The IKEA brand – is it TOO Swedish?

Ikea is an impressive brand.  It’s the world’s largest furniture retailer, it’s privately held, there are more than 300 stores in 37 countries, and nearly half a billion unique visitors hit the website in the last year.

Perhaps more impressive is the way the company is marketed and how the brand is communicated.  Ikea has embraced the direct marketing model (the Ikea catalog is published in 27 languages and accounts for something like 70% of the company’s total marketing budget,) and great pains are taken to sell the Swedish-ness of the company.

The stores themselves are bold blue buildings with yellow lettering and highlight features.  These are the national colors of Sweden.  The furniture names are based on a disciplined system, and feature words and names of decidedly Nordic/Scandinavian provenance.  Names like Besta, Ektorp, Framsta, Inreda, Karlstad, Pragel and Varde.  The stores even feature restaurants and food markets serving Swedish meatballs, cinnamon rolls (whose aromas usually flood the checkout areas,) and lingonberry jam.

But being soooo Swedish can have its drawbacks, too.  For instance, most Ikea stores feature a “one-way” meandering layout, forcing the consumer to go through virtually every section of the store just to find his or her desired items.  There are shortcuts, but people rarely use them.  Most American retail consumers prefer aisles and rows to quickly find what they came for.  Further, the furniture itself is almost always a self-assembly.  This is to keep costs down and to improve the complex inventory stocking process – most Ikea stores are simply warehouses with a nice second floor.  Again, quite different – most American furniture stores deliver your furniture and assemble it for you.

The real doozy in Ikea stores comes when you try to check out. Most shopping carts feature two fixed rear wheels and two swiveling forward wheels, which allow you to “steer” in any direction you choose. The shopping carts at Ikea feature four swiveling wheels, which means that as you navigate the wiggly winding path the store forces you to take through the maze of Nordic-named furniture, the cart is zigging and zagging into merchandise displays and even fellow shoppers. Then, as you self-load your 150-lb bookshelf, the cart becomes nearly impossible to maneuver, simply growing a mind and a navigation system of its own.

I submit that Ikea is one of the most consistently delivered and managed brands.  But in a few cases, in a few countries, they could make intelligent and insightful compromises to improve the consumer experience.  Starting with less-Swedish shopping carts.

Empty promises give me the JetBlues

I’m a JetBlue fan.  I like the brand, I like the approach, I like the planes.  Nearly everything about the way they do business has been pretty positive for me, and I fly them when I can, despite having my frequent traveler account with another airline.

This morning, JetBlue sends me an email blast promising fares as low as $49.  So I bite.  I consider taking a quick trip to Buffalo to visit an old friend who just had twins – and heck, maybe I’ll catch a Bills game while I’m there – a great way to spend a Sunday in the early fall.  It sure beats driving for all those hours.  And for $49 each way, it’s a steal!

So I click through on the email. I know I’ve landed on the vanity/landing page because the form fields are pre-populated with my departing and arriving cities, corresponding to the NYC-BUF link I clicked in the email.  (Nice work.)

However, there are NO flights for $49.  In fact, the LOWEST fare I find is $94.  That’s almost double the promised fare.  So, being a good consumer, I blame myself and think about changing my travel dates.  (Notice the ethos there?  As consumers, we always defer to the position of being wrong…it could NEVER be the brand.)

I change the dates to six weeks out.  And still, no fare under $79. It took about three revisions in the six to eight week travel window to find a one-way fare at $49.  Naturally, it included a Saturday night stay (a relic platform of the old travel industry to punish business travelers and/or encourage leisure travel,) and/or traveling at some insane hour (care to leave NYC at 10:40 pm to arrive in Buffalo after midnight?) to get that fare.  There were also very few $49 fares returning to NYC.

Marketers, listen up. When you send an email blast and brag about your new offer, like fares as low as $49, your consumers better find those fares pretty readily when they click through.  When you can’t deliver on basic promises that you prepare for promotions like an email blast, how can you expect your consumers to believe that you’ll deliver on the larger brand promises or the value proposition?

When you SAY you have this great offer, but can’t deliver on it, that’s not making a real promise to your consumers, that’s baiting someone into clicking.  Exactly what people HATE about marketing, and distrust about email marketing in particular. Each time you blow it and can’t deliver, you’re eroding trust in the brand – and that’s way harder to make up than the short term gains you hoped to realize with the promotion in the first place.

So be very careful what you promise.  Especially if you can actually deliver it. Marketing is the one arena (well, maybe politics, too) where you have to DELIVER on your promises, then POINT OUT how you delivered on your promises. The best thing that could have happened in this JetBlue scenario is that I would have clicked through, found a couple of $49 fares, and seen a star or a burst or some sort of acknowledgment that affirmed the email blast – “Here they are, those $49 fares, just as we promised!  Why not take one?”

That’s cheesy, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the letdown of finding nothing even close to the promised offer.