An Action Plan For Elevating Brands

JP KuehlweinMarch 1, 202128495 min

The new millennium brought a major shift to the world of brand building. Brands are no longer just marketing instruments for attracting customers; they are embraced as guiding the enterprise overall, inspiring and engaging internal and external stakeholders.

This led us in 2015 to write “Rethinking Prestige Branding” an analysis of the way in which Ueber-Brands are builtbrands that appear above and beyond their competition, peerless and priceless. Our latest work “Brand Elevation” translates the theory into a step-by-step action plan. There are four things, in particular, marketers need to understand if they want to build a brand that is being desired – beyond the material, for the meaning it holds.

1. Start With Yourself

This is nothing less than turning the traditional brand strategy model on its head: Don’t start with market or consumer research, start with your ideas and ideals.

Of course, customer and business realities still matter, but only once you are clear about what you want to dedicate your brand to and why. Then you will use them to validate your concept, adjust, find the right target, ensure profitability etc.

If you start out by looking for market gaps, you will never be anything but opportunistic, rather than leading with a sense of mission. You must inspire what could be, not be defined by what is.

Brands today are, first and foremost, agents of change. Their job is not to make overblown promises, but to give us hope for a slightly brighter, better tomorrow, to help us become who we want to be.

There are many good examples, including Airbnb, who not only revolutionized the hospitality industry but gave us a way to feel we ‘Belong Anywhere’.

2. Don’t Let Data Drive Your Dream, But Share It

Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G, was one of the first to kick-off a more mature and balanced assessment of our shiny new digital world when he said in 2017, declaring the days of digital-all are numbered. This attitude is gaining ground, with adidas one of the latest to announce a shifting in focus from performance marketing back to including more traditional brand building communication.

The Burning Man festival does not spend a penny on social media campaigns. Their magic lies in keeping all ‘shut’, disabling live posts and feeds, for example, and instead creating thousands of personal experiences that participants share organically and personally.

None of these big players are rejecting the possibilities of online communication, data mining, re-targeting, individualized interaction etc, but they are recognizing and utilizing these possibilities while being aware of their limitations.

There is a difference between tactical communication and strategic brand building. Quantity and quality are often opposing goals; efficiency is not the same as effectiveness. Individual marketing fulfills other functions than public campaigns, thus, it can never be either or, it must always be “as well as”. The big data party is not over, but it seems we are coming back to our senses.

Data and performance marketing can be helpful in connecting with targets, but they should not take over.

3. Elevate The Tangible By Reaching For The Intangible

“The mystery and the protocol, it’s not there to keep us apart; it’s there to keep us alive.” says Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. The same holds true for Ueber-Brands. You need proper context and entourage to elevate yourself, but above all you need mystery and myth.

To transcend the everyday, you must rise to a higher level. Just associating emotions with your brand is not enough. You need to lift people and connect them with what they want to be, what could be: it is about aspiration.

This is why we made Writing Your Myth the second step to create an Ueber-Brand, right after Setting Your Mission. A brand narrative is not just a means to structure and integrate communications and interactions, it’s primarily a way to shine brighter and lead higher, to hold meaning and have cultural significance, to inspire followers and all of us to move up and on. For the same reason, not just any story will do, you need one with mythical qualities.

Myths talk about our “collective dreams”, as Joseph Campbell put it. They hold us together as societies, connect groups and inspire movements, and help us individually figure out who we are, what we want to be and where we want to go. Just look at Tesla, which is much more than a story of technological advance. It is the myth of a maverick breaking boundaries, taking us higher and further than we thought possible. That’s what makes the brand take such a strong Ueber-Position.

Tom Szaky, founder of recycling company Terracycle, lets us dream of “eliminating the idea of waste” through his talks (here to employees), the community-based initiatives of his company and manifestations of the brand myth like the office made with recycled materials you see in the picture.

4. Don’t Declare. Do

We are living in an experience economy. People are sick and tired of dull, self-congratulatory brand promotions, even if they’re just watching some tacky ‘unboxing’ on YouTube. They want brands to add value when they pop up, not just promise it.

Ueber-Brands thrive on ‘ideas that do’. The whole content and community craze in marketing has certainly led to some excess – not every shampoo needs to come with a tutorial in female equality. But there is no way back. The ‘podcast class,’ prefers entertainment and education, advice, support, connections and experiences over unrequested and uninteresting brand declarations or irrelevant messages. Who can blame them?

One of the biggest advantages of the digital revolution is that brands have many more (often more economic and effective) opportunities to engage with people directly. Let us use them and think twice before we resort to shouting or retarget them with the 20th offer on Venice flights they booked three months ago.

Creativity no longer means sugar-coating the “bitter” brand message. The challenge we all face is to constantly develop new, surprising ways for our brand to positively impact people’s lives and societies as a whole.

But ‘doing’ is not just the imperative in engaging and interacting with your targets. It is the rule for brand-building overall. This is why doing comes before brands start talking and daring. You must live your brand mission and myth in all you do. Declaring without doing is not good, but not doing as declared is worse.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: JP Kuehlwein and Wolf Schaefer, based on their book, Brand Elevation – Lessons in Ueber-Branding, featuring insights from marketing leaders at Starbucks, Acqua di Parma, YouTube and Airbnb, among others.

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change through online strategy workshops and extended engagements. Please email us to learn how we can help you compete differently.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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