HostGator.com with their gator animation character, Site5.com had their massive contests, MediaTemple was large on giving away free hosting to designers, etc, Mosso.com was the first to create their innovative reseller panel, and so on.
Or you could look at them in other ways: Hostgator's strength was that tested its ads all over the place to find where they really worked and then poured all profits into the business (marketing and staff).
Site5 started early in the game (back when cPanel was just a baby), had a great reputation, which it then used to launch into the budget hosting part of the market. That move was well coupled with a well paying affiliate program and you can add to that Matt's copy writing wizardry.
MediaTemple - indeed, they won the designers, and that community has remained their not so secret weapon. Too bad that their grid service was a flop, they were doing so fine with classical shared hosting solutions.
Mosso.com was the first to create their innovative reseller panel
Mosso without the reputation lending from the Rackspace parent would not have had the following it had. They were quite wise to still make it look like they were Rackspace, but not really. If the experiment failed, the umbilical cord would have been cut.
As for Bill Parsons, his video blog is scary. For one, IMHO, he's not cut out for the medium. Second, the man seems to be really aging if you ask me. The edge is getting blunt. :p
I don't know about edge, but have to be different somehow, even if it's simply that you work harder, and require less.