*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.
Arek Dvornechuck: What's up branding experts? Arek here at ebaqdesign and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And today I have two guests, Wolfgang Schaefer and JP Kuehlwein. So starting with Wolfgang, He is the founder and CEO of Zwoelf Consulting, a company focus on developing narrative brand strategies. And so Wolfgang has been building global brands for over 25 years in Europe, the US and Asia Pacific for companies like PepsiCo, P&G, Unilever,Coty, Nestle, WWF and more. And his main expertise lies in growing prestige brands and companies such as LVMH, Davidoff, Chopard, Swarovskiand many others. Now, JP is a global brand-and business builder and recognized strategy expert and he is the co-founder and CEO of Ueber BrandsConsulting here in New York. And he also has over two decades of hands-on experience in successfully creating or re-creating big brands as well. And before that, JP served as Managing Director of Global Strategy & Innovation at Procter & Gamble. So both of these guys are also professors and teachers and they also co-authored a couple of best-selling books together. And the new one is this book — “Brand Elevation: Lessons in Ueber-Branding”. And this is the book we’re going to talk about on today’s podcast So welcome guys! Wolfgang and JP—thanks for joining us today!
JP Kuehlwein: It's our pleasure.
Wolfgang Schaefer: It's our pleasure. Hi Arek.
Arek Dvornechuck: Okay. So basically you've got a lot of experience, guys. You combined over 50 plus years in building brands.
JP Kuehlwein: We are also over 50 plus years, so that works out well.
Arek Dvornechuck: So that all makes sense. So, and it pertains to all categories and countries, right? So, so you've gone to the realize that there are certain principles that are applied, but to building prestige brands. Right. And so you've discussed some of them in your first book, but in this book, you also present us with your six step program. So that's, what's new about this book. So you still discuss those principles, seven principles, but also give us like a step by step program, step by step process. So you can actually implement those and you still give us a lot of examples and so on. So we're gonna talk about that in a second. So I just wanted to start with something very basic, you know, explaining to our audience, uh, what is ueber branding and, and just give, maybe you can guys give us an overview of those principles so that we are on the same page. So for those who didn't read the previous book, so, uh, what's the idea behind ueber branding and what are those seven principles?
JP Kuehlwein: Okay. Should I take a shot at this part?
Arek Dvornechuck: anyone of you? Yeah
Wolfgang Schaefer: Yeah, Go ahead.
1. What is Ueber-branding?
JP Kuehlwein: So I always tell my students, ueber brands is their first and foremost to annoy, particularly the Americans who are not able to pronounce ueber, but that's just the superficial reason. No, we got to the name, if you want to talk about the name, because after talking to quite a few of these brands and we'll have examples throughout Wolf, and I notice that they have one thing in common, which is they don't consider themselves a product, a car, a handbag, or a service, okay. A travel, a hotel stay, but they want to be something more to you. They want to go above and beyond being a product or service they wanna choir and represent meaning that goes far beyond that. And that's reminded us of nature and his concept of the ueber man of the, somebody who is able to break out of the daily grind and the day to day and kind of achieve more, bring humanity forward. If you like. And a lot of these brand have this ambition, have this mission and have a myth that goes far beyond what they have to offer from a functional or utilitarian, uh, perspective. And that's pretty much what ueber branding is all about is how do you create a brand that goes beyond its category, its industry, its functional offering.
Wolfgang Schaefer: I mean, in the, in, in a nutshell, the first book was called rethinking prestige. And that's exactly what it was because re France is just another term for a modern, for brands that represent a modern understanding of prestige branding. So that traditionally it was much more driven by the classic luxury skews, you know, where you had to kind of like be errors. You had to create this numbers of rarity. You had to be connected to very exclusive, um, locations and influencers or spokespeople, et cetera, et cetera. So it was a lot of outer show that created this idea of elevation. Um, and now it's coming much more from the inside out. So the brands, the modern prestige brands, a that are not bound to classic luxury categories like cars or accessories watches, et cetera, jewelry, but they can grow in every, in any category, like think of Airbnb for instance. But more importantly, they're much more driven from the inside rather than from the outside. So they have a conviction as JP was saying a mission that they try to put into the world and that they live by and that they hold above, uh, above all. And that's, that's what really connects to the ueber idea of nature.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. So ueber means in German, above and beyond. Right. So, um, that's what JP mentioned and Wolfgang elaborate on that. So basically brands that, you know, it's not about just products and services is going beyond that and acquiring that meaning beyond the material, right beyond products and services. So can we just give an overview to our listeners of those seven principles? Maybe JP can start with a few and then gone, you can talk about a few more. So starting with, uh, mission incomparable, just like a high level overview before we go to, you know, to the actual program so that we understand the concept, maybe some examples as well.
