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Peter McGrath of FreemanXP

3 Big Trends in the Brand Experience Industry for 2017

Peter McGrathEvery brand has a story to tell, and brand experiences are the best way to bring them to life. More than any other form of communication, they give brands the opportunity to craft a more enriching, intimate expression of their values.

The challenge for us in today’s world is to create experiences that elevate a product or service into the realm of a lifestyle. That intersection between a personal experience and a branded one is what we’re aiming for–a “life experience” that surrounds you and follows you around far beyond a show floor.

So how do we create life experiences? It’s not easy, but the brands that are enjoying the most success seem to have a few trends in common.


People want to connect with brands. Whether it’s a car or a fashion label or a health-care provider, they want to feel like they’ve chosen someone who understands them and aligns with their beliefs.

If we want to form these kinds of deep connections with our guests, then we can’t lose the softer side of our business–the face to face interaction. We have to keep bringing people together to see, meet and talk to each other within the context of a brand. These conversations can go a long way toward solidifying relationships with those who know us, and welcoming in those who don’t.

While face-to-face communication is nothing new in our industry, the way we design it into a brand experience certainly can be. The brands of the future will use technology and design to allow natural conversation to happen organically within a brand experience.

In doing so, they will empower their guests to form deeper, more meaningful connections with their brands.   


One of the current trends that is very compelling to me is augmented reality. By blending the physical and the virtual, brands can now overlay a story atop a real-world environment. This creates many interesting opportunities for world-building and storytelling.

Some brands are actually building physical experience centers. At the moment, I’m working with an automotive brand to develop a physical manifestation of what it feels like to own one of their vehicles. This is part of a huge commitment by them to build tactile encounters into their overall brand experience.

For an automotive designer, it makes perfect sense. Owning and driving a car is a wholly physical experience that affects both mind and body. However, I challenge us to think about how a technology or health-care company could create their own version of a physical brand manifestation. What does the brand feel like? Sound like? Smell like?

Augmented reality may be the key to designing that kind of experience.


Technology enables us to have a broader approach to storytelling around a brand. We can now make the experience spill out into other areas–for instance, when a customer makes a booking or leaves feedback after an event.

The opportunity to personalize these phases of the user journey is the difference between attending an event and having a life experience. A great example of this is Disney’s magic wristbands, which they introduced a few years ago to great success. By starting the conversation early, the device lets Disney personalize a guest’s visit (down to dietary needs) before they even set foot in the park.

If we want our guests to have life experiences, then we must allow ourselves to see that the space is bigger than “the space.” We must design end-to-end experiences that engage guests before, during and after a show.

In our industry, it’s important not to limit trends to the latest gadgets and software. Some of the best trends are just new ways of thinking.

For all the technology and media now available to us, the most powerful tool at our disposal is our minds. Our openness to try new things and our mindset of curiosity are what allow us to see that the story is more than just the individual brand itself. It’s a larger sphere of experience, one that extends out of a brand context and into a person’s life.

In my opinion, that is where our future lies.

Peter McGrath is senior vice president, creative, for FreemanXP.

He provides creative development and leadership across all facets of Freeman creative design including idea generation, talent development, concept design, creative direction, and experience design. Prior to joining Freeman, he spent more than 25 years as a creative leader at the Walt  Disney Co., most recently as executive of creative development for the Creative Studio of Walt Disney Imagineering. He is a member of the Freeman Design Leadership Council, a team of 10 design-thinking leaders, who bring a unique, transformative point of view to help Freeman and its customers battle complacency, risk-adversity, and challenge  time constraints to invent new ways of inspiring change.

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