Cologne – Our world has become more visual, thanks to social media platforms like Instagram. And that means consumers have become more visual, too: brands looking to profit can no longer depend only on emotions and experiences but must also develop strong digital presence with compelling imagery. German creative director, artist and designer Mike Meiré, managing director of agency Meiré und Meiré, knows this well.
While acknowledging that Instagrammability is indeed a sort of currency in the design world, he remains of the opinion that the goal of good design is to establish a cultural identity: brand relevance and awareness is not achieved solely through advertising but also through the creation of experiences that convey values and portray a sense of purpose.
We talked with the designer to find out how he perceives the changing media landscape and how it can be harnessed to revolutionize the trade fair industry altogether.
For some years, you have augmented your two-dimensional work with work in three-dimensional spaces. You’ve completed projects which focus on the cultural links of brands in the context of art, architecture, fashion, music and design. Why?
MIKE MEIRÉ: Through its physical presence, a space has a direct impact on people: it is real. In these times of increasing digitalization, when audiences long for immersive experiences, this means even more. People want to be touched, and this can be done with stories and the way they are staged. In communicating this way, different design disciplines flow into one another, enabling a heightened intensity.
On the topic of brand communications, you often talk about ‘brand coding’ – explain what you mean by that term.
This is about achieving relevance. I can’t say: ‘I am relevant.’ I have to do something, which signifies pertinence to others. And, in turn, brand codes are attractors of expertise: today, more than ever, brands need a pronounced sense of their cultural codes in order to be able to collaborate with the right companions.
Relevance, significance, the ability to lead, thought leadership…all of that is a result of culture, not of marketing. Relevance is gained through deeds, not through words.
Visually-led platforms like Instagram influence our feeling for aesthetics and thus, the design of spaces. How do you see this development?
The currency of this development is attention. Through the constant use of social media, a user learns intuitively what he likes and what he doesn’t. Alongside the risk of developing latent dependency, he too takes on a sense for staging. Our day-to-day use of Instagram means those behavioural patterns of staging and the aesthetic codes that come with them are increasingly converging. On the platform, everyone wants to demonstrate their individuality and yet they follow tried-and-tested codes. Quite simply, everything is getting more and more alike.
But let’s not fool ourselves: we are moving towards a time of total capitalization. Sooner or later, everything will become a market with cutthroat competition and then the laws of disruption take effect again.
Traditional trade fair formats are definitely old hat now
Instagrammability has long since arrived in retail, even in museum settings. But the trade fair industry seems to be dragging its feet a bit – or have you also been able to observe this trend here too?
The brands which have undergone the cultural transformation and recognize that Generation Z is slowly becoming an economic factor to reckon with are currently changing their trade fair strategies quite dramatically. New festival formats are appearing, as well as tutorials in the form of TED talks or podcasts and spaces for immersive experiences.
Every customer journey is checked for Instagrammability. It took a while, but the traditional trade fair formats are definitely old hat now. Young people have acquired the urgent need, precisely through their digital socialization, to meet physically and to document what they experience there on social media.
Attention is the new currency
What do you think is the advantage of sharing staged brand worlds in the social networks?
The advantage for the brands lies in the confirmation of their own activities within the targeted community. When things are posted and comments appear, the brand becomes a topic of public conversation. And today’s markets are conversations! It is thus all about interaction with the public. The advantage for consumers, on the other hand, lies in finding out what ‘their’ community is saying about the brand. The individual is namely guided by what his community thinks. He is trying to make sense of things, the community helps him by evaluating the brand and its products or services.
Don’t you see a risk here that in the end it is no longer about conveying values and messages but just about how many clicks or shares in the social media channels something gets? Or is that the new currency?
Attention is the new currency and this is manifested in clicks. But that does not mean that it is no longer about values and messages; these just need to be staged and communicated quicker, more emotionally and more directly. Globalization, generational changes and digitalization are taking their toll. The moaners are wasting valuable time and will end up down Nostalgia Street.
How would you revolutionize the trade fair industry per se?
It needs to stop defining itself as the trade fair industry –that’s an outdated format. We need hybrid forms of collaboration and new understanding of supply and demand needs to be developed. I believe that very few actually have any idea who their public is.
With the booth for New Tendency at IMM Cologne 2019 you yourself explored new avenues in trade fair design. The architecture became an interface and ‘merely’ served as basis for augmented reality. What merit do you still see in 'real' brand presentations?
The real brand presentation allows people to make physical contact. This is always more intensive that an online visit and also creates a personal relationship. It is not about either – or, but about ‘one and the other’. We must accept that alongside the traditional analogue qualities we have to cultivate additional new, digital qualities. Our lives will become more complex – we have to face up to that.