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Brand Experience Trends in Action: Our Top Takeaways from CES, MWC, and SXSW

Brand Experience Trends in Action: Our Top Takeaways from CES, MWC, and SXSW

Innovative event strategies excite attendees and inspire marketers

Written by: Brea Carter, Marketing Manager, Freeman and FreemanXP EMEA and Jessica Fritsche, Content Marketing Manager, Freeman


Events can be a treasure trove of inspiration for attendees. If you’re looking for great learning opportunities, exciting advances in tech and design, and off-the-charts networking, there’s no end to what you can take back home and apply to your own brand experience strategies. And as we work and play at events around the world, we’re able to see how brands bring their marketing strategies to life in the live space. We witness first-hand how marketers embrace the latest tactics to capture the hearts and minds of audiences, which can lead to the emergence of new trends. Meanwhile, successful implementations continue to flourish, while others completely reinvent themselves. 

Already this year, we’ve had teams on the ground at some of the biggest industry events in the world: CES in Las Vegas, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and SXSW in Austin, Texas. So what did we see? Various new trends in action, everywhere from the show floor to the session room, and beyond. When you get savvy marketers together, you’re privy to the best in brand experience. Here’s what we saw rising to the top of the trend pool.  

An ever-expanding audience

As events grow along with their audiences, the content and focus shifts as well. That couldn’t be more true for SXSW, CES, and MWC — these events have evolved to embrace change and meet the needs and interests of diverse attendees. Each one has become a veritable brand marketer’s paradise, with expanding show floors, big-name session speakers, and companies making their mark with unique installations and experiences. And as future innovations take hold, that boom is likely to continue year over year.

People are eager to remain ahead of the innovation game, and these events are known for embracing the latest in mobile, tech, and thought leadership. So it’s no real surprise that they’re leading the pack in attracting larger audiences that contribute not only to growing numbers, but also to the evolution of content. For example, this year SXSW added a number of timely and relevant last-minute sessions on journalism and storytelling in today’s world, and CES made changes to various attendee tracks to fit the growing marketing and content audience groups. A great lineup of speakers at MWC from the likes of Netflix, Vice Media, and PWC, alongside mobile brands such as VMWare, Nokia, and Orange, reflected a diversifying attendee base alongside the introduction of the Women4Tech, a new programme for men and women that aims to bridge the gender gap in the mobile industry.  

Off-site experiences

When event audiences and programming expand, they can often surpass the capacity of typical event spaces — and what’s more, content and experiences can even lend themselves to a different kind of space altogether. So what’s an event to do when it starts feeling those growing pains? Take over the city, of course! Getting away from the central hub of an event offers brands a higher degree of personalization and allows attendees to get a feel for what their host city is really like.

SXSW is known for its ability to transform downtown Austin. Restaurants, clubs, and storefronts transform seemingly overnight to become brand havens, housing additional sessions, networking parties, entertainment, and hands-on experiences with products. CES has also begun to take over the Vegas strip, with additional show floor spaces across the city, centralized spots for tracks of content, and branded nighttime entertainment that runs the gamut from exclusive invitation-only concerts to sponsored club nights. MWC spans not only nine halls and 11 outdoor areas of the Fira Gran Via venue, its digital startup event, 4YFN (4 Years From Now) has taken over the nearby Fira Montjuïc for the last four years. On top of that, various brands choose Barcelona’s iconic cityscape as the backdrop to host their own events, from networking cocktail hours and formal dinners to cycling tours. 

Playful and welcoming spaces

There were a lot of design trends on display this year, intended to catch attendees’ eyes and draw them towards a brand. Some companies took the playful approach, with bright colors, vibrant screens, lighting, and music, like T-Mobile, Alcatel, and Lenovo at MWC  or FitBit at CES. Open, airy design was also a big trend, like Sony’s expansive space at CES. These spots felt light and welcoming, even with big crowds stopping by. Greenery, warm wood, and other natural touches were a part of many spaces, inviting people to explore, meet, and relax.

In many cases, brands often did away with traditional design altogether. Some opted for product showcases with private meeting spaces tucked into the back of the space, like Cisco and HP with their fluorescent, see-through structures. At SXSW, Stella Artois brought a vintage trailer customized as a mobile bar to serve its brew to thirsty crowds on the show floor, while automation tech was showcased at multiple events by brands like Home Depot via homey structures that showed attendees how products flow together as a system.  

Tech at the heart

Technology is an obvious trend at play, considering it’s a central focus of all three events ­— both in content and execution. From artificial intelligence to virtual reality, companies are pulling out all the digital stops to engage attendees and show off capabilities. Robotics were big this year, from tabletop companions to interactive telepresence machines to robots performing synchronized dances for mesmerized audiences. Other AI applications were also popular, like image tracking and scores of home and life automation options.

Virtual reality shows no sign of losing steam, with brands incorporating virtual in a number of ways. There were plenty of games and virtual rides, from rollercoasters to zero-G simulations — even one that simulated flying, with your hair blowing in the wind. There were also educational applications, bringing surgeries, travel, and art to life in the virtual world and letting attendees get hands-on with an immersive experience.

The best part about the brand experience industry is the trends on display constantly change and evolve in response to innovations, technology, and thought leadership that affect the work we do and the audiences we serve. That means non-stop inspiration will push experiences forward to constantly engage audiences in new ways and deepen relationships — and SXSW, MWC, and CES are just some of the events leading the way. 

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