Interview with Dr. Christian Mikunda

Genial orchestration

When it comes to the Experience Economy – the orchestration of brands, goods and services – Dr. Ing. Christian Mikunda is a worldwide sought-after expert. Born in Vienna, he studied drama and psychology and has since dealt with what he calls the strategic dramaturgy of public spaces such as shopping centres, airports, museums or hospitals. He is head of the CommEnt consulting firm, is a lecturer at various universities and author of numerous books.

Mr. Mikunda, how does marketing benefit from drama studies and psychology and what does strategic dramaturgy mean?

Sales outlets are like theaters. While the goods are unpacked in the background, a play takes place on the main stage. There are backdrops, lighting is implemented, and employees appear in uniform clothing, in other words, not a big difference to a theater performance or a film. Therefore, the same dramaturgical things must be considered. For example, so that the visitor’s gaze does not disappear into an abyss or get lost in visual clutter, as I like to call it. That would be the aesthetic side that we have neglected for too long.
Beyond the laws of our perception, psychology also teaches us a lot about the needs of people who are here acting as customers. If you cannot smile, do not open a shop – so the saying goes, and these days the smile is the emotional experience you get as an add-on. For example, the Glory exhilaration, that sets in when you enter a point of sale through a shopping Mecca gate façade – a signal of emotional upgrading to the people who visit a discounter. But a hospital, too, shouldn´t make you sick, but rather contribute to healing through its appearance.
Strategic dramaturgy aims to create experiences that increase our attention, willingness to learn and motivation. If we do everything right here, we will also reach our sales goals more easily.

Interview with Dr. Christian Mikunda
WSM in an interview with Dr. Christian Mikunda – the expert for the staging of brands, goods and services

In your approach, the “third place” plays a central role. What makes it special?

The third place joins my home, in which I make myself comfortable and the designed workplace that responds to my needs, for example, through attractive retreat rooms in a factory hall. I am looking for the third place, not to fulfill a function, but to emotionally recharge myself. Today this is also possible in a discount market if it is designed accordingly.
Such a place can already be recognised by a clear sign, a so-called landmark or a header, which can be a pylon, a water-spouting mythical creature with crystalline eyes or a guild sign. True to the motto: Show that you are there! A dramaturgically designed third place has a layout that provides orientation and supports my cognitive map via signposts or lead elements, for example, through pavillions as landmarks on a conceptual line and a core attraction such as a towering wine rack or a giant real tree. These are just a few examples.

Marketing becomes tangible in the “third places”. How does this work?

Strategic dramaturgy ensures emotional communication. Positive experiences lead to increased attention and the release of certain neurotransmitters. This increases attention, which is measured by the Amount of Invested Mental Elaboration (AIME). One is drawn into the scenery, starts browsing, and that in turn influences one´s chances of buying. Unlike in an inhospitable place, where one only performs the bare necessities and leaves as quickly as possible.
Our aim is to create emotional added value. For this, one must treat people well, not put pressure on them. They should perceive the place as an emotional gift and not just as a brutal vending machine.

So it’s about understanding the lives of customers …

…exactly, we have to take the pressure out and respond to the yearning for deceleration. Here the dramaturgical value Chill is the answer, perhaps the most important in our currently demanding life. The need for calming arises especially in a discount market, because you also want to be able to take a deep breath. Elements with market appeal and small storytelling offerings help here. In many pharmacies, real plants and projected green areas provide for this relaxation, which then becomes physically tangible.

What significance do materials and design have?

Exceptionally high significance because they trigger what we call psychological architecture. Aluminium, stainless steel and glass ensure emotional upgrading of formerly inhospitable places. They have incredible potential to support elation. Today, industrial design makes sure that things feel good as well. And the places where you park your bike or that you look for to take a break should be so designed. Here, too, appreciation becomes tangible.

As a customer, what should I feel when I encounter a shop, a train station or a public agency for the first time?