JP Kuehlwein: Sure. Mission incomparable is the first one, like you say, and mission or call the purpose or the why when we started to find this as a common denominator, and that was by now a good 10 years ago, probably it was not the discussion we are having now. Now everyone is talking about purpose, but it's also important to know that it's not necessarily about the purpose that one's talking about today. The brand purpose, which is usually defined as either having a social mission or an ecological mission. Mm-hmm <affirmative> we certainly found those brands. Let's say Patagonia, for example, or Ben and Jerry's, which have an ecological yeah. In the case of Patagonia or Ben. And Jerry's a social mission since it's founding through the founders, which is an important mission, but we found other brands that feel, uh, they have a higher calling that is not necessarily associated with that. So for example, let's take the quote unquote mundane red bull, literally there, the mission is to give you wings. They happen to have it in their tagline as well, but basically the, the human dream of giving you wings, letting you do what you dream to do, okay. Giving you super human powers, if you wanna stay within that framework of ueber branding. So the mission can be anything. It doesn't have to be ecological or sociological, but it's basically a calling that goes way beyond, like you say the material. So that is the mission. And as you can see from the red bull example, also connected to what we call the myth, something that is the kind of meta narrative, the meta story, uh, that goes way beyond a simple factual story and that you associate with this brand and it makes it so interesting. A lot of the luxury brands live, you know, by having this mystique around them, think of Chanel, for example. So there is this almost left brain and right brain element of mission and myth that are quite central to this concept, for example. Yeah,
Wolfgang Schaefer: That was, those were the two core, um, principles, number one, number four, but then there's, um, also ways on how they engage their targets or how they define their targets first and foremost, but then also how they engage with them. So not just like how they, how they set themselves up, but how they deal with others. And there is, um, you find traditional luxury brands. As we said earlier, were very much built on, on building kind of like a divide, you know, like a distance between buyer and the brand, putting the brand on a pedestal. So that it's hard to kind of even like everybody knows the famous situation from Julia Roberts, trying to go shopping on rodeo drive and not being let into the, not into let into the shops because she's a prostitute. And that, that was kind of symbol symbolic for, for the way traditional prestige was built. These days, you find they engage their audiences much more and they have to, because we're living in a little age, everybody can approach everything. Everybody can, and Louis, you don't need to live in Paris and you don't need to have like $5,000 in your pocket. You know, everybody can do it. So they were forced to find different ways of still building this mystique and this distance, something making aspiration while at the same time being more or less forced to be ubiquitous and, and easily accessible by everybody, which would kind of bring 'em down. And they've found very interesting ways by doing that by tiering, for instance, different levels of access, uh, you find that on Netta or you find it in, in these days almost in every brand, you find how they play very openly a V I P access area <affirmative> that only special people can gain entry to, but that is played out very openly. So that those that don't get access still aspire to become one day, one of those VIP access people. And, and basically like, and then we call that long to belonging or the Vero. It's nothing different than what, what, um, studio 50 forwarded way back in the eighties when they build the Vero in front of the club or whatever every good club these days does, you know, kind of like building an aura of aspiration and mystique by not letting everybody in, but showing people those people that do get it, that's number one. And, um, that, that I think is another key one. And then, um, the other is also how to sustain and substantiate the miss and the mission. So it's not no longer okay. To just build a lifestyle around a product, you need to really live it through all your products and services. Um, so be, be again, being very much built inside out. So, um, building your entire organiz, ideally the culture of your brand or your company and the experiences that people have in, in their flagship stores, et cetera, all the way down to the services, the, the parts, the replacement parts, et cetera, that can be get. So really live your mission and substantiated again and again, uh, because nothing, nothing is gonna kill you faster than if you built the dream, but then it pops in a nanosecond because people realize it's just another handbag that falls apart as easily as, um, as any other LSS here, classic BI example, that that really, um, lives on, on standards of quality and craftsmanship and sustainability like sustainability as, as the ultimate luxury as for things that last over a long time. And, um, mm-hmm
