Taking a Marketing Cue From The IKEAs of the World

Look at any marketing textbook, business book or PowerPoint at a marketing conference and you’ll see different definitions of what a company brand is, but they all look familiar. First the brand focuses on the external: the symbols such as the logo, colors and other physical attributes of the company, and then the layers are peeled away to reveal core characteristics like personality and qualities that embody the brand- what you want people to think and feel when they engage with your company. Defining, creating and promoting the right image are paramount to your branding success, but just as important is whether it  reflects and resonates with your audience. In other words, your prospects and customers (and anyone else looking in your direction) have just as much power to define your brand as you do. And in these times of consumers and businesses cutting back wherever they can and evaluating the value of vendors with an eagle eye, I am hard-pressed to find anything more important than brand caché. And If you don’t believe me, look at how well lower-end brands are doing these days, and not just because of these leaner times.

Big marketing muscle is coming from consumer brands like Target, H&M and Ikea, known for their inexpensive yet fashionable and decently-made products because they are doing a great job branding their products. High-end brands like Hermes, Mercedes and Apple will always have their followers, but “middle brands” such as Dell, Nokia, Pontiac and others are getting squeezed out by what is called “mushy middle” as coined recently by some marketing consultants. These brands are losing the power of  “average” and getting lost in the swampy midlands of high and low brands.

So what lessons can be learned for marketers from the low-end leaders?

1) The Brand Promise is More Important Than Ever

With this new standard of “normal” and conservative spending, it’s more critical than ever to do what you say and say what you do. Your pricing, quality and promotion strategy should all align with your customers’ experience and perception of your brand. When those are mismatched – sometimes horribly like Toyota recently – the effects can be devastating. Target is very successful in good times and bad because it stays on course consistently with its brand promise. Target claims they have low prices with good value and style and…they do. If your customers get a whiff  of anything else, they will likely stray, either temporarily or for good.

2) Make Sure Your Brand Is Everywhere You Are

An instructor of a class I recently went to said “There is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore, it’s all marketing” and that’s so true in these times. Whether your company simply has an online store or is engaging aggressively in social media like many of the low price leaders, remember your company may be seen in a TV or print ad, for instance. Extending the brand means it is elastic wherever your brand goes. Sometimes it’s more of a challenge for stodgy company to make that jump, say Wells Fargo Bank. But lo and behold they have developed a strong presence online for their diverse audience, including YouTube, interactive games like stage Coach Island and other social media tools to reach their customer base.

3) Embrace Your Brand

Whether your brand is Bulgari or Burger King, incorporate the consumer perception into all your promotion. An example of a great brand that might raise eyebrows is SPAM, yes SPAM (I won’t launch into a Monty Python diatribe here). They are one of the most successful branding stories despite their low-end product because they have taken the experience of customers and integrated it into their company image. Not only are they a part of Americana, but they have capitalized on SPAM’s cheesy popularity even though most people think it is disgusting. Think: SPAM museum, SPAM festivals, online games, fan club. Conversely, IKEA has embraced the shabby chic reputation with humor and authenticity when speaking to their audience through advertising and other promotion- they know how they are seen and seem to enjoy it, poke fun and say “we get it too” – don’t try to be something you are not. 

When all is said and done, the most important thing about your brand is whether it can be shaken, turned inside out, tested time and time again, and your customers continue to buy.

Image courtesy of Kinetic

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