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IKEA Hacks IkeaHacker Community, Cuts Off Nose To Spite Face

Here at Sensei, we’re always on the lookout for good and bad examples of customer development and community management strategies. This week an IKEA fan community caught our attention. However, where we could (and should) be discussing a best case example, unfortunately, we’re discussing a large brand misstep in both customer development and community management strategies.

IkeaHackers is a fan-created blog that shares how-to tips on “hacking” furniture from the popular IKEA retail chain. Essentially it shows innovative ways in which Ikea customers have combined various furniture pieces and/or embellished them to created even cooler furniture. If this were a MTV series, it would be titled “Pimp My Ikea Furniture.”

Sample of the “hacks” created and shared in the IKEA Hackers community:

IKEA Hack Table

IKEA’s Trofast drawer sets used as benches for kids activity table

IHacked Ikea Bar

IKEA Lack Shelf, Ullrik Table, and Dioder lights combined to create bar/room divider

Ikea Shelf Hacked Banquette

IKEA’s Expedit shelf combined with MDF board and custom fabric to create unique banquette


What We Should Be Discussing

What we should be discussing is how such fan-created communities are exactly what is right with social media for businesses. Sharing ideas on how to personalize low-cost, boxed, do-it-yourself furniture to make it appear hipper and more expensive inspires new fans and drives up sales for the retailer.

What could be better than a community of advocates building greater loyalty among its fan base? Oh, yes, it’s free! Yes, that’s definitely better.

This large and invested community of IKEA fans started out eight years ago as a personal blog by Jules Yap. Despite its popularity and growth, the community has been largely ignored by IKEA . Until now.

What We Are Discussing

What has captured IKEA’s attention – and the reason it is finally (publicly) acknowledging this community – is the fact that Ms. Yap has begun to sell small advertising banners on the site in order to offset some of the high costs of maintaining and growing the community. Ikea and its lawyers, who for eight years seemed  content to allow the site to continue with the title “IkeaHackers,” are now objecting to the use of the Ikea name. Ms. Yam has received a cease and desist letter from Ikea’s lawyers that asks her to stop using the Ikea name in the community’s title and URL. The site itself is not a problem (they’re OK with people driving customers to their store), they just can’t allow it to use their name.

Gizmodo shared this story yesterday postulating that “…IKEA is sending a message that there’s only one way to put together its products, and it’s written in pictograms on the paper they come with.”  I disagree; I’m sure they love the idea of people customizing Ikea furniture – designers have been doing this for many, many years and Ikea has become one of the largest retailers in the world.

In my mind, the real message it is sending is: Feel free to love our products and share great ideas on how to customize our products but don’t ever, ever make money from doing so. It’s totally OK for us to make money on your love of our products but when you do, well, that’s where we draw the line.

Instead of discussing how much Ikea loves its customers and community, the conversation today is centered on IKEA’s greed.

What IKEA Should Have Done

1. Instead of burying its head in the sand like an ostrich (while reaping the profits generated by communities such as these), IKEA could have embraced this community (and others like it) from the start. It could have recognized and even rewarded the founder as an influencer who truly drives sales for their business. Similarly, it could have engaged directly with the community by acknowledging and rewarding the best ideas and sharing those ideas with other communities or featuring them on its own website (which would drive up sales further).

2. Why not sponsor a contest for the most innovative “custom furniture” or room design using IKEA products as a base? Imagine the additional sales and earned media that would have been created if they’d sponsor and support this site, not to mention the additional fan devotion it would have created?

3. Support the community as a resource for product research that can be used by its designers, merchandisers, and marketers.

4.Instead of getting its knickers in a bunch over the measly amount of money that Ms. Yap is generating from ads on a site that uses its name (an amount that I’m sure doesn’t cover her time or costs to maintain the community), IKEA could have stepped up and financially supported the community with its own ads or other considerations.

None of these were done. Instead, IKEA sends a cease and desist letter as a matter of course to protect it’s trademark, which it certainly has a right do to. But why wait 8 years to do it?  Because brand arrogance and corporate-think, led by high-priced lawyers and executives (who most likely don’t shop at IKEA )  would have to give way to a customer-first mentality. And we all know that “customer first” or “the customer is always right” is really only a business motto until the business thinks there’s a buck to be made in ignoring it.

IKEA Hacks IKEAHacker Community, Cuts Off Nose To Spite Face

It would take some courage and vision for Ikea to allow IkeaHackers to keep the Ikea name; courage and vision IKEA doesn’t have apparently.

