While the press is obsessed with how India will gain from Ikea, a more attractive topic from a branding perspective is to decipher what Ikea will gain from India. As in, how the experiences of operating in such a diverse yet unique geography will add back to the reputation and ammunition of Ikea. Just like its many MNC predecessors in retail, F&B, automobiles and many more, the knowledge gained from this market strengthening the cause of the brand all over the world.
First and foremost, Ikea will decipher the depths of emotion that a piece of furniture can evoke. Unlike the deeply-functional appeal of its repertoire in the Original West and the Far East, Indians will quickly forge relationships with the sofas, tables and beds. The sofa, for instance, is an able chronicler of the journeys of a family, its many slices of happiness and the definite quorum of sorrow. The study table is a springboard to the magical admission to engineering college or art school, a facilitator for fulfilling our truest potential. In a comparable vein, there is a role for the lamp, the stool and every kind of accessory – their ergonomics, styling and value certainly key attributes for purchase, but the emotional experience the major reason for likeability and affinity. India is a maestro in inspiring emotions and will certainly add a layer or two in the brand fabric of Ikea, rooted otherwise in resolute functionality.
The second dimension will be to cater to the constantly-novelty-seeking behaviour of the Indian customer. While there will certainly be an initial euphoria and record sales, unless the stocks are constantly renewed and replenished, the brand will slip in momentum. Unconnected to SEC stature, we wish our furniture to be different from that of our neighbours, sameness considered to be a major shortfall in making the necessary statement. A behaviour that started with the saree and salwar, extending seamlessly to Zara and M&S in apparel and the larger world of furnishings and furniture. Unlike the First World others, who are delighted to make a virtue out of predictable conformity, we need colour and choice more than any other demography. Thus, in gearing supply towards a constant assembly-line of lovable designs, Ikea will benefit from the India sojourn.
Thirdly, Ikea will certainly have its hands full in combatting the culture of ‘Real Wood’, not just in the perception of longevity, often untrue, but also in the sheer assurance of strength, a physical cum emotional requisite quite like real gold versus cosmetic jewellery. We happily segment our choice of homely possessions, enlisting the local carpenter for the ‘permanent’ stuff, while the more frivolous elements are off-the-shelf. While the latter is certainly a source of business, the market will get a lot more interesting if the fundamental love for wood can be addressed through the power of design and global love. Over time, these learnings can be extended to other traditional markets, emulating the learnings from the fashion industry, where the obsession for constant newness has led to willing compromise in the tenure of lasting.
Another key area of learning will be the diverse competitive environment and their responsiveness – from the age-old Home Town to the new-age Urban Ladder to the vast unorganised sector, each banking on their core USPs to retain the existing customer. Which can be human relationships, offers and discounting, loyalty programmes, locational convenience and of course, brand loyalty. In tandem, the combination will always be attacking Ikea from every frontier, combatting the Scandinavian strengths as a consortium, seemingly in deliberate tandem. What Ikea will need is a strong foundation of resilience, sticking to the core, topped with street-smart alacrity, the ability to be smartly reactive when the occasion demands, in experience and in communication.
How does the brand stay aspirational for the emerging audience while being sufficiently desirable for the premium audience? A challenge that Ikea will peculiarly encounter in India, given the evolving state of our customer aspirations. A balance achieved successfully by mobile phones and consumer electronics but not by fashion and accessories, the class divisions still very apparent. While the styling will appeal to the exposed customer, the pricing will appeal equally to the newly-affluent, creating an uneasy equilibrium of possession that must be reconciled through smart messaging. McDonald’s and certain QSR peers achieve this effectively, the communication imagery way more premium than the user profile, thus suitably exciting as a business across the chain.
Two very smart policies in India must be lauded, the tie-up with Urban Clap for last-mile fitting as well as the decision to develop small-size showrooms (by Ikea standards) to ensure presence in central locations. As illustrated above, Ikea will certainly gain a lot from India which will surely add valuable depth to its formidable foundation. Its appetite for learning is truly exceptional as proven successfully all over the world, contributing significantly to the distinctive experience.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: email@example.com)
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