Five years ago we embarked on an extensive research into what drives the success of certain class of premium-priced brands that seem to flourish, rather than fade as time goes by and we get to know them more. We observed a shift in how the need for –and expression of– Lifestyle and Prestige through brands manifests itself – across categories and countries. Old rules of prestige brand making – price, provenance, precious materials…are still present but new ones have established themselves next to them, sometimes in defying opposition. Classic categorizations like ‘luxury’, ‘premium’ or ‘mass’ are in flux with new ones like ‘affordable luxury’, ‘masstige’ or ‘super-premium’ coming and going. How do you define ‘Supreme’, the brand that sells limited edition fashion and apparel items at outrageous prices to skateboarders – or rather those who want to feel like those cool members of the skateboard, hip-hop, punk rock and youth culture scene? The average skateboarder hardly has the money to buy these items. What do you call it when Damien Hirst puts his art on one of their boards or when Louis Vuitton launches a Supreme collection that outdoes the classic in hype and price? We are living through times of change, much contradiction in our market- and branding-dominated worlds – but also excitement and intrigue.
New Marketing For The New Prestige
A new kind of prestige has emerged and with it a new kind of marketing it is taking hold, with new mantras, mechanisms and a new language. Of course, much of this is about evolution rather than revolution. Maybe that is how it seems to have crept up on brand builders on either side of the luxury to mass spectrum striking many as a revelation today. Brands without distinguished family trees appropriate strategies that were supposed to pertain to ‘luxury brands’ as French Luxury marketing professor Jean Noel Kapferer would define them. Supreme sells but through a very select number of mostly own stores… including its web-store, of course. And established luxury brands acting in less expected ways, venturing into previous no-go areas with gusto – like social media. Embracing digital technology and social media is famously credited for the turn-around of British luxury brand Burberry. The very ‘haute jouailler’ Chaumet sh/r-ocked its brand and audience with a teasing ‘Double Take’ of the ‘Jeune et Jolie’ actress Marine Vacth just after she made a splash at Cannes for playing a teenage prostitute in the film Young and Beautiful. What an unconventional way to rejuvenate a firmly conservative luxury jeweler.
Ueber Brands Go Above And Beyond
This new mixing of models makes for a rather motley crew ranging from long-established and rarefied Hermès craft to popular behemoth Red Bull … soda?, from small but high-minded Aesop beauty products via activist Patagonia outdoor gear to rather fun and funky MINI cars, living and breathing prestige in modern ways as they are growing in categories and at price points as diverse as their generational- or cultural appeal. Which is why we coined the new term “Ueber-Brands“. Their prestige extends beyond traditional notions as they set new standards for this very old concept that take our hearts and minds and their markets on a journey into the future. They are a cut above the rest – in a word, they are ‘Ueber’, German for ‘above and beyond’.
Ueber-Brands project prestige less through high prices and celebrating themselves as rarefied, but more so by evoking pride and aspiration through ideals and ideas wrapped in mythical storytelling. Less by building exclusivity through extreme restraint and scarcity, but by mixing these with a dose of inclusivity, sometimes even allowing for ubiquity, astutely balancing exclusion with connection. And third, less through push advertising and more by living brand-specific convictions and radiating them from the inside, not afraid to confront uncomfortable realities rather than glamming it all up. Continuing to tell stories of dreams come true, probably even more than ever, but more as truths enhanced rather than realities faked.
So, what is a premium brand that wants to stand out and stand the test of time to do? Here are seven key elements that – if mastered – can elevate a mere ‘product’ towards becoming an Ueber-Brand in the hearts and minds of people:
1. Mission Incomparable — Have a sense of purpose, a vision that goes beyond sales and making money. This will create meaning for, and a stronger bond with those who buy into this mission vs just buying a ‘product’.
2. Longing vs Belonging — Balance accessibility and ‘togetherness’ with classic elements of exclusivity, proximity and distance. This gives people a feeling of belonging while making them long for more.
3. Un-Selling — Don’t sell, seduce. Ueber-Brands connect with their targets without seeming too eager or needy. Remember, people don’t want to be sold to, they want to buy into something and get closer to the unobtainable.
4. Myth-Making — Don’t just tell a compelling story, tackle what logic and science cannot explain and guide people to a higher truth or social ideal.
5. A Product to Behold! — Yes, it must remain the center of attention. Have a flagship product that is unique and substantial (thus superior) in manifesting your ideals and mission.
6. Create ‘Truth’ — “Live the dream” inside the organization and project it to the outside to fans and followers through everything you say and do. But beware: nothing is as volatile as a dream and the bubble can easily be burst.
7. Grow with Gravitas — Ueber-Brands are masters in growing consistently over time avoiding perceived over-saturation and with it loss of equity and pricing power. Think vertical and horizontal integration vs deep penetration.
Excerpted from: Rethinking Prestige Branding: Secrets of the Ueber-Brands by Wolfgang Schaefer and JP Kuehlwein, in partnership with Kogan Page publishing.
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