How does a company grow from selling to people in the woods of Sweden to having 400+ stores in over 50 countries? This happens through 60 years of delivering quality products, services, and, of course, top branding.
This is the branding story of IKEA, the multinational group founded in 1943.
Let’s look at the company’s fascinating evolution and branding strategy from the start to now (2020).
First, we’ll take a broad, birds-eye-view of how their branding has adapted since they first opened.
In the beginning, there was mailorder
Did you know that IKEA began (1943) as a mail-order company selling mostly stationery related goods? Then, in the late 1940s, they started selling furniture and exploring ideas such as self-assembly. Around this time the company also began experimenting with advertising to increase sales.
A store is born
In 1958, they opened a furniture store, still in a small village in the woods of Sweden. It was a big risk. Many people speculated that customers wouldn’t travel far to buy furniture, and so the venture would fail.
But IKEA’s mission — providing attractive furniture for a low price — was appealing even then. The business did well. People did indeed drive from all over Sweden to visit the store and purchase. But they didn’t stop there. Throughout the years, they continued to adapt and evolve their brand.
A failed expansion brings a valuable branding lesson
For over 30 years, they had many successes. But they also weathered several bumps along the road. One branding lesson from IKEA’s growth during this period is their venture into television production, which failed miserably. Some companies broaden their product line with great success. This wasn’t one of those success stories. In this case, sticking to their brand, and what was already working (ie furniture), was best.
IKEA grossly underestimated the nuance of television manufacturing. Under the direction of their owner, the company just didn’t know enough about the blossoming television industry. They were unable to get over the initial difficulties of making that product line fit with IKEA. They learned a painful lesson but got back on track and abandoned television production.
Through the years, the company has continued to make changes, adapt, and grow, with adjustments centered around what their customers most demand.
Fast forward to one of their more recent rebrands
In 2019, they began a rebranding campaign to adapt to the current digital age. Recognizing, that a high number of purchases, buying decisions, and advertising is now done online, IKEA adapted its long-standing logo to be digital-friendly.
The new logo system, called ‘Fonster’, which is Swedish for window, has the same lettering as before. However, there’s no longer a color background. Instead, bold, white letters are surrounded by just an oval space. With this design, the logo sits on top of images and videos, creating a window-effect. It’s almost like you’re looking through a magnifying glass. This puts the people and furniture as the display-focus, rather than the IKEA logo.
How can you apply lessons from IKEA’s evolution to your business?
1. It’s okay to start small. IKEA’s ambitious founder was just 17 years old. He lived in a small village in rural Sweden. That was the scope of his environment and he didn’t have resources at the time to go beyond that. So he started the business small and grew.
An advantage of this approach is there’s more room for testing different ideas and seeing what customers responded to.
If your business is in the early stages, start with where you are and with what you have. They’ll come time — and room — for growth. Dream big, but start where you are.
2. Focus on what you know and do best. What does your company do best? In which area are you experts? Expansion can be good but only if it is the right fit (and the right time). IKEA’s disastrous foray into the television market was a powerful example of what not to do. Television is a profitable market, but it wasn’t the right one for IKEA. They didn’t have the knowledge or resources at the time for it to be a profitable venture. They had built a brand around furniture. Straying from that was not only off-brand but out of their league.
3. Let your customers lead. Always. Your customers are your best source of information about which products and services to create or modify.
There are many branding lessons we learn from successful companies like IKEA. But it’s not enough to just read about the lessons. Take the time to apply them to your business. If you need help implementing any of these branding principles, schedule a branding strategy consult to find out how I can help you.