Industry Updates

What makes a brand priceless? - Secrets of the Ueber-Brands

11 Jan 2017

by JP Kuehlwein

Why do some of us pay a real or relative fortune for an Apple phone, Berluti shoe, Chanel accessory, a MINI car or even artful Renova toilet paper? They seem to feature none of the 'functional superiority' conventional marketers usually advertise?

In fact some of them like Grey Goose or Cirque Du Soleil outright broke with category conventions.  Vodka from France? With a taste? Have you ever seen exotic animals in a CDS show? Yet, we happily pay a multiple of the average circus ticket price to see it.

These are some of the questions Wolf Schafer and myself were intrigued by as we embarked on a journey to uncover what drives the sustained success of such brands.  Some six years, uncounted interviews, case studies and a book later some consistent answers emerged:

Today, prestige is accrued in many more ways than it used to. Less traditional through celebrating yourself as rarified, but by evoking pride and aspiration through ideals and ideas wrapped in mythical storytelling; Less by building exclusivity through scarcity, but in fusing these with inclusivity and ubiquity; And less selling with ads but more seducing with truth, living brand-specific convictions rather than making-believe with thin veneers of gold-plating.

Welcome to the age of ‘Ueber-Brands,’ – derived from the German word meaning ‘above and beyond’. Because this breed of modern prestige brands are above and beyond their competition not only in making their price premium an after-thought, but in courage and conviction. Thriving on paradoxes, breaking with traditions and inspiring us with new standards of excellence.

Ueber-Brands: three key dimensions, one stellar position

1. The must of mission and myth
The head of marketing Europe for TOMS, the brand that invented what is now known as the ‘One for One’ giving model, put it this way when we spoke to her: ‘We never approached people primarily with our product. We share our philosophy and our identity, and that’s what people are buying into’. Key to this was the brand’s founder, Blake Mycoskie, sharing his legendary trip to Argentina where the idea was born, initially personally and nowadays through social media and the stores.

And that’s the point: modern prestige brands, and not just the new ones but also long-established ones like Hermès, who have retained their prestige and taken it into the 21st century, write their own story very intently, craft their own legend and build their own myth. And they root this self-created narrative in a deep sense of commitment – towards themselves, their stakeholders as well as their environments.

Ueber-Brands are built on big ideas, often even ideals, and they express these with compelling storylines. It is this combination of daring vision, self-determination and socio-ecological perspective that feeds their superior collective and aspirational power, very differently from their forbears. They make sure to take all their stakeholders, from employees to investors to trade partners and consumers, with them on their journey. In fact, they don’t just take them along, they activate, engage and inspire them. And that’s what makes them Ueber-Brands.

2. The balance between connection and exclusion
Millennials, the generation that hasn’t known a world without the web, have developed different ways of building social status. Ways where being a part is as important as setting yourself apart. The ultimate goal remains creating distinction, a sense of self, but the means to achieve it have become softer and more accessible.

Ueber-Brands have taken this to heart and show extreme attention to balancing exclusivity with connection where previous prestige brands were singularly focused on the former. They grow further than usually thought possible. And they do so to a large degree by sticking with their core fan base, the ones that personify their myth and their mission.

Red Bull, the premium soda that created its own billion-dollar category is a perfect example. Their event marketing is legendary. Yet, they always strive to do better, re-charging their myth with ‘energy’ icons like the strato-jumper Felix Baumgartner. They don’t sit, guarded and protected, waiting to be adored. They engage and actively push, yet carefully create an irresistible pull at the same time. They make their fame self-perpetuating, as it must be in the age of online communities, crowd- and co-creation and word of mouth.

3. The need for truth
The other aspect of this digitally driven connectivity, and the third dimension of Ueber-Branding is ‘truth’. The will of one has been replaced by the wisdom of many. Push marketing has evolved into a multi-channel engagement game. Over-promising and under-delivering is being detected quicker than marketers can say ‘new and improved’. Lapses in ethics or deficiencies in a company’s culture are outed before the PR agency can even be briefed. And this is changing the way prestige has to be built. Not outside-in, but inside-out. The best prestige brands have always done this, which is why they are still around.

Ueber-Brands take great care to practise what they preach, un- rather than over-sell and generally stay understated than overrated.  The products are wrapped in something bigger and this bigger something is what makes the brands shine stronger and brighter than others. Just think of Patagonia (or take a look at their website) and how they live their mission to ‘Build the best product.  Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis;’ And call on you to join them and ‘Don’t Buy That Jacket’ – unless you have to.

To sum up: Ueber-Brands are meta not mega. Where mega shouts power, meta means perspective. And that’s the big difference. Ueber-Brands are less self-important or aggrandizing than prestige used to be but more self-aware and self-reflecting. They don’t take themselves super seriously, but they do their mission and their myth. They don’t elevate their followers by putting others down, but by staying a step ahead and true to their core. And they shine not just around their products, but through them. And that’s why we love them when we know them and why price becomes an afterthought…

To dive deeper into the fascinating world of Ueber-Brands and how they move you, read the book “Rethinking Prestige Branding” by JP Kuehlwein and Wolf Schaefer or simply follow their blog and podcast at

Link to order the book and special edition directly from us

Another popular article we wrote in the Marketing review on Storytelling and Myth Making is here:

About JP Kuehlwein
JP Kuehlwein is a global brand builder, accomplished business leader and recognised strategy expert. He has a 20+ year track record of creating or re-positioning brands that then win in the market.

JP’s diverse experience includes introducing a new-to-the-world food wrap to North America, bringing the concept of disposable diapers to India and South-East Asia and establishing the brand as regional leader, designing and executing a global communication strategy for the world’s leading detergent, guiding the portfolio strategies for the Beauty-, Lifestyle and Prestige categories for the world’s largest advertiser, defining go-to-market strategies for niche luxury brands in Hong Kong or leading the divestiture of a US prestige business to global investors.

Before co-founding the brand consultancy ‘Ueber-Brands’ in 2016, JP was Executive Vice President of Frédéric Fekkai, leading the purveyor of prestige salon services and hair care products for Procter and Gamble.  He also served as Managing Director of Global Strategy & Innovation, Premium Products at P&G.  JP is also an External Director of Smith & Norbu, a Hong Kong-based maker of luxury optical frames and accessories.

Based out of New York City, JP is on the industry advisory board and a guest lecturer at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT, NY), an advisory board member of the CMO Council (San Francisco) and L2 Inc. (NYC) as well as a trustee of the Marketing Science Institute (MSI, Boston).

JP has co-authored the best-selling “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” (Kogan Page, 2015), which is becoming a marketer’s reference book.  It reveals the success drivers behind some one hundred premium brands across industries.  With his co-author Wolf Schaefer, JP advocates to put ‘myth back into marketing’ to ‘seduce rather than sell’ for a brand to be esteemed beyond size, price or performance.  Their blog-cast ‘Ueber-Brands’ and related events are sought-after by marketing leaders around the world.  

JP is regularly engaged in consulting, public speaking and teaching in English, French and German.  He has been named ‘Inspiring Marketer of the Year 2015’ by the Association of National Advertisers / The Internationalist.

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