How Ikea Embraced Hackers

May 14, 2018

Brands go to great lengths to shape how customers see them. When customers or perceptions contradict that image, many brands’ first tendency is to fight back, even when that’s a shortsighted approach.

Take Ikea — the company behind everyone’s favorite Swedish meatballs and affordable furniture. Customers discovered Ikea’s ready-to-assemble furniture designs were easy to adapt and combine to match different needs and design tastes. Before long, an online community formed around hacking Ikea furniture. Ikeahackers.net, founded by Jules Yap (a pseudonym inspired by a piece of Ikea furniture) was the top destination for inspiration.

On the surface, the hacks flew in the face of what IKEA stood for – precise furniture designs with exact assembly instructions. Ikea provided the exact number of screws, bolts, rods and clasps needed to build a piece of furniture with a carefully curated design aesthetic. With the hacks, Ikea saw its control over that aesthetic slipping.

So, in 2014, Ikea issued a cease and desist against Yap and her website, alleging her ad revenue meant she was profiting from the Ikea name. When readers and DIY enthusiasts caught wind of the legal action, they took to the web to express their outrage. The company was ignoring the devoted Ikea fans Yap’s website created – not to mention all the money people were spending on the furniture they intended to hack.

Ikea heard the outcry and wisely adjusted its response. It took steps to embrace Yap’s website and the creativity of Ikea hackers. In fact, earlier this year, the company introduced the DELAKTIG modular sofa/bed. It invited design students to come up with creative ways to use and adapt the piece, from airport seating to a working raft.

As designer Tom Dixon told The Wall Street Journal, “One of the inspirations for the project was the hacking community that exists out there and the idea that there might be things that we can’t think of that people might want to add.”

Long story short: Marketing plays a big role in how customers perceive your brand, but it’s ultimately a two-way street. Find ways to embrace and leverage how customers use your products and services rather than fight against it.

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