Ikea opened its latest outlet in Greenwich a few weeks ago to great fanfare. The world’s largest furniture retailer grabbed the headlines by launching a large-scale version of its bestselling bath toy, the Smakryp, into the Thames to collect rubbish.
The new-found interest in sustainability is part of a business revamp that also sees Ikea embrace the circular economy via furniture leasing; lure in new audiences through pop-up stores; and invest in its home delivery service. All popular refinements to its hugely successful business strategy.
But, from a behavioural science perspective, the Swedish giant needs to ensure it doesn’t dissipate what has been coined ‘the Ikea effect’. Namely, that people assign greater value to things that they, personally, have helped to create. Our Billy bookcase may have taken two hours longer to build than it was meant to, but research shows that the end product is more highly valued than if it had been pre-built or assembled by another person.
Why does this happen? Self- and co-created products signal competence to ourselves and others. The positive feelings that come with successful completion of a task, and clear evidence that we can control and shape our environment, highlight the relationship between effort expended and liking what we’ve achieved.
Interestingly, the Ikea effect is most likely to happen when feelings of competence have recently been threatened, and less likely when they have been affirmed. One immediate application could be to reach for the toolbox after a negative work appraisal or run-in with a colleague – odd as it may seem, assembling a flat pack may provide a welcome boost to self-esteem.
More widely, evidence for the Ikea effect has important implications for thought leadership and corporate communications. Most significantly it reinforces the value of participation, collaboration and co-production.
Agencies and in-house teams need to work together, rather than working in isolation, to ensure both parties value the result.
And, similarly, the Ikea effect reinforces the argument for collaboration with employees, clients and prospects when it comes to thought leadership research and long-form content. Early involvement in the process encourages participants to assign greater status to the work, leading to a higher likelihood that they will promote and amplify the end product.
While the thought of mass participation may fill many people with dread, innovative workshop techniques and new online tools can make the process easier. At Linstock we also have a proven framework, a sophisticated flat pack of sorts, that helps take the headache out of collaboration and co-production.
Clearly thought leadership and corporate communications programmes are rarely as simple as constructing the ubiquitous Billy bookcase (perhaps more like a series of complicated storage beds). But the Ikea effect shows it is critical to get stakeholders involved in the content production process.
As for Ikea’s business strategy, it’s important for even the most successful companies to move with the times and experiment. Equally, it needs to ensure that by supporting new initiatives like furniture leasing and handyman service TaskRabbit, it doesn’t throw the ‘Ikea effect baby’ out with the bath water (toy).