Realigning and rethinking retail

Stephan Maus, Creative Director of MetaDesign space specialist MetaSpaces, with his colleague Adrian Brill, Director Communications, in an interview on new challenges and opportunities for companies to stage their brand.

AB: Everyone is currently talking about the MetaVerse. Is this topic just hype or a relevant development?

SM: The topic is very exciting. First of all, it is important to look at the whole thing separately from Meta or Facebook. The concept and the topic are much bigger. The key is that basically all tech giants are working on or investing in similar visions. Obviously, huge business potential is seen in broad-based virtual platforms. Many functionalities (communication, product placement, payment services, etc.) that today require individual developments to be integrated, could in future be integrated into such platform solutions. User acceptance, skills and habits are expected to grow with this technology. Companies should already be looking into this. Finally, the MetaVerse is also a place that wants to be shaped and customised. I think it is likely that this development will make the design of virtual environments easier and more commonplace. Companies that want to be present here will undoubtedly strive for a differentiating brand presence with a unique experience. This is exactly the topic we feel comfortable with - on a large scale as well as on a small scale, in the virtual world as well as in the analogue world.

AB: In recent years, there have been one or two game changers in terms of branding spaces, for example virtual applications. What have you learned?

SM: What was exciting was that virtual spaces are basically not subject to any physical or structural limitations. You have the freedom to create very specific, imaginative or abstract places. We have learned that virtual concepts must be at least as coherently thought-out as those for the physical implementation - especially the user experience of a virtual space. Here, companies often have false expectations and believe that the topic is primarily a way to save time and costs. At least for first-time or short-term implementations, this is not the case. Over longer stretches, however, these potentials are definitely there.

AB: Brand spaces: why is the topic so relevant right now?

SM: Even without the pandemic, the framework conditions were already changing and there was pressure to dovetail advancing digitalisation with retail in a meaningful way. The past two years have accelerated this drastically and shown everyone how far you can get without visiting a shop or department store. The personal introduction to shopping is even completely different for some cohorts of young people. What do we make of it? How do we deal with new habits and expectations? And what role should a bricks and mortar presence play in the future? The challenges for spatial brand staging are great and for many companies it is time for positioning and realignment.

AB: The question is justified: what does this mean for bricks and mortar retail?

SM: You can already clearly see that people are keen to get together again, to experience something, to go to inspiring places. This is where brands can, indeed must, create relevant offers. The click when buying a product on an online platform cannot really beat a shopping experience in an inspiring place, a truly personal consultation or surprising experiences.

AB: It sounds like companies will basically have to provide both - physical and virtual trade fairs - in the future. Is this the new maxim and how efficient is it for companies?

SM: It’s not possible to speak of a must or a generally valid development here, but you can speak of a clearly visible trend. Various large companies, but also small and medium-sized enterprises, have recently made the fundamental decision to design their trade fair stands in a hybrid way in the future. This can be efficient for a company because you can continue to use the virtual part, the content, but also data records about the specific trade fair. For example, they are used for other discussion forums such as a sales conference or even the POS presentation. Furthermore, with the virtual component, it is possible to react very quickly to spontaneously changing conditions, such as the cancellation of a trade fair or the absence of a special exhibit. Implementing something like this not only requires a rethink in the way the present trade fair departments of the company view themselves. For us as service providers, it also means that concept requirements and the way we sell them change. It is obvious that it requires a somewhat different set of expertise or understanding to designing a classic trade fair architecture. You have to deal intensively with the user journey and the possible interfaces between the physical and virtual presence. Bringing the basic aesthetics and functionality of both components into harmony with one another is currently an exciting field of work for us.

AB: How do you come to your solutions?

SM: In the search for solutions, the client is usually involved from the very beginning. This must also be the case, as virtual or hybrid formats are usually to be based on the customer's existing digital infrastructure. Our process usually starts with joint workshops or design sprints. Trade fairs are and remain a futures business, whether physical or virtual.

Stephan Maus is creative director at MetaSpaces in Berlin. You can contact him at