This is about the And up until now – about expectations. The outdoor area prepares visitors for the interior. Therefore, it should make a tidy impression, without the complete visual clutter from deliveries, wild piles of bicycles or marauding shopping carts. The customer can be signaled that he is welcome here with appropriate buildings that provide order and protection.

How high do you estimate the influence of shop architecture on purchasing decisions and are there studies on this?

There are a lot of studies, but I’m more interested in the culture of the presentation than individual promotional activities. I see myself more as a lawyer for clients and try to make sure that they are not hurt too much in the Experience Economy locations.
A great example of how strategic dramaturgy and sales promotion go hand in hand is provided by a large Swedish furniture store that has unraveled a labyrinth with orchestrated shortcuts. Treating people well has paid off. Or the display shelves of lolly-free cash registers in the supermarket. Those who go shopping with children, appreciate that. It’s about such gestures.

Interview with Dr. Christian Mikunda

What requirements arise from the dramaturgical concept for public institutions or urban design, modern urban planning?

Cities are no longer just dramatised temporarily, at Christmas time for example, but one tries to charge them emotionally permanently. After all, they all compete with one another for tourists and taxpayers. Urban design gives citizens a feeling of togetherness and is a landmark for tourists, think of the illumination of the Parisian Eiffel Tower, which begins to flicker every night thanks to 60,000 bulbs. People are looking for orchestrated locations, for emotional gifts in public spaces, for which they have nothing to pay, for example a deck chair on the Danube Canal in Vienna or a reopened river in Seoul which was once covered by a city highway and which one can now walk through on glistening blue stones. There are gargoyles, open air galleries and lighting effects of all kinds; an incredible place that attracts hundreds of thousands.

Great architecture and exciting productions are well-known known mainly from the big fish. What can smaller and less potent actors do??

Lots, and they only have to do on a small scale what others have done on a large scale, for example, the dramatisation of an axis, as in the aforementioned river in Seoul, or the introduction of a loop in a mall in England, where a tiny nautical item business does a great job on a few square feet. Or the baker from Carinthia who presents a 70-year-old, living sourdough – that shows what it means to work with such a material.
There are endless possibilities to dramaturgically orchestrate; one just needs a little courage. You can find inspiration on journeys, in the museum, in the cinema or in packaging design – one can benefit from all this.

Will you reveal us your next project?

A new book on hypnotic aesthetics. In it I will show how dramaturgy can be used not only at the POS, but also for short-term therapies. After all, there are places that make you ill and those that do you good.


Dr. Christian Mikunda in an interview
WSM in an interview with Dr. Christian Mikunda – the expert for the staging of brands, goods and services

Born of the “deadly sins” – the seven dramatic exhilarations

Glory: comes from arrogance or excessive pride and is its positive side. Triggers are heights, depths and widths that arouse feelings of temples and royalty. Serotonin triggers powerful tranquility.
Joy: the positive side of gluttony. Visual overabundance creates a cornucopia of happiness. Rummaging turns Joy into a consumer feeling. Dopamine causes high-spirited, creative alertness
Power: is anger without aggressiveness. It arises from wildness, water masses, fire storms, powerful tones and the exhilaration of speed. Adrenaline releases bioenergetic blockages.
Bravura: refinement. Positive envy (Aristotle), the clever solution, skilled use of tools. Bravura generates recognition and approval.
Desire: something is praised. We are thereby excited towards a goal, we anticipate. Dramatises products via perception games. Dopamine generates the hunting instinct, neurotrophin “butterflies” in one´s stomach.
Intensity: rapture is lust without sex. Controlled stress creates the feeling of rapture. Endorphins make us feel giddy with ecstasy.
Chill: relaxation is regenerative and productive inertia. Reduced stimulation intensity via dilution: slower, quieter, easier, cooler. Stress cortisol is reduced, chilling endovalium is activated.

Source: Christian Mikunda
Warum wir uns Gefühle kaufen (Why we buy feelings – currently (2018) in German only)
Die 7 Hochgefühle und wie man sie weckt. (The 7 exhilarations and how they are animated – currently (2018) in German only)
EconVerlag 2012

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