JP Kuehlwein: <affirmative>, and it extends, I think what's important. And what's often overlooked is it extends way beyond the product angle to the organization. I mean, more and more there's total transparency because of the internet on what does the company actually do? What does its culture, how does it treat its employees? How does it treat suppliers? Does it pay its bills? Uh, does it, you know, leverage fair trade and so on and so on. So all of this nowadays also flows into of the total gestalt, if you like in the customer's mind of how they're viewing a brand like that and becomes important mm-hmm <affirmative>
Arek Dvornechuck: So it's a holistic approach, right? So I just wanted to go over those principles real quick. So JP started with mission incomparable, which is, you know, as I suggest having a distinct mission, as, as you mentioned, it, it could be something about sustainability. It could be something about, you know, helping the planet or helping people, but it doesn't have to. So it, it just needs to be some higher calling, you know, or you can disrupt a category. You know, you guys describe a lot of different ways in which we can, you know, find that mission and define it. So, and then you mention also it can next to the fourth principle, which is about the math, right? So you need to give the brand a all and craft those nowadays to be able to engage people. And then Hogan was talking about few different principles, like longing and belonging, which is the second principle. So balancing the, this exclusivity with inclusion, and he gave us an example of, of some luxury brands, right? So there are a few, a few other principles, like unselling so mastering the art of seduction, rather than just outright sales, you know, loud sales and pitches. That's another principle we hold the product. So making your product manifest that map. So that's what you guys were talking about as well. So it's a holistic approach. It's also about the culture. Another principle is leaving the dream. So again, we have a, a transparency now, and it's really about, you know, actually acting, you know, on those principles and leaving them because, you know, uh, people can find out sooner or later about your culture. And because nowadays everything is so transparent, right? You cannot really hide much, so seven principles about growth without. And so how to scale up how to expand your business without losing that. So that was defined earlier, right? So you divided your book in three parts. So basically in the first part you discussed those principles and give us some examples. So in the second part, you talk about how to actually do it right. To put those principles into action. So basically we've been testing this program for over five years, right. And you've came up with this, uh, six step program. So I just wanted to spend a few minutes talk about those steps, some of these steps, right? So basically the framework is divided into three phases, right? As an name such as dream do and there, and there are two steps in each phases, right? So dream is about defining that mission and then writing your math and then do the second part of the framework is about realizing that dream and about leaving it in everything you do. And then that the, the third part is about finding your funds and target, who, you know, ignite and igniting all people, all stakeholders to create kind of a movement, right. So can you guys maybe talk about, give us like a high level overview of those six steps of your brand elevation program?
2. Brand Elevation Programme
Wolfgang Schaefer: I think the overarching difference of what's new about this brand building program versus the traditional ones is that you don't start with the market analyzing the market and your potential targets and what they're missing, and then catering to that. But rather starting with you, what are you dream of? And that's why the first phase is called dream. What is it that you believe as a brand or as a company that is missing in today's world, then developing that and then finding your fans and build them around. And of course you still need to make sure that whatever you do has relevance for the market of today and for your audiences, but you sometimes need to be, or you very often, prestige brands need to be a bit ahead of time in order to lead. And if you start with your, with just analyzing the situation, currently, you only come to answers of the current and you don't come to answers of the future, but that's exactly what prestige plans they have to do. So prestige plan really start with developing their mission independent first and foremost of the current market situation. And that's very, very new. That's why we're starting with dream. The do then is exactly what we decided earlier and talked about that. Um, it's very much important that you first and foremost think about how you set up your organization, your production, and ultimately your services and your product in order to develop on, to deliver on that mission. And only in the third, that's the whole due aspect. And then in the third part, only in the, um, there is when you start going into communication and that is very different from traditional marketing, which goes straight into communication. When you develop a go to market plan, you don't spend much time about getting all details, right? And your production in your, in your supply chain, in your organizational setup, in your packaging, in your distribution, blah, blah, blah. You worry. First and foremost, let's think about a campaign. Let's think about how we communicate the brand in our model that comes at the very end, because first you need to get all your eyes started and yourt crossed to a level of detail that is way beyond the average and lives up to your mission.
