I have had a varied relationship with Ikea over the years. When I first met my wife-to-be Ikea was a place of punishment. If I had stayed out late on a Friday night with friends, then we were “off to Ikea” first thing Saturday. Those were long days!

Nowadays we find Ikea makes a perfect exercise track for our three young children. A well marked route, indoors, with plenty of entertainment on the way round, culminating in a selection of kiddy snacks including the michelin-starred meatballs.

We often find ourselves “popping off to Ikea” when the weather is bad and the kids are going crazy in the house. Last weekend was just such an occasion, and so the five of us pottered around the store with nothing particular in mind.

Now if you haven’t been to Ikea let me very quickly explain how this temple of home decor works. You are in a two level warehouse, with a marked track ensuring you see EVERYTHING! The only way out (unless you look carefully) is to follow the track to its conclusion. Alongside this track are a selection of goods, but interspersed with a large number of very well designed and accessorised imaginary rooms.

In the kitchen section there will be five or six of them, and then another ten bathrooms, and some living rooms, and offices.

As you wander into the Bathroom section you notice that each of these rooms are laid out in great detail – not just a collection of bath, sink and loo – but the mirror, the lights, the mat, and then down to the detail of the kids toys, the toothbrush, the linen basket and the door hooks. As you stand in the bathroom you forget that you are in a big warehouse and you imagine brushing your teeth. You imagine this being your bathroom. You start desiring its constituent parts.

I then wandered into the Living Room section. I was mucking around with our eldest daughter (3) and jumped onto the sofa in one of the rooms, picked up the remote control off the coffee table and pretended to watch the plasma TV that was in front of us. She jumped up next to me and we played along for a bit in our imaginary room.

And with this power of suggestion we start looking around at the detail in the room, and see some nice wall stencils that would look great in the kid’s rooms. We’d never have picked them off the shelf, but because we could see how they looked in a real environment we were sold. The information tag is stapled to the item on the wall so it’s easy for us to write down the details on our IKEA pad and pen. We’ve been closed whilst playing a game. Oooh they are good!

We can all learn a lot from IKEA. They have a great product – well designed and affordable. But for me, the reason why they have become a massive global player is the IKEA experience, and the marketing of those products in such a way that they jump off the wall at you and say “you need me – look how cool I would be in your house – you can have this room today!”

Action Points

Whatever industry you are in – Accountancy, Retail, Telecoms, Manufacturing – get a list of your top products or services, and spend a couple of hours with a range of people from your business – perhaps some Sales people, perhaps some from Marketing and Operations. Ask them to go beyond the actual function of the product you sell, and ask them to develop an ‘IKEA room’ for each. What does the customer want from your product? Can a number of products be brought together to create a really compelling bundle?

For example, in Accountancy you might be providing fantastic personal and corporate tax services – but the ‘IKEA room’ might be a customer portal where your clients can see all the of the work you have done for them, but more importantly, what is coming up – VAT returns, End of Year, Payroll, along with suggestions for how they can grow their business. That would be a differentiator, and make clients feel “I need this now”.

Take these ideas and work on them. Evolving your business in this way can clearly differentiate you from your competitors and help to accelerate you out of the current economic climate. What are your thoughts about the IKEA experience? What else can we learn from them as a Sales and Marketing organisation? Have you ideas of an ‘IKEA room’ for your industry?