen in every pocket. Social media and smartphones have turned every home into a potential broadcast station.
The point? Platform predictability is officially a thing of the past.
It’s difficult to remember how quickly the internet changes things (Facebook isn’t even old to drive yet). While we don’t predict any major platforms disappearances in the near future, it’s a simple fact that the social media landscape is highly subject to change.
Look no further than Tumblr, once a booming online metropolis, now a quiet ghost town. Recall the fall of Vine, meme-darling of the internet – who could’ve foreseen its unfortunate demise in 2016? Even when major players suddenly depart (RIP, Vine). Media habits are constantly in flux as newcomers quickly try to fill the gaps or find new, undiscovered niches. For music lovers, there’s TikTok; for comedy enthusiasts, there’s Bits; for Vine-purists, Byte is on the way.
Bits, bytes, tiks and toks aren’t just tongue twisters – these apps demonstrate just how dynamic the market can be.
This is exactly the time that marketers need to flex their Openness muscles.
You might assume that marketers, as free-spirited storytellers, would be experimental in their approach to media. Which is exactly why figures like “50% of Marketers Have Yet to Try Facebook Video” – a particularly surprising tidbit out of this year’s Social Media Marketing World expo – are so puzzling.
We’re not advising you to pitch every up-and-coming app as the crux of your next big campaign. But who is stopping you from setting up a personal profile on any one of these platforms and taking them for a test drive?
If the prospect of coolhunting through the vast social media jungle sounds overwhelming, you can always find leaders in the space who understand the latest trends. Maybe a platform-agnostic company that publishes helpful ebooks on cross-platform marketing (The Medium is the Message, available here).
And hey, now you know where we get our name from!