JP Kuehlwein: I Think, um, in the first step of defining your dream, you need to be almost like a archeologist or anthropologist, et cetera, and look at your own organization, your own brand, your history. If you don't have history in your startup, at your motivations and literally your dream in order to make sure that is anchored within what you actually are all about, because where we find the biggest discrepancy is when it's just the façade, when it becomes quite clear quickly, mm-hmm <affirmative> that it was created by some outsider, by some consultant by some agency, but really has nothing to do with what the organization and the product in the end or its service is ultimately about. And this, you know, this being disjointed. So that's really one of the big differentiators. Um, and that also then shows in, in the doing, because what is so surprising for, let's say the mass marketers or those who are artificially quickly building a brand to ultimately selling after sell it after five years for PE or whatever, is that these brands often make decision that seem not to make commercial sense, or at least finance not have an immediate financial payout. In fact, sometimes it costs them. And to us, that is exactly the kind of proof that they're living up to their mission, and that actually endears it to their ueber target to their fans. A spectacular and easy example to quote is the Patagonia ad, the one ad classic ad that they, uh, show in newspapers, which is entitled. Don't buy this jacket okay. Where they explain that the best way of taking care of the environment is not to consume. So we Patagonia recommend to you that you first really consider whether you need another garment. And after that choose ours, because, you know, we try to keep our footprint as low as possible,
Wolfgang Schaefer: Which is actually a, a, a principle that they just repeated in a new way this year, this season, by putting out big paper ads that are printed as if they were wrapping paper. And they said like, so first is, it's the same argument again, think about if you really need a new product, or if you can give, give like an existing product that you have in your closet to someone else, because it's probably still good. And then don't buy wrapping paper and, and put the landfills even more than they already are, but use the paper that you already have hold in your hands, which is our newspaper ad and wrap mm-hmm, <affirmative> wrap your, um, product in that. So all going to the idea of upcycle, recycle and being mindful of your waste form,
JP Kuehlwein: Right? So they do it in the doing, and then in the airing, it's the same thing, superficially very quickly, the brands that are there to kind of shoot to the sky be purchased, and then you don't care if they flame out because somebody else owns them. What, what they don't succeed in doing is really identifying and exciting and continuing to excite their ueber target. Okay. They quickly go to everyone and try to be everything to everyone. Whereas if you, you know, for example, even if you look at an Airbnb, they have people who are incredibly loyal to the idea of Airbnb, of belonging, anywhere you are in the world on both the host side, as well as, as the guest side. And in times of crisis, like recently with the pandemic, Airbnb was very smart and proved that they truly understand their ueber target by saying, you know, what, if we gonna jet some parts of the business right now, because we are in a very difficult situation. It's not those little passionate, uh, mom and pop operators, but it's actually the big ones that were cutting out. And they did cut out their big chain operators rather than the small offers. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and purely commercial operation without this guiding light of a mission would probably have done exactly the opposite. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>,
Arek Dvornechuck: That's a great example. That's an awesome example. And so we've covered that pretty much. And I just wanted to show, show some, uh, some of you, for some of you guys, what you can expect from the book, there's a nice breakdown right here of the frame work. So that's what we were talking about right now. And JP involved gave us, uh, quite a few examples to illustrate that. So as we are approaching then of our interview, I just wanted to talk a bit more about examples so that we can all late. So I have some of my key takeaways here about Starbucks, Airbnb, and B, and you too, you've mentioned some of about Airbnb, uh, you know, and how they responded to the challenge with pandemic and stuff like that. Right? So maybe you guys want to talk to our listeners about a few examples, like for example, you know, about Starbucks. I think it's a, it's a great example because it's a big brand. Everyone of our, it can relate to those. So understand. So for example, their mission is to inspire a nurture human spirit, one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time, right? So, and their mission wasn't, wasn't always fully lived because there was this perception of the quality and price, and they were not communicating this, you know, enough why they're different, you know, how they source their ingredients, you know, how they steward the environment, all those other things, they were not communicating enough about, you know, the, the craft of baristas, you know, and you've pretty much described this in detail in the book, you know, how it actually works, what actions they took, like for example, Bara Olympics, celebrating Bara crowds, you know, so building that culture from the inside to be able to, you know, mobilize and have all stakeholders believe in that mission so that it manifests its itself to the outside world as, as something, you know, and truthful. So can you guys talk a little bit about that?
