How Employee and Customer Fans Make IKEA Brandful

I’m always on the lookout for brandful examples. Recently, I spoke to Rich D’Amico, Deputy Marketing Director, IKEA USA  to find out the inside scoop on the IKEA brand and how they create both employee and customer brand advocates. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

Julia Gometz: A brandful company has internal and external brand advocates. Do you have different strategies for employees and customers on how they can promote your products, or are they integrated? Can you explain the strategy?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: We are a values driven company with a passion for life @ home. We have a very thorough understanding of how customers live at home. We spend a lot of time in consumers’ homes really understanding their needs, dreams and desires. We use these insights to provide products and solutions that help to make their lives better. We like to call this co-creation, working with consumers to provide beautiful, functional, sustainable, good quality products and solutions that are affordably priced. Presently we have 5 IKEA co-workers travelling the country (our Home Tour squad) working with consumers in different cities to solve their home furnishings challenges. Our co-workers in all of our stores have a solid understanding of how, consumers in their local markets, live @ home and translate that knowledge into solutions that meet their customers’ needs. I would say that the strategies are closely integrated.

Julia Gometz: What is IKEA’s philosophy on its workforce? Do they help define the brand? Who comes first: the employees or the customers?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: IKEA is a values driven company with a very strong living culture. The IKEA business idea, culture and values are all connected. This reflects a caring and honest approach to partnering with our co-workers ( we call ourselves co-workers) and a way to move the business forward. They are founded on a simple thought that what is good for the customer is also in the long run good for our business. Each customer interaction with IKEA and our co-workers helps to define the brand. Our objective is to ensure that each touch point is a positive experience for the consumer. Our co-workers and customers/consumers are at the center of everything we do.

Julia Gometz: Part of the roadmap to building a brandful workforce calls for brandful recruiting – or hiring employees who genuinely love your products. Do you do this? If so, how?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: We’re a diverse group of down-to-earth, straightforward people with a passion for home furnishing. We come from all over the world but we share an inspiring vision: “to create a better everyday life for the many people”. How we realize this vision is based on our shared humanistic values. These values are the foundation of our work and our inclusive, empathizing, open and honest culture. Working with us is like working with your friends. Our culture is based on the spirit of togetherness, enthusiasm and fun. And we’re always looking for people who share our positive attitude and values.

Julia Gometz: I read that egos are not tolerated among the IKEA workforce. I found this to be quite avant-garde. Not many companies specify what they don’t want in their workforce. How has this worked in your favor and has there been any downside to this approach?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: Working together as a team allows us to achieve great things. We see everyone as a talent and that approach allows us to develop our co-workers and the business.  You can always be yourself, everyone has a voice and it’s a company that encourages open dialogue. IKEA wants diverse co-workers that can help build on that culture – straightforward and down-to-earth people with a willingness to learn. Another thing that is part of our culture is that it is ok to make mistakes as long as we learn and grow from them.

Julia Gometz: What are some stories of customers and employees promoting one of your products or services?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: There are many and you can see them yourself on IKEA’s Youtube channel where we have many videos of our Home Tour Squad deployed across the country helping individuals and families improve life at home. One example was Sandra in Center City, Philadelphia who had moved into a small apartment from a large house. She was having trouble using a small space as a living room and dining room. The squad came in and helped her out!  You can see what happened in Episode 111.

Julia Gometz: Tell us more about your personal story of how long you’ve been working at IKEA, why you joined, and your accomplishments there. What’s your personal favorite IKEA product and why?

Rich D’Amico, IKEA USA: I have been with IKEA for almost 25 years. I joined the company because I really liked the values and culture. I was looking for a place where I could be myself and work together with talented people to achieve big goals. I have helped grow the business from just a few stores to 40 stores. My favorite IKEA product is my IKEA kitchen! It is beautiful, functional and makes the heart of my home an inspiring and great place to hang out.

Julia Gometz: Thanks for the interview Rich. On my own personal note, I love IKEA. http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/ http://brandfulworkforce.com/employee-customer-brandful/My first experience was as a child at the IKEA in Ottawa, Canada, and I vividly remember jumping into the ball pit. Now, I love going to the IKEA in Long Island with my family.

