Attention at all costs?

An interview with Barry Believer, founder and marketing director at True Love Brand, on the topic of short-term attention versus long-term customer relations.
Led by Arwed Berendts, Creative Director and Partner at SAINT ELMO'S München.

Arwed: A clever creative director at Springer & Jacoby once said to me: "You can stand on the town hall square naked. That way, everybody knows you. But is that a good thing for your image?” How do you see it, Barry? Is that applicable to brands?

Barry: Yeah, good old times... (laughs) But seriously, the topic is much more present and problematic today. Due to the flood and the omnipresence of information and offers, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get even a moment's attention for your brand. On Facebook, as we all know, you have to convince the viewer within 1.3 seconds that it's worthwhile to take a closer look at your offer. But if you as a brand pull down your pants in the marketplace, you should really think about it carefully beforehand.

Arwed: However, as you say, nowadays you have to attract as much attention as possible in the shortest possible time – how do you do this without harming the brand's image?

Barry: Well, if you want to be a brand that wants to be loved in the long run, you should be a little cautious. Focusing on short-term attention is not enough. It's of course also about the messages and basically about how to communicate with consumers. In your opinion, how many lasting friendships start with someone who just shows up and spends the evening showing off and telling everyone how cool he is?

Arwed: You mean the loudest one in the room doesn't necessarily have the most to say and isn't automatically the most likeable. Are there examples of that in the marketing world?

Barry: An example of gaining attention through provocation is the communication of True Fruits. It began with the ‘Samenstau’ (vulgar German term for ‘blue balls’) campaign and then continued last year with similarly tasteless motifs for their launch for Austria. Honestly, the "rarely makes it across the border" headline for a smoothie in a black bottle is pure populism.

Arwed: Some find that attention from negative headlines is better than none. Nowadays, you don't even need a campaign for that and often a post or a tweet is enough.

Barry: Correct. What's the true relevance when Sophia Thomalla hangs half-naked on a cross? The received attention only comes from the dynamics in the social networks encouraged by the press. Lottohelden really only got a moment's attention through these mostly negative discussions. However, it remains to be seen whether the activity has led to more people playing the lottery with the provider and, more importantly, whether they will continue to do so. Personally, I even think that such actions should basically be handled in the same way as the streakers at football matches have been for some time now. They are no longer shown in the broadcasts. And if there's no attention to be had, people don't run naked on the playing field and disturb the game. But until there is hopefully such a regulation, every user is asked to consider whether he wants to take part in the dissemination of sensational but hollow stories.

Arwed: Speaking of streakers, what about the streaker grandpa from the Sparkasse? Is he also a case of attention for attention?

Barry: That was different. A clever little action, here the old man walked half naked over the playing field, because he has to earn a little something extra and not for the exhibitionism of it. The topic of retirement planning was communicated by the Sparkasse in a clever way. In this case, the interaction between attention and messaging worked perfectly, because a real and important need of the customers was addressed in an enjoyable way. A good example of how to build emotional closeness.

Arwed: But is it possible to build up a relationship with the customer in the long term with individual actions like this one?

Barry: Such activities are more the icing on the communication cake. They only round out a brand appearance emotionally. However, a clear brand image can only be created through a consistent appearance. Particularly in our fast-paced times, which are characterized by uncertainty, people long for continuity.

Arwed: According to a study by Prophet, for which 11,500 consumers were surveyed in Germany for more than 250 brands in 25 industries, the most popular brands are currently Apple, Amazon and Google. Why is that?

Barry: Firstly, because continuity creates relevance. All three make our daily lives a bit easier. And all three are permanently present. However, the Apple brand leads the trio in my opinion because it offers even more emotional value. Apple has managed to turn its customers into true lovers of the brand. And that's the real trick, if you want to have long-lasting attention. Getting people to love you. The best way to achieve this is by loving them. Using the same example, Apple is passionate about every detail, from product design, cool and innovative features to friendly customer service. You can even fall in love with the packaging of Apple products. This is an overall world that gives the customer the feeling of being part of something special at all times. As a result, people are willing to pay more. But even Apple sometimes annoys its customers, just think of the widely criticized throttling of the older iPhone models. But others can also learn from this.

Arwed: Even if a lot of people are surely able to take a note from the cult brand, not everyone has the resources of a global giant like Apple at their disposal. In addition, the demands of consumers are constantly rising. In your view, what are the most important aspects that a brand should pay attention to if it's to be successful?

Barry: We are actually facing major challenges. Let's face it: If you as a brand want to have a place in the heart of consumers, that's hard work nowadays. You need a relevant product, which has a benefit that's easy to understand and an authentic way of communicating with consumers. Otherwise, you don't stand a chance. And above all, we must not allow ourselves to be seduced by the dynamics of modern communicative possibilities, but rather should always focus on the values of our brand. Because after the storm, it's often quiet.

Arwed: Let's come to a conclusion.

Barry: Attention alone does not sell products and does not establish a relationship with customers. At the moment of attention, it's all about real messages, telling exciting stories and engaging in dialogue – all with love for customers and respect for their needs. This has the highest priority for sustainable communication. Because it's usually the details that make the difference, not the loud and direct messages that get the customer's attention.

Arwed: Do you have a final message for our readers?

Barry: Love is the message and the message is love.

Arwed: Barry, thank you for talking to me today.

Barry: I love you, too.


Barry Believer, an advertising economist, worked as a freelance marketing consultant for various large companies in Germany and abroad from 2001 to 2005. In 2006, after a trip to India, he founded the True Love Brand consultancy agency, which pursues a new approach to brand communication. Barry Believer views himself and his agency as a mediator in the relationship between brands and consumers, who wants to help brands to find an emotional connection to their customers and to develop authentic and empathetic customer communication. With widely acclaimed publications such as "Love in retail" (2008),"Brand-customer relationship: How to go from casual to committed" (2011) and "The love principle in marketing" (2017), Barry Believer has made a name for himself internationally as a love guru of marketing. Today he's ...

Alright, all kidding aside, there is no Barry Believer. Yea, that's right. He and True Love Brand are fictional, invented, imaginary, made up... Why did we bother to conduct an interview with a fictitious interviewee, you ask? Because even though there is no Barry, there is an idea for a new kind of marketing. One that doesn't just perceive customers as abstract Excel figures and charts, but above all as real people. One in which customer focus is transformed into true love of customers. Barry Believer from True Love Brand is our champion for more authenticity and truthfulness in brand communication – in our view, it's the only correct way for brands that want to convince their customers in the long term.

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Arwed Berendts Managing Partner

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