3. Examples of Ueber-Branding
Wolfgang Schaefer: Yeah. Perhaps the first most important thing is to, to know and understand that all these, um, deep dives in, into seven case studies that is in total, that we have a deep dive in, was done, um, experts that actually did the job. So it was in this case, it was Samantha Arwin, who was then, um, the, the marketing director of Europe through Starbucks and, um, and was, was running this program and to, to kind of reground the brand. And so it is with all the other case studies, it was always the people responsible. So you get of really behind the scenes insights that you normally don't get. But, uh, in the case that you're mentioning with, uh, Samantha and Starbucks, it was really about Europe because let's be honest from a European perspective, Starbucks wasn't anything special, um, in Italy, particularly, but also in France, even to some degree in Germany and everywhere in Europe, you have much better quality, Austria, you have much better, uh, level of, of coffee houses and coffee, places to buy coffee, which in traditionally you didn't have in the us. So the, the, the, the idea of bringing the Italian level of coffee to the us and work in Europe, obviously <laugh>, so they had find a different, they, they have to kind of get on there, put theirs on it and, and really reinvest in quality and so that they could deliver on the higher level of price that they were, and really on their promise, ultimately, to be ingrained in the neighborhoods and be accepted by all the neighborhoods on a daily basis. Um, and that's the thing.
JP Kuehlwein: Yeah. I mean, that's thing with Starbucks is like Wolfgang says, you know, purely competing on coffee probably doesn't make sense for Starbucks in a European context. Okay. Because there's enough coffee to go around. If you look at even what Starbucks created in the us, it was this concept, this idea of cosmopolitan Euro, third place, but an imaginary place, because nobody knew what a skinny venti frappuccino was before Starbucks introduced this language, this space, and this kind of weird cup of coffee, because if you ask Italians, they're like, this is not coffee. This is a bucket of an American, you know, creation. That is kind of interesting to us. So in addition to getting their product up to a standard that would be acceptable for Europeans, or let's say that Europeans would be accustomed to more, um, they also needed to bring out again the uniquely Starbucks culture, you know, the uniform, the way of talking that they call you by the first name, et cetera, et cetera, which would not be, let's say the German, the Vietnamese, or the French way of serving up a cup of coffee, because you are going to Starbucks for that. It's its own world. It's the world. According to Starbucks, as we say in the first book, actually, it's a world according to yourself that you build up and that ultimately you create the desire by people to join. At least for that time, they go there.
Arek Dvornechuck: There's a awesome, that's a, that's a great example. And there is a lot of case studies in the book. So if you guys wanna check, of course, I'm gonna include the link in the description, but as we are approaching the end of our interview, how can we find more about you? Whether we want to learn more from you for, you know, studios and, uh, experts like myself, or, you know, clients who are starters, who, who wanna find out more about your work, how to find more about you
JP Kuehlwein: First and foremost, you already made the first step by the book. So we've got two books. One is, if you like the model and the theory, it's rich in examples, that really gives you the mindset. And the other one that you're holding your hand, which is brand elevation. So the first book was rethinking prestige. Branding is really meant to be a step by step guide because we got exactly the same questions you now asked over and over so that after a couple of years, it hit us in the head and they said, we really should have a guide for all these startups and students and so on. And then if you have questions after that, it's easy. Just ueber brands, impossible to pronounce and know that it's a UE and you will find all the resources because our search engine optimization is truly optimized.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, for you guys who don't know is UE. That's the difference between uber and ueber?
JP Kuehlwein: Oh yeah. Uber is no ueber brand
Wolfgang Schaefer: It has nothing to do with ueber. Uber is the opposite of ueber.
Arek Dvornechuck: That's the meaning behind the brand, right? They kind of...
Wolfgang Schaefer: Originally that's, that's how ueber and then it was, was, yes, that's how they started. And that's, that's what inspired them. Unfortunately, they did not. They, they permitted the main, major, uh, major mistake that we were talking about. They did not deliver from a cultural and from a product and service standpoint, they did not deliver on the promise, uh, that they set out because they weren't, they weren't treating their, their people to the level they should. And, uh, were setting up a system that was built on exploitation rather than on mobile, that raises everybody. But that's a different story that we can gladly talk about. So that's why they're anything, but ueber, they may be called uber, but they're not.
JP Kuehlwein: Then you go for the next episode. Why ueber is not uber.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah. Right. That's a, that's a great idea. So next time we already have the title for the next episode. So that's awesome. Thank you guys. It was my pleasure to have you both on my show. I really appreciate that.
Wolfgang Schaefer: It was our pleasure again, it's like anytime, gladly again, when we should write book number three latest.
Arek Dvornechuck: Okay, cool. Thank you. Talk to you soon.
Wolfgang Schaefer: Talk to you soon. Bye.
JP Kuehlwein: See you. Bye.
Arek Dvornechuck is a strategist and designer who helps brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
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