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.

Facebook Not Good Enough for Marketing Execs?

Aside

This week Forrester,the marketing research group, released results from a recent  survey filled out by almost 400 marketing executives. The main question was:  How satisfied are you with the business value your company has achieved by using each of the following marketing channels? Executives were asked to giving a rating for each channel. You can gather from the title of this blog that Facebook did not receive the most favorable ratings. So, are we to conclude that companies should abandon marketing efforts via Facebook? I don’t think so.

I’m not defending Facebook. In fact, I don’t have any particular interest in any paid marketing channel. What rubbed me wrong here is the approach. Why is the conversation still around paid media, like advertising, when it’s the earned media, like employees or customers sharing content freely and genuinely, that can create longer-term business value.  Some of the marketing dollars should be allocated to improve the actual products and services so that marketing efforts can really pay off.

Message to Forrester: If you don’t ask the right questions, you will never get valuable answers. The biggest question that I’m focused on right now is: How can employees bring value to the brand?  By investing marketing dollars internally, it can pay off externally. The internal and the external organization cannot continue to exist separately. While it may not pay to invest marketing dollars directly in Facebook, but it may pay to invest these dollars internally with employees who spread your brand message through their personal Facebook pages. Don’t be fooled. Employees talk. Wouldn’t you rather them spread positive authentic brand messages? Not just Facebook, but any marketing channel, can stand to be leveraged by internal, engaged employees who truly love the products and services they deliver every day.

(see the article about Forrester’s research)

Using YouTube For Employee Relations?

Recently I wrote about the different ways in which employees can leave their employers involuntarily or voluntarily. One employee, Marina Shifrin, quit by communicating through a viral video (now up to almost nine million views on Youtube). A few days after her viral video and departure from the company, her employer released a retaliatory video featuring her boss and fellow employees who all seem to enjoy working there.

Anyone following this may now start to wonder what really happened between Marina and her boss, and why this is happening on Youtube?  Many folks fantasize about how, when and where they will quit. They are envious of Marina. On the other hand, there are those crazy employees who just don’t fit in, and even though they hate work, everyone else seems to love it. These are probably in the minority however one employee’s actions do not necessarily represent the masses. Just think about a few postal workers that went crazy and gave a bad name to all postal workers. Apply this to Marina’s fellow employees and maybe she was the oddball out?

We may learn more details over time. Whether or not we do, this is an intriguing scenario. First, it’s interesting from an employee relations standpoint, in that it shows the use and power of video resignations, as well as organizational responses. The employer is a small company but would a larger company have done something similar? Will this end up being a net positive for Marina? If so, will it encourage other employees to attempt similar tactics?  Second, it reinforces the increasing power of individual employees.  It reminds me of why I’m a believer in being brandful – and having a strategy that places employees in their greatest potential to support the brand, rather than bash it. In a prior post, I wrote about the importance of continuing goodwill long after employees leave, regardless of the circumstances of their departures. Ongoing respect is part of that.

Will we continue to see more employee relations matters on Youtube? What do you think?