Profiles in Branding: The Red Hat Society

Kevin Kearns

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Unless you have lived in a cave for the past few years, you have seen them in your community. A group of women over 50 years of age dressed as pimps. Big red hats with feathers, boas draped around their shoulders, purple velvet suits, as gaudy as you can imagine. These ladies are no pimps. They are members of a popular women over-50 group, The Red Hat Society.

The Red Hat Society beginnings started in a thrift store in 1997. Queen-Mother (official title), Sue Ellen Cooper, purchased a special red fedora. A few months later, Cooper gave a similar fedora to a friend, along with the poem “Warning" by Jenny Joseph. In the “Warning" poem, Joseph writes about an older women in what eventually became the official “Red Hatter" uniform, red hat with a purple outfit. By 1998, The Red Hat Society was well on its way to spreading across the globe!

What makes The Red Hat Society brand so powerful? Although there are many reasons, here are the top three:

1) Eye-catching Uniforms: The Red Hat Society has a consistent look. You see it in organizations, but in how many associations have you seen it? I have never been able to look at a group of people in a park over 100-yards away and say, “oh, looks like the local Rotarians are having lunch in the park. " However, I have personally done that with The Red Hat Society. The outfit makes it easy to see who is in and who is not. If you happen to find a women wearing the outfit that is not already a member, I bet she would jump at the opportunity to be a part of such a sisterhood! When a group of ladies is out wearing the red hat uniform, you notice and probably talk about it. When enough people are talking about you, your brand is going to grow.

2) No Boys Allowed!: I have never and will never be invited to join The Red Hat Society. I consider myself a fun person, I am even willing to wear the red hat - but it doesn't matter, I am not a woman over 50 years of age. Even my wife is excluded from joining for a couple of decades. If everyone can be a member, being a Red Hatter would not be special. The membership criteria for this group is specific and exclusive - two things that create a bond among members. The stronger the bond among members, the stronger the brand.

3) Licenced Foolishness: Queen Mother, Cooper, authored a book about this movement she created. The sub-title for the book is “Friendship and Fun over 50. " Red Hatters take that phrase seriously. I am proud to say that my mom is a member of the Red Hat Society in Las Vegas, Nevada. Friendship and fun is easily visible if you have spent any time around some Red Hatters. My mom's group actually went to visit a legal brothel in Pahrump, NV. Why? Because it was silly and a little wild. As we grow up, we often put behind us the days of foolish childhood fun. After all, we are adults with adult responsibilities. It's easier to be foolish when you have a group of your friends doing it with you. The Red Hat Society gives its members a licence to have foolish fun, just because! Sure, anyone can go out and act foolish, but when you are a part of a group doing it - the fun multiplies! Thinking and acting like a group, unifies the brand.

Are these three brand variables what you need to jump start your brand? Maybe, but probably not. What everyone business owner can learn from The Red Hat Society brand profile is that you need to understand your market and what they want and need. When you are learning about your market, dig deeper than the obvious. Build your brand to meet market needs, directly and indirectly .

If you ran an ad in the paper offering a ride to Pahrump, I am not sure how many women over 50 years of age would respond. Yet, once the trip is part of “Red Hatter membership excursion, " you can't keep them away. Successful brands are built by finding and filling a void in the market. The desire to be a part of like-minded individuals is the void, the trip to the brothel is simply one way the Red Hat Society fills the void.

Kevin Kearns is a small business branding coach. He holds a Master of Science degree in Organization Development and is a member of the Coachville Graduate School of Coaching. With a mixture of hands-on experience, research, and FUN, Kevin helps small businesses become the only choice. Visit to join The Branding Bunch - a community of small business owners wanting to Become the Only Choice.

As a founding partner in “The World's First Snowboarder Hotels" ( / ), Kevin has experienced success only true branding can bring. Contact Kevin today to start building your brand.


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