10 April 2024, at 15.00 • Fondazione Marco Biagi

Dipartimento di Economia Marco Biagi, Università di Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italia

School of Business & Economics, Marketing Department, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Firms across industries such as live sporting events, arts, music and religious festivals, the nighttime economy, private member clubs or exclusive higher education institutions, seek to create vibrant social atmospheres to attract and retain customers. Despite their business value, insights into how firms intentionally shape social atmospheres are lacking. The paper introduces the concept of atmosphere curation, which is a firm’s approach to iteratively match an ensemble of people to each other and with regard to a desired atmosphere concept.

Building on an extensive dataset on Berlin music clubs, including interviews, ethnographic observations, documentary and archival data, the paper unveils the curation process that revolves around achieving aesthetic fit. The latter reflects an ensemble of people that match in terms of their readiness to perform in a complementary or synergistic way, inherently belonging to the curated crowd and the intended social atmosphere. While extant research devotes much attention to the physical aspects of servicescapes (e.g., material, visual or audio elements), considerably less research deals with the social influences of place and the role service providers play in facilitating such atmospheres. Recent research explains how social atmosphere is created through shared rituals where customers share behavior and emotions. Their success thus depends upon customers knowing how to participate in these rituals, and studies hint at the possible benefit (but also risk) of firms excluding those customers who lack this knowledge. Creating social atmosphere thus needs customer selection, i.e. including customers that actively contribute to a desired social atmosphere and excluding those ‘who don’t belong.’

The study identifies atmosphere curation as the process by which firms create social atmospheres including the strategic role of selectors as atmospheric gatekeepers and curators. Moreover, it conceptualizes aesthetic fit as the key ingredient of social atmosphere and uncovers the process by which social atmospheres are curated. This process consists of (1) “cultivation,” i.e. the shaping and reinforcing of social atmosphere expectations, (2) “selection,” i.e. the exclusion and inclusion for aesthetic fit, and (3) “mystification,” i.e. the obscuring and validation of aesthetic fit.

The study advances recent research on social atmosphere emergence, provides a better understanding of the role firms and employees play in facilitating communal experiences of place, and extends previous marketing research on servicescape design and retail atmospherics. It also proposes a balanced view of selection by offering an improved understanding of the positive aspects of social exclusion in consumption contexts. It thus complements extant research on the social exclusion of vulnerable or marginalized customers.

Managerially, the research offers important insights for firms across industries on how to create desired atmospheres by carefully managing customer selection based on their aesthetic fit and by embedding this selection in activities of atmosphere cultivation and mystification.

The seminar will be held in English and participation is free.
Further information: +390592056092 | phd_lavorosviluppoinnovazione@unimore.it

Seminar “Sorry, Not Tonight”: How Firms Manage Social Atmospheres through the Curation of Aesthetic Fit.