“Just say no!”

Christian Boros has made a name for himself as a creative mind and founder of the communications agency of the same name, as well as an unorthodox collector of contemporary art. He is a free spirit and anything but mainstream, yet well-known customers trust his advice. In an interview he talks about the value of traditional brands and B2B communication, and about the similarities between art and communication.

Mr. Boros, you are known both as the managing director of your agency of the same name and as a collector of contemporary art. Which is the better brand, the agency owner Boros or the art collector Boros?
When I look in the mirror in the morning, I don’t distinguish. One has a lot to do with the other. My life is also not divided into classical disciplines such as leisure and work. It is rather an interwoven togetherness in which the one does not function without the other. Today I am the entrepreneur I am because I am also an art collector.

What do you think makes a strong brand?
A good brand is never monocausal; it always has different facets. It’s like a diamond: It only shines when it is ground and is given as many facets as possible. Only then is it a diamond. And that is how it is with a strong brand: It takes an almost unfathomable variety of facets to make a brand shine.

Together with your agency you look after clients in industry and business, but also in the fields of culture and the media. In your experience, how realistic are brand owners in evaluating their brand?
Many companies consider themselves unique and unmistakable, but then only proffer commonplaces such as quality, reliability and reliability. But these are only basic factors that do not make anyone’s eyes glow.

How important is innovation for the character of a brand? Are there any cases in which you tell people to leave their brand as it is?
Yes, there are wonderful brands that seem to require no change – an analog watch from the well-known East German manufactory, for example, or porcelain from Meissen and KPM. There, innovation is innate in the product. You have to be able to adapt your product to the spirit of the times while remaining true to your brand core. It is then important for the communication for these high-quality consumer goods to remain innovative. For people change, and therefore brand communication also has to change.

How do you get your clients to let go of their previous brand?
Letting go may be the wrong way of putting it. I advise you to give them space to breathe! And just to say no for a change. It is not a question of preventing something, but of thoroughly reconsidering a position. I have a favorite quote from the American artist Jenny Holzer: “Protect me from what I want. The greatest enemy is within ourselves. We must always remember that we should not be satisfied too quickly.”

The STEAG brand has its roots in the original name of the company, which will be 80 years old in 2017: Steinkohlen-Elektrizität Aktiengesellschaft (Hard Coal Electricity Corporation). In the digital age and an ever increasing decarbonization of power generation, is that brand name still up to date?
Tradition is a huge asset in branding. STEAG is like Leica to me. Leica is an old brand, the inventor of mechanisms, optics and pre-digital photography. Leica has a glorious past, which in turn creates the opportunity to confidently say: “We have the strength to create sustainable ideas for the future. I regard STEAG as a primordial animal among the energy brands, many of which no longer exist or have taken on new names. It may surprise you, but STEAG is an integral part of my brand landscape in the energy industry. Brands that have endured for such a long time have the ability to change and to create ever new and interesting facets within themselves.

“The greatest enemy is within ourselves. We must always remember that we should not be satisfied too quickly.”

Is it really possible to use emotion in B2B communication to advertise capital goods, or are there not natural limits? What is sexy about electricity, for example?
I have to inspire the decision-maker on the other side. Because then he will tell his purchasing department, “I want to work with this company.” My product may reach its limits because, for example, it seems inconspicuous, but good brand communication helps to arouse emotions even with a product like that. Without electricity, for example, the motor of our society, our life would not run. And that’s sexy, isn’t it? When I hit those emotions, the competitive advantage is much greater than when I hit “just” brain cells. And another factor comes into play, a social component: Whose godchild is a company? What culture does a company embody? Companies today should no longer just talk about their products and services. Customers and business partners also want to know something about their attitude and their philosophy.

How can companies determine which target group can best be reached with which communication strategy?
It depends on which group I want to target. For example, if my primary concern is with decision-makers, I advise against analyzing what these decision-makers might want to hear through market research. Because those who do that behave exactly like most of their competitors. So that cannot be successful. It is important for businesses to think about their target groups, analyze them and know their needs. I am convinced that successful B2B communication is characterized by the fact that a few dare to stand out from the crowd. Literally, you want to be worthy of being noticed.

Advertising, they say, has a credibility problem – is art a kind of substitute religion for advertising?
Counter question: What still exists today that is actually credible? Politics, economics, competitive sports, people everywhere turn away and say: I don’t believe you any more. The problem is deeper. Things have become more arbitrary, more confusable and more interchangeable. For me, art is different. Because the artist who goes to his studio in the morning has no excuse if he can’t achieve anything. But if he creates something, then there is truth in it. That definitely makes the artist and his art credible to me.

You once said that art is communication. What does the way you collect your art say about your way of communicating?
To me, these are not separate activities. I don’t communicate one part of the day and see it as work and the rest of the time I’m interested in art and see it as free time. I do it as a whole and one complements the other. There are works of art that I like right away and that inspire me to think about communication. And there is art that I don’t like, but that I still buy because it teaches me to break out of the familiar – and that’s exactly how communication should work.

Mr. Boros, thank you very much for talking to us.