Arts insights from the masters of flat-packed furniture.
This last weekend I moved into my apartment in Sydney, and as I promised on social media, there was a surprise involved… I was incredibly fortunate to find a furnished apartment on the north side of the harbour, with spectacular views of the city and the bridge.
Better yet, it is within my modest budget, which in Sydney is a miracle of biblical proportions. And it means that I get to commute to and from work on the ferry, which despite being slower and more expensive than a bus is much more relaxing as a transport option.
Of course, even with a furnished apartment, there were things that I needed to buy to get settled into the place, and that meant a trip to that great Scandinavian temple of household furnishings, IKEA. A bus out early on a Sunday morning got me there, though not without being nearly deafened by overflying aircraft landing at the airport next door.
Now people who know me well know that IKEA is one of my favourite stores in the world, rivaled only by Muji for its design aesthetic. It has a cult like following globally, and an uncanny ability to market to nearly every segment (students to families to empty nesters), across many different cultures. Its mastery of marketing and behavioural design has even led to it having its own behavioural economic phenomenon.
Anyway, this got me to thinking about what it is that makes IKEA click with so many people, and more importantly, what can be mined from the IKEA shopping experience that can be applied in the context of arts organizations. As it turns out, whether you’re a museum, theatre, or individual practitioner, there’s useful knowledge to be gained from the undisputed king of the Allen key.
5 Lessons for Arts Leaders from IKEA
1. Control the Path
The first thing you notice when visiting an IKEA is the way that the entire experience is controlled. Visitors follow a rigid pathway through the store, up the escalators, past the café, through the showrooms, down to the market hall area, then into the warehouse, the checkouts, and finally the Swedish supermarket. There’s a uniformity to this experience that is replicated across almost every IKEA in the world.
There’s something comforting to this, in that visitors know what to expect, and if they follow the path they will get to where they want to go (though if they’re frustrated/tired there are shortcuts).
Where this applies in the arts world is in controlling the experience for the visitor. In a museum setting, ensuring a clear and predictable path through the museum enables you to control the narrative that you want to convey to the visitor and ensures that they don’t miss out on the highlights of the collection. For the performing arts venue, a well designed venue space makes access intuitive and engaging enough to get people in their seats ahead of start times (and to the bar at interval).
2. Stay on Brand
In a similar vein, one thing about the IKEA experience is that the branding is tightly controlled. Once you enter the parking lot, everything is IKEA. Every product, every design element, every moment (every meatball).
It’s a similar principle for arts organisations – every element of the visitor experience needs to articulate your brand and your mission. This is a challenge when you consider the role that touring exhibitions and presented works play in the arts mix. That’s why it’s careful to ensure that your content reflects the values and strategy of your organisation.
It’s more than just making sure that your marketing copy is aligned with company branding, it’s about selecting exhibitions and productions that align with you and your audience. This is easier said than done in organisations where a degree of creative autonomy is afforded to the artistic staff, but it is necessary when considering the visitor experience.
3. Never Miss an Opportunity to Sell
This photo was taken during my recent trip:
This was outside the bathrooms. Even outside the bathrooms the store was using the space as an opportunity to sell products. And it didn’t let up. On at least three occasions the same product was presented to me on sale as I followed the path through the store. And damned if I wasn’t tempted to buy it ($5 is pretty cheap for a storage bin).
Just as for IKEA, arts organisations should never pass up an opportunity to make a sale. Whether that’s for an upcoming event that is aligned with the target market for a present event or exhibition, a nudge towards memberships/subscriptions, or even the good old fashioned gift shop. If it’s consistent with the brand (see point 2), it will be a natural part of the experience for the customer. And