Our advice to other businesses in similar circumstances is to wholeheartedly embrace fan communities. In fact they should create, nurture, and/or sponsor them. If they’re fan created and managed, support them financially or allow them to support themselves financially; these costs are a pittance compared to what you’d have to pay to generate such awareness, earned media, loyalty, and advocacy anywhere else.

To IKEA , I’d say:

What is your annual budget for radio and television commercials? Can you directly pinpoint the sales and/or profit generated by those ads or, as is the case with most retailers, is the evidence anecdotal? What is your cost of customer acquisition?

What is the true cost  – or negative brand impact- created by allowing your brand name to be used in a fan site? What is the cost of the negative publicity you generate by fighting fan communities?  Compare that to the costs of supporting such community in which direct sales and earned media can be directly measured.

Alternatives to IKEA Hacker 

Think about the loss of future business or the life time value of your customers when IKEA Hackers becomes Furniture Hackers (or something like that) and people start advocating for other furniture stores? You DO have competition you know? Other products that could be easily be combined or overtaken in these now-dedicated fan forums such as, but not limited to (that’s lawyer talk for you):

1.  AllModern

2. Overstock

3. Fab

4.  Etsy

5. Scandinavian Designs

6. CB2

7. well Store

8. World Market

9. Pier 1 Imports

10. Dot & Bo

Note to the current IKEA Hackers community and community owners: I added links to each competitor for your reference. Enjoy. 

Sensei Debates

1. Should IKEA have embraced this community by supporting it financially? Or is its financial concern justified?
2. Is this a good example of brand protection or a brand fail?

Share your thoughts either way in the comments below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego



Join the Conversation

Consumer79 5pts

I recently contacted IKEA customer service about a product I'm patenting with (another person) that would fit their model, and I received the below response:

"Thank you very much for your proposal.

Unfortunately, we have to inform you that IKEA of Sweden AB has decided to refrain from accepting any external product, marketing or other business-related suggestions.

We apologize for any inconvenience and we thank you for your interest in IKEA."

I was slightly shocked to hear that their designers think they're omnipotent until I read this article about them shutting down a huge fan and advocate of their products.

anitahovey 5pts

Huge fail. I work with a furniture retailer (much smaller), and what we wouldn't give to have a community like that to work with. We would JUMP at the chance to have an outside website dedicated to showing the versatility of our products. 

ragtag1 5pts

Could have been a goldmine for Ikea. Why they didn't support this from the off behind the scenes and help the owner I'll never know. They could have provided early access to products, comps, advice & help, anything but this. 

Like others have said, it's really surprising and annoying that a company that seems be progressive in its thinking should be so shortsighted. Seriously, companies out there are dreaming of having this sort of fan support and engagement. 

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@ragtag1 Yes, that's what I find frustrating...many businesses kill for such fan loyalty and advocacy and here's an example of one that has it and is essentially throwing it away because they can't see past the narrow view of "brand"

markkolier 5pts

@samfiorella - It's so disappointing for what is perceived by so many as a forward thinking brand to be so backward in its execution.  Of course you are right as is @geoff hewko that in the interest of 'controlling' revenue streams for itself and brand advocates Ikea is missing both the point AND a huge opportunity.  Shame shame shame.  

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@markkolier Funny isn't it? The bigger the corporation the less they seem to adapt to the way today's consumers wish to communicate. Given than their target audience is today's Millennials, you'd think they'd have a better handle on this. Their agency should be held to account (although their ideas may have been squashed by execs and lawyers who often get in the way). 

geoff hewko
geoff hewko 5pts

Big time brand fail!

I'm willing to bet that if Ikea understood how to play this correctly they could have worked with their own staff from all levels to enroll, engage and support the IkeaHack community to grow this external success (earned media) with very little if any financial support... as well as increasing it's employee moral. Embracing community, helping others solve a problem, being acknowledged for ones efforts are all things that come with little to no cost financially but are incredibly powerful motivators to keep customers/employees happy, interested and loyal. These are brand advocates and lifetime customers in the waiting.

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@geoff hewko Agreed. There's an entire community of advocates on this site, which could be made even bigger. Had they worked to support and grow the site instead of limiting it, they could have nurtured those relationships, understood which drove more awareness and sales to their local Ikea stores, and built influence marketing programs around those people. Imagine the effect on customer life time value when such a group is engaged and measured instead of threatened? 

This is a goldmine for marketers and executives, yet lawyers and those same executives fear social media and the potential loss of brand control (which is exactly what they're causing here). For a company that portrays itself as "hip," they're acting more like a stuffy old department store. Lost opportunity for sure. 

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