Before the last few years, I don’t recall anyone saying they were fans of some company. I could imagine people saying “I like Ford cars” and “I prefer Ben&Jerry ice cream.”

But being fans? No, I’m positive I’ve never heard or read anything like that.

Nowadays I read and hear it on a daily basis. People are fans of Google, Apple, Nokia. They literally cheer for their favorite company, watching their direct (patent lawsuits) and indirect (new products competing each other) battles, and hoping that it wins in the end.

Facebook, being extremely unpopular these days despite me thinking it’s no biggie, is indeed risking a damn lot just because of the cost of being uncool.

What does this tell? Is there a precise connection between the quality of one’s product and its perceived coolness? Or is there a link between the marketing and this coolness? Perhaps none, perhaps both. A company goes building an image, and it looks like each single tiny thing that happens plays a part into generating this public image.

Apple has seen a tremendous explosion of popularity since the iPhone, and that’s helped a lot with building an image. An image that’s really difficult to eradicate. Let’s be honest: the iPhone’s hardware is far from the competitors’ (see Nokia’s and HTC’s recent devices) and the software is barely catching up (multitasking? It was about time.) Still, they’re going to continue being cool, no matter how many times they’ll market thinks like Cut & Paste like the best invention since sliced bread. Why? You know it: because first impressions are hard to go.

So what has a company to do, today, to be cool? Where is the line between meeting the expectations for the sake of not disappointing the user base, and exceeding them with the risk of being ahead of the times?

I can identify a few things to keep in mind.

Confidence. Whether we’re talking about marketing, or pushing for a risky idea, having confidence matters a lot. Dealing with large user bases comes with two big problems: you can’t make everyone happy and you have to tell your user what they want while allowing them to feel that they’re getting what they thought they wanted. It is risky, but it’s the only way to lead. If your company lacks the confidence to do that, it’s in trouble.

Honesty. Your users are smart. Maybe not all, but enough of them are smart enough to make noise. Don’t try to fool them. Perhaps you’ll sell a little more units in the short term, but your public image will deteriorate.

Integrity. Making mistakes is OK, but it doesn’t work if nobody believes you. You need to have a clear set of values, and stick to them.

All in all, it boils down to the DBAA principle, i.e. Don’t Be An Ass. Do that, and make sure you are able to give your users what they want and what they don’t know they want, and people will cheer for you.