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Posted: August 04, 2011

The IKEA experience: Making it memorable

Three ways to ramp up the drama

Julie Hansen

Driving home down Speer last week I narrowly escaped a potential multi-car pile up. Just in front of Denver Country Club an unusual sight had cars stopping mid-traffic: a glass truck lit up from the inside revealing a fully furnished and artfully decorated living room, complete with funky pendant lights gently swaying as the truck changed lanes. Although it was clearly not a real living room, I pulled up next to it, half expecting to see a hip couple in tight-fitting jeans sipping soy lattes and surfing on their ipads.

Before this experience I'd read about the Ikea grand opening with a certain sense of condescension. The opening of a furniture store the biggest thing to happen in Denver since the Democratic convention? Really? I felt nothing but a keen sense of embarrassment for our poor little city. But the Ikea glass truck blasted my skepticism out the window.

As I drove by, I marveled at the marketing genius behind the concept and the creative use of space. I wondered how many more trucks were out there and if they featured a different room or design. I pondered how late Ikea might be open and whether they had that cool pendant lamp in blue. That's when I realized it had happened: I had just had a memorable consumer experience.

What do Ikea, Apple, Disney, and Lady Gaga have in common? They're all successful enterprises that have moved beyond simply selling furniture, technology, movies, and music into creating an experience for the consumer. In 1990 two Harvard MBA's wrote a best-selling book called The Experience Economy: predicting that in the economy of the future it would not be enough to simply provide competitive products, services or pricing.

Customers and audiences alike would start to expect more for their money in an increasingly competitive landscape. Successful companies would need to create memorable buying experiences. "Selling, whether pitching automobiles or bottles of perfume, is theater," authors Pine and Gilmore asserted. I doubt they envisioned the Ikea glass truck, but I am quite certain it would have made their list of notable examples.

The truck was theatrical and dramatic, both of which offer great lessons for salespeople and businesses. Theater can engage, inspire and move people. Really good theater can demand premium prices and create strong word-of-mouth. Drama cuts through our rational mind and gets right at our emotions. The definition of drama itself: a situation that produces a vivid, emotional or intense response and is of striking interest is reason enough to consider its application in sales. Aren't these words: emotional, vivid, of striking interest, words you'd love to have associated with you or your product or service?

"Drama," Alfred Hitchcock said, "is life with the dull bits cut out." Audiences and consumers alike are bombarded with sales messages: "buy me, we're the best," etc. To stand out from the crowd and be heard over the din, like Ikea, we need to move beyond simply informing and start creating memorable buying experiences. In other words, cut the dull bits out.

Sure, I'd seen an Ikea catalogue, heard the buzz and the ads, but it was the stunning visual dramatization so brilliantly placed into a truck cab that actually changed my opinion. So what are the takeaways from Ikea and The Experience Economy on using theater to stand out and be of "striking interest?"

Consider the following:

1. Are you engaging buyers' emotions? Practical benefits provided by our product or service are important, but don't overlook intangible emotional benefits which often produce stronger reactions. As salespeople, we often make the mistake of thinking buying decisions are completely rational -- especially in b2b sales --until we lose a buy for a seemingly irrational reason.

2. When you give a presentation, are you primarily informing? Consider how you might instead enlighten, persuade or dramatize. Our intentions effect how we deliver a presentation or pitch and greatly influence our client's perception. Think of how many different ways you can present the same information with a unique flair.

3. When you demonstrate your product, are you simply showing it? Try revealing, unveiling or introducing it. Even subtle shifts in the way in which we handle our product informs the customer of its value. If you have to dig it out of your briefcase and dust it off before handing it over to your customer, what does that say about it? If you handle it like a precious metal, you will impart it with that same quality.

In a shout out to Shakespeare, The Experience Economy concludes: "Work is theater and every business a stage." If true, ask yourself this: would customers purchase a ticket to your show?

In the mean time, I still haven't gotten to Ikea, but I'm planning on it. I'm going to wait until the crowds die down. Perhaps by Christmas.
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Julie Hansen helps sales and business executives differentiate their solution and deliver winning presentations by leveraging proven performance skills from film, stage and improv.  The founder of Performance Sales and Training, Julie’s techniques have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM, Oracle, SAP and local Colorado companies to gain a competitive selling edge.  Julie is an international speaker, sales trainer and the author of ACT Like a Sales Pro!  Learn more about workshops and keynotes at, start a sales conversation at  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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Readers Respond

Many thanks, TC! I wonder if Ikea would consider hiring me as a spokesperson?! By Julie Hansen on 2011 08 09
Julie, not only great information, but your story was an "experience" to read. By TC North on 2011 08 08
Hello, I like a articule that is real, we all have a dis-moment but to admitt it was wrong and share how we actualy stepped into their creative minute, bravo!I love the imaginitive companies that uses more than big and cheap for a draw. I want to see sociaty learn to enjoy and delight in the ride of living. By Marsha on 2011 08 05
Thanks Jeri! I will check out Scott McKain's book. Sounds similar to The Experience Economy, which both inspired me and validated the use of acting and theater as models for business. My book (which comes out next week, so forgive my shameless self-promotion) ACT Like a Sales Pro, takes it from the conceptual level down to the "how to" level, showing sellers how to apply key acting tools and create a memorable buying experience. By Julie Hansen on 2011 08 04
Thanks Mimi! You're probably right. Can you imagine the traffic this Christmas between Park Meadows and Ikea?! By Julie Hansen on 2011 08 04
One of the best articles I have read in a while. The only thing that I didn't completely agree with was that you are probably misguided to think that things will 'die down' by Christmas time Great post! By Mimi Foster on 2011 08 04
Nice article, Julie! It echoes several titles by Scott McKain - "All Business is Show Business," "What Customers Really Want," and "Collapse of Distinction." Learn more at By Jeri on 2011 08 04
I remember when I first encountered the notion of taking a product and making it an "experience." In a news story, one of Donald Trump's sales team said of condos at the new Trump Towers in NYC, "We're not selling condos here, we're selling sex and dreams." I thought that was quite bold of her to be so overt about the pretense, but now it seems she was just ahead of the pack. By Stephen Koenigsberg on 2011 08 04

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