Defining cool in specific terms is a tough thing to do. Each of us has our own criteria for assessing when someone or something is cool. Some remain cool forever, while others lose their coolness overnight.  And in other cases, coolness factors for a person or thing change over time.

For example, I believe most right-thinking people who appreciate music would agree that, to this day (and likely forever), Miles Davis epitomizes cool.  But Kenny G? Not so much. 

Each year, Gartner for Marketing Leader analysts get to take a whack at identifying Cool Vendors in our respective research areas. (You check out our Cool Vendors for Mobile Marketing, Digital Advertising, Data-driven Marketing, Social Marketing and Customer Experience at www.gartner.com.) We focus on companies which are relatively young, generating less than $100 million a year in revenue, and maybe haven’t received much, if any, media coverage.  Most important, they’re developing transformative technologies or services in digital marketing. It really is a fun report to work on — which is cool — but what we’re really trying to do is identify technologies or services that are going to be meaningful for our clients who are trying to build more responsive and effective marketing organizations.  

What we try to focus on are the problem or problems a vendor’s approach solves for mobile marketers, or the new capabilities their solution might enable. As we examine a vendor’s core capabilities, the business value is sometimes easy to identify. Other times, our initial thoughts on how the technology would evolve or be deployed shift as new applications for the tech are discovered.  

A great example of this scenario was a company called Banjo which was profiled in our 2013 edition of “Cool Vendors in Mobile Marketing.” We noted in the report that “Banjo’s value to consumers is as a unifying overlay of their social media personas, preferences and interests rooted to any location — in real time.”  Undoubtedly a cool, evocative set of capabilities, but exactly how many marketers will leverage Banjo’s capabilities remains to be seen.  That said, Banjo’s going to have plenty of runway to develop those scenarios for marketers, as it just secured raised $100 million in funding from SoftBank. What’s interesting to me is that the WSJ story indicates the robust usage of the platform by news organizations.  

So what you need to do when looking at our Cool Vendors reports is to be prepared to evaluate the technology or service in its initial “cool” phase and track its progress over time to see where and how it evolves in new ways.