To Elevate Product and Brand – Make it the Holy Grail

Axel Dumas, descendant of the founder and chairman of French luxury house Hermès said in an interview¹, ‘We are the rare company with no marketing department, because our first goal is the product.’  And that’s exactly how the brand comes across: not over-marketed but under-stated yet luxurious craftsmanship, pure and honest – noble.  Now, for less rarefied brands it might be less of an option to simply let the product sell itself.  Yet elevated brands*, or ‘Ueber-Brands’ as we call them, know that that’s the impression they should give.  Their marketing should not appear as such, certainly not as selling².  Instead, it should be their visible passion for the product that does most of the the talking and sells us.  They make their product the ‘holy grail’, present and treat it as if it was a revelation. Because only if they show true love for it will they have a chance to inspire the same in the rest of us.

From RTB to STB

One way, and perhaps the most important one, to do this is to apply the concept of storytelling not just on a brand- but also on the product level. Take your ingredients, your technologies, the sourcing or manufacturing – what’s usually called Reasons to Believe (RTB) – and transform them into ‘Stories to Believe’ (STB). Weave it all into an enchanting narrative and romanticize the heck out of it. Because stories are much better at bypassing rational filters and going straight to the heart – which is exactly what you want as an Ueber-Brand: heart selling vs. selling too hard. Besides, stories are much more conducive to generating something truly memorable and distinctive and defending it in the long run. They work both ways: they emotionalize the product and make you fall in love with it, but they also give our critical minds something to wrap their heads around. STBs are thus an ideal weapon against substitution and ‘commoditization’. They elevate the product and brand out of the ordinary into the sphere of that which is worthy of being remembered and beheld – and that makes everything else, including price, much less relevant.

A wonderful example is that of brand Freitag³. Also a story of creativity and craftsmanship applied to select materials to create bags and accessories to behold.  But this case the story is a modern, post-industrial, ecological one transforming commercial waste into something useful and beautiful.  A great detail in this context is how Freitag ‘romanticizes’ their product RTB – recycled truck tarp (the soft covers of commercial truck trailers in Europe). Every piece of their material, and thus every bag they turn it into, is necessarily unique, which they celebrate by calling it ‘RIP – Recycled Individual Product’. But beyond that they even give it a story – and veracity – by supplying every bag model with its little video online and the box of every single bag with its unique photograph and a short story showcasing its ‘previous life’ and transformation.  Now, if that doesn’t give your rubberized canvas bag ‘soul’ and you a feeling of getting something truly ‘special’…

Of Arts and Crafts

With the likes of Hermès, Dior or Montblanc it’s expected that they invest highly in their craftsmanship. Chanel, has been buying up ateliers on the brink of extinction for a while and luxury group juggernaut LVMH is following suit.  But the love for arts and crafts has moved far beyond the usual suspects – in terms of categories as well as price tiers. Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd for instance founded The Laundress, a high-end laundry and detergent line to ‘take excellent care of you, the things you love, and the environment’, as they told us. It not only promotes hand washing over dry cleaning and provides products that look and feel as if they were made by the two women in their own soap kitchen: the whole brand is designed and presented in a very artisan way, quite unique in a category considered by many as a commodity. But it’s indicative.

Take ‘Lakrids’ a Danish high-end licorice maker⁴.  Not that artificially colored and flavored industrial stuff, but the natural product made from the root.  Founder Johan Buelow imagined himself stirring the pot of boiling licorice and letting people smell and taste his creations while watching the manual production.’ And that’s exactly what happened. Now his delicious concoctions are sold in all kinds of upscale gourmet shops from Harvey Nichols in London to Chelsea Market in New York to Germany or Dubai, but they still look as if they were just hand-cooked and packed by Johan himself… or one of the other ‘cooks’.  In fact, their name of the individual who boiled a particular batch is ink-jetted on every jar together with the production code.  Lakrids learned just how much people pay attention to such detail when calls came in asking how one could find another jar cooked by ‘Malthe’ as her last one tasted so good…  There are many examples of making products feeling artisan, of course, and most of you will know another to add.

The point is: even categories that were heretofore staunchly industrial, like detergent and licorice are being upgraded and ‘de-­manufactured’, one by one. And Ueber-Brands are at the forefront of this – emerging ones or established ones – because it’s one of the best and most respected ways these days to generate modern prestige – or at least a solid price premium. 


An interesting aspect of this up-trading is how brands often appropriate themselves of codes from other high-craft categories to express and celebrate their superiority and artisan-ship. British Dorset cereals are packed to look more like a special treat than a breakfast food.  La Maison du Chocolat creates a ‘Pearl Collection’, presenting chocolate truffles like fine jewelry. Matilda Pale Ale comes in a bottle that reminds you of a rare vintage wine rather than beer, as does Badoit mineral water – which even has a water somelier program.  Chobani, has lifted the entire US out of boredom and blandness filling its Greek-style yogurt with large mouthed cups “for easy, sensual mixing and scooping” – a disproportionate chunk of working capital of the young manufacturer went into this gourmet dish design⁵.

In doing all this, brands feed our growing need for the authentic, the hand-made and the genuine – for products with roots and soul. Symbols of craftsmanship and artisan ‘code poaching’ don’t only help Ueber-Brands distinguish themselves, they both express a brand’s ambition and status as well as connect with its customers in a very timely and highly emotional way. 

The importance of a ritual

Lastly, every ‘holy grail’ needs a ritual to take you and the experience out of the profane and mundane into the sacred and blessed. Ueber-Brands know this as much as you and I, the Catholic Church, La Mer or SK II, the latter two being high-end skin care brands owned by Estée Lauder and Procter & Gamble, respectively. 

Both skin brands tech clients about special ways to hand-heat and gently apply their ‘Miracle Broth™’ or ‘essence’ – some are dosed with little golden spoons, all require some meditative focus to increase the potency.  You laugh? Well, SK II is generating well over a billion dollar in sales. Even in a category as ‘grounded’ as shoes, the Berluti brand created a ritual – and an insider code – by adopting the Windsor knot into a distinctive way of lacing your Berluti shoes. But the brand doesn’t stop there. It  organizes posh shoe-polishing dinners involving Dom Pérignon (on the shoes!) and Venetian leather cloth. The sessions take place during the first lunar quarter, which is believed to enhance the shine – only for the initiated, of course… but millions will get to watch in awe on social media, of course.  In fact these so-called ‘Swan Club’ meetings are now being un-officially replicated by Berluti believers all around the world… What can we say.

A more down-to earth example comes from Nespresso – now a multi-billion dollar brand created by Nestle. Not only did they develop a whole new way to brew coffee and a unique artisan language to talk about it (its all written down in their ‘Coffee Codex’).  They also did all they could to elevate their brand through rituals. They provide all the instruments needed to turn the everyday act of having and sharing a coffee into a ritualistic, uplifting experience, for instance with specially designed trays or drawers to present and offer their capsules as if they were caviar or a pricey cigar from your humidor. – Nespresso – What Else?

Rituals have always been an integral part of elevating simple acts into special experiences and creating cults. Prestige brands have known and used this all along, just like any other institution bent on establishing a distinguished and committed collective. Ueber-Brands are only taking this ancient truth into the 21st century, updating it and playing with it to elevate their brands and create their modern version of prestige.


* Brand Elevation is also the title of our latest book, a how-to guide to giving a brand meaning, making it peerless and priceless. Click here to order your copy now.

For more ways to elevate your product and brand, read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” and other articles and case studies on this blog.

¹ Here is the interview about Hermes with Axel Dumas and his cousin – Pierre-Alexis, creative director – referred to above by Departures magazine.

² Read more about the art of “Un-Selling” here.  Most Ueber-brands are masters in applying ‘the superiority of seduction vs. selling.

³ See our full, illustrated Freitag case study here.  ⁴ Read/listen to or interview with the funny and determined commercial leader of Lakrids here. ⁵ And the Chobani case study here. And in this video we illustrate how Maison Du Chocolat puts its product on a pedestal:

Finally, take a look at detergent brand Method elevating its hand-wash with a limited release crystal bottle* which reminds of Dior’s J’Adore Fragrance and its limited edition bottle in more than one way.  Ot just goes to show that Brand elevation can happen on any brand!  (*OK – it’s made of glass and just looks like crystal and it does not cost $20,000 like the Dior Baccarat version)

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here:
This entry was posted in 4 - Behold! - The product as manifestation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to To Elevate Product and Brand – Make it the Holy Grail

  1. hclips says:

    As a result, company leadership continues to ask, how will our brand capture the attention of our prospect and further differentiate from our competitors?


Make an Ueber-Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s