Read more Brandful Workforce blog posts or purchase your copy of the book: The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand.

To see a clip from the television show, Ellen, where she plays a fun IKEA game that will make you laugh, check out the segment below.

How Much Is a Brandful Employee Worth?

Never mind calculating your company’s brand value, let’s skip straight to your individual employees. Sure, they are hired to do a job, and getting that job done is first and foremost. However in this age of customer and employee engagement where success is built on authentic and on-going relationships, every employee can be doing more than getting their work done. That’s what a brandful employee is all about – being a part of the growing brand and adding value to it.

But how significant can one employee be to the brand? When you think about the thousands or millions of individual interactions that make up a company’s product or service offering, you can begin to understand and appreciate the value at the individual level. One employee can make or break the brand for any given customer. And this is where the focus should be.

Here are some questions to consider:

• Are your employees set up on social networks to best advocate for your brand? (either helping with recruitment or customer engagement)
• Do your employees participate in product or service innovation?
• Are your citizenship efforts integrated with your brand and the employee experience?

Once you know the value your workforce brings to your brand, you’ll also learn how to increase that value. The power of building a brandful workforce is that it simultaneously improves both customer and employee engagement. For more on this topic, follow my blog at www.brandfulworkforce.com/blog, follow me on twitter (@juliagometz) or join the LinkedIn Group (The Brandful Workforce).

A Photo Is Worth More Than Just Words

Last week, someone asked me to describe what a brandful workforce actually looks like. I hesitated to answer as I needed to clarify the question: “You mean, visually?” My colleague nodded. I hadn’t actually thought of it before, but my mind immediately came to an image of photos. I had heard that the lobby of Southwest Airlines corporate headquarters was plastered with photos of cabin crews, airplanes, gate agents, families, managers, friends, and office employees that were taken throughout the history of the airline. When I worked at JetBlue, I could walk up to any office cubicle and see not only family photos, but photos of co-workers and fellow Crewmembers. Photos can be quite telling about the personality and culture of the organization. But a photograph can also be engaging and bring out feelings. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes words cannot describe feelings. And this is similar to the visual results of a brandful workforce – a strong emotional connection between employees, the organization and the customers.

Was it a coincidence that just hours following this conversation I happened to walk into a Starbucks and see photos of the employees? When I read the blurbs beside the photos, it told me more about the personal lives of the baristas. I noticed some things I had in common with some of them. It immediately felt more like a friendly hangout, not just a great place that serves coffee, but a place to meet others. Every employee has a story and a personality that can be part of the experience, and be authentic. Kudos to Starbucks for encouraging their baristas to be themselves and share their individual interests and who they are – as part of their brand. This is a great example of being brandful.

starbucks photos

PetSmart – Brandful Example

I continue my hunt for examples of brandful employees and today, I found another great one! The title of this Forbes article really aligns with the entire essence of what it means to be brandful: “How Just One Great Employee Can Make the Brand.” Getting a glimpse of the employee, Mike Miller, through the article, validates my brandful recruiting model on how to bring brandful employees into your organization. Wouldn’t you just assume that any employee at a pet store, should be a pet owner? Sure, then why don’t all teachers have children or plan to have children? Or why don’t folks who work for an airline love traveling? Or folks that work at electronics stores, own a lot of electronics? It seems so common-sensical (is that word?) but all too often, I find employees who are completely out of touch with the core business they are delivering.

Anyway, back to Mike Miller, PetSmart and the article. Mike, of course, owns a dog, and is 100% passionate about pets and helping them…and I mean genuinely. This is what I would call a good “brand match.” Mike is getting paid to do what he loves. You don’t need to incentivize Mike – like give him a $25 gift card if he sells a certain amount of products. There’s no price you can pay someone that will improve his performance, if what he does comes from his heart. Mike clearly does what he does because of his passion. And this translates to his customers, one of whom, wrote this article. Click here to read it. If this is your first time on my site, please join me in helping employees and employers to become more brandful – and truly express their brand authentically.