STRATEGIES MUST TELL STORIES

The world of marketing abounds with storytelling, but not where it matters most: Strategies still too often see precision and inspiration at odds, where in truth they need both. Only stories let strategies thrive, creating a narrative dynamic that lifts our imagination. Putting us on a path that doesn’t limit our thinking, but engages us by opening both our heads and our hearts.

WELCOME TO ZWOELF!   

 

Like all following pictures, this one is of an object I collected that tells a story. Lots of stories actually: Ming plate from a Chinese ship sunk 500+ years ago, giving rise to endless ideas.

 

STRATEGIES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Brands must shift gear to take us into the future. That’s why we at Zwoelf follow our newly developed Ueber-Brands approach: Holistic, narrative and multidimensional.

The new millennium brought some major changes to branding. We finally embrace brands not just as marketing instruments but as guiding forces driving the enterprise as a whole. Not only attracting consumers but integrating and leading all stakeholders truthfully inside out.

Also, technology, of course. It’s a brave new world enabling but also demanding brands to talk and behave more and more interestingly while at the same time learning to listen and let go.

And time, our unrelenting companion. Running faster every minute, not only speeding up but also multiplying opportunities as well as threats. Complexities thrive and with them our yearning for simplicity or at least a break here and there.

All this and then some we have researched, analyzed and assessed with many of the world’s leading marketers in our books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” (Schaefer/Kuehlwein, 2015) and “Brand Elevation – Lessons in Ueber-Branding” (Schaefer/Kuehlwein, 2021) – see also “The Concept of Ueber-Brands” further down on this site. And this has led to a new, forward thinking approach to brand building and crafting prestige strategies: Holistic, narrative and multidimensional.

Brands with a strong Why shine brighter, further and longer. Because purpose drives people drive profit. In all cases, from category elevation to socio-ecological reinvention.

 

ZWOELF SERVICES

At zwoelf we help brands find their strategic narrative. The story that resides within, connects us to our goals and puts all stakeholders on a mission, a dynamic path into the future.

 

  • PURPOSE AND STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT (BRAND OR CORPORATE)

     

  • GUIDED IDEATION AND CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT, INNOVATION
    (DESIGN THINKING)

     

  • TARGET DEEP DIVES, DESIGN-TARGET AND BRAND PERSONIFICATION

     

  • CREATIVE PLATFORMS AND ACTIVATION PROGRAMS, BRAND MYTHS

     

  • PORTFOLIO PLANNING

     

  • BRAND EXPANSION, PARTNERSHIPS

  • TREND AND CULTURAL RESEARCH

 

To hear more about our work and our thinking, and learn about the experiences and insights of other Ueber-Brands, please check out our podcast:

STRATEGY IS ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE

THE ZWOELF LIQUID STRATEGY PROGRAM™

The biggest challenge in strategy is to not treat it as a board room game: develop, deploy, done. Strategy is nothing if not implemented and executed, again and again and again. Like water, it must seep into every nook and cranny of the organization, all processes, details and touch points. That’s why we at zwoelf support you along the entire line. Integrating partners, ideating every step of the way, adjusting and evolving, pushing all of us to walk further than even our wildest talk.

 

 

 

Detail of a 19th century stool engraved with Heinzelmännchen, folk tale gnomes that helped the people of Cologne keep things in order.

 

To which depth the above modules have to be worked depends. Some will be supported by partners. All will be managed in a highly collaborative and iterative manner.

FOUNDER / OWNER

BIOGRAPHY

WOLFGANG SCHAEFER

Born and raised in the meandering Rhine valley, living and thinking across cultures and borders came naturally to Wolfgang. Curiosity did the rest. And led to more than a quarter century on the global circuit as chief strategist, working with most of the world’s blue-chips from LVMH and P&G to Coty or Unilever, Miele or Swarovski and many others. Today, Wolf does what he loves most: Living in Berlin and New York, teaching at XU University and others, and still helping build meaning- and successful global brands.

 

SOME REFERENCES

Wolf’s excellent conceptual thinking skills, his willingness to embrace new and innovative ways and his passion to do the harder right vs. the easy wrong makes him one of my most valued business partners for the last years. Highly recommended!”
Robert van Pappelendam, SVP Global Hair Care at P&G

“Wolfgang is an excellent visionary strategist. On our previous collaborations on different projects, he always was able to simplify complex scenarios and developed them into a beyond the ordinary execution.”
Yasar Hanli, Global Digital Marketing Director Miele

“Wolf’s talent sits right at the cusp where sharp strategy is turned into compelling creative. He’s never been less than an inspiration.”
Gabriel Eid, VP Global Creative Director Estee Lauder Companies

“Wolfgang has the perfect balance in defining a brand strategy whilst leaving the brand as much freedom as possible.”
Tobias Phleps, CEO Superunion

“Wolfgang Schaefer masters the art of elevation better than anybody else. Our new Brand Story inspires and guides us every day in all the actions and decisions we take.”
Valentina Colombo, International Marketing & Communication Director, Acqua di Parma, LVMH

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wolf’s name (his family name “Schaefer” is German for Shepherd) talks of life’s tug between nature and culture, the predatory and the protective, the wild and the tendered. Sheep have thus been his personal icon for decades and a popular gift in all forms. Shown here is a sheep-shaped stone from the Baltic Sea.

Company Logos

WHEN HAPPENSTANCE TURNS CIRCUMSTANCE

ZWOELF: A NAME AS STRATEGIC AS IT IS STORYTELLING

Zwoelf, German for twelve, is a highly strategic and storytelling number. Yet the name came to me by accident as a failed act of artificial intelligence. Autocorrect to this day alters my signature from Wolf to Zwoelf, apparently convinced that Zwoelf is a more likely sign-off than Wolf. Go figure. But, as so often, there is also method to this madness: Zwoelf is easily the most thought-provoking number and conceptual variation of my name and thus indeed a perfect calling and sign-off – for this consultancy.

ZWOELF: A LITTLE NUMEROLOGIC
  • Zwoelf (12) is a very special number, core of the duodecimal system.

  • There are two dozen characters in our alphabet, twelve Christian apostles and twelve Gods on the Olymp – the dodecathon

  • Time is generally measured in 12th – across civilizations: 12 hours, months, zodiacs …

  • 12 is a mathematical darling, it being a superior highly composite as well as the smallest abundant number. That basically means you can divide it by many numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 6) and end in an integer.

  • Indo-Germanic languages have special words for 12 (together with 11) vs all other numbers above ten.

  • And there are many German idioms paying tribute to my lovely number-name: “Auf die Zwoelf” (Hitting 12 i.e. the jackpot) being one of the most relevant in the context of a strategic consultancy.

In short, 12 or zwoelf is central, pivotal, and epitomal, complete and mythical, made up of new beginnings and elemental focus (1), perspective and evaluative thinking (2) … of course I love it.

Detail of a work on paper by Dan Miller inspired by the numbered drawers in his uncle’s hardware store. Due to his autism and lack of formal training Dan is deemed an outsider artist – yet often likened to masters like Cy Twombly or Jackson Pollock. 


THE CONCEPT OF UEBER-BRANDS
“Ueber-Brands are meta not mega. They are less self-important or aggrandizing than prestige used to be but more self-aware and self-reflecting. What puts them on a higher level is a sense of discrimination paired with dedication, and that is as priceless as it is progressive.”

 

This is how we summed up what we termed Ueber-Brands, successful in securing premium positions within their categories, pushing price elasticities and making themselves cultural arbiters at the same time. Based on 100+ case studies and countless exclusive interviews with industry and market leaders we devised seven principles that these brands exhibit and that are essential for anyone wanting to take her or his brand ‘ueber’ (German for above and beyond).

Our first book “Rethinking Prestige – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands”, laying out the theory and detailing the principles, was published 2015 and became an instant hit, meanwhile translated into Chinese and Arabic, Portuguese… To this day selling briskly and maintaining a 4.8* rating on Amazon.

Our second book “Brand Elevation – Lessons in Ueber-Branding” came out in January 2021 and puts the theory into action – a six-step practical program on how to upgrade and sustain a brand’s premium position and competitive advantage. Complete with insights from the Covid pandemic and seven in-depth case studies, from successful brand leaders, incl. Starbucks, YouTube, AirBnB, Burt’s Bees, Acqua di Parma, Lakrids and Terra Cycle.

 

 

“This book is a great read for managers charged with building and maintaining prestige brands.”
Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing, NYU Stern

 

 

“This is one of the best new books to come out in recent years on the changes and elevations of branding in marketing and society today, through to their mythic aspects.”
Robert Kozinets, Professor of Marketing, Schulich School of Business, York University

“This book inspires our thinking about the possibilities at so many levels.”
Pete Blackshaw, Global Head of Digital, Nestle

“This is a much-welcomed book for all marketing VPs.”
Prof. Jean-Noël Kapferer, HEC Paris

“I dare say that even luxury’s rule book has been radically rewritten with this engaging and provocative treatise.”
Uwe Ellinghaus, Chief Marketing Officer, Cadillac

 

Brand Elevation Book