IKEA strategy is missing a key piece: What’s the value of a fan?


As marketers, we seek the “fan Holy Grail.” We spend money researching where these brand fanatics live, what they care about and what motivates them. We hope to find that fan whose loyalty runs so deep they willingly share their passion unsolicited; those whose adoration is so unwavering they will go as far as permanently demonstrating that loyalty. The Holy Grail fan is rare, but once found the smart organizations treasure them and hold them up as an example that it is possible for a company to make an impact and connection with their customers.

Imagine my surprise recently when IKEA took the one thing brands should be longing for – a fan who encourages audiences across the globe to buy IKEA products – and engaged with them in the form of a cease and desist letter.

For eight years, the Ikea Hackers blog, run by someone who goes by the pseudonym “Jules Yap,” has been inspiring and encouraging legions of IKEA fans to share modifications on, and the repurposing of, IKEA products. The fact that Yap ran ads on the booming site prompted IKEA to send a letter over her use of the trademarked IKEA name with a request of transferring the site domain to IKEA.

Now you may be thinking, Heather, it is completely reasonable for a brand to take action when their copyright is clearly being infringed upon. True. But here is the problem: IKEA is a brand of the people. It is a company that has been built by the loyalty of its fans. It is also a company that is about creativity, expression and fun. This action – an impersonal corporate threat – went against everything IKEA seems to stand for as a company. As you might imagine, this didn’t go over well with other IKEA loyalists.

IKEA quickly found itself on the receiving end of some brutal feedback from angry fans who made David versus Goliath comparisons, while publicly shaming the brand on any social channel possible. Five days following the cease and desist letter, Yap shared she and IKEA were working toward an agreement to keep the blog active. No doubt IKEA saw its misstep and needed a quick way to right the wrongs, using its fan to convey that message – not some corporate statement.

IKEA was given an amazing opportunity that it simply squandered. Why? Out of fear? IKEA Hackers got people excited about IKEA products and likely helped drive traffic to stores. IKEA could have taken many courses of action to leverage this opportunity, such as inviting Yap to help create new product ideas and building a long-term partnership. Yet it chose to alienate a fan (who also happened to have a lot of other fans). We as strategists have to remember one thing: Your company is about your customers. Without them, you don’t exist.

So this begs the question: If you had been calling the shots at IKEA, how would you have handled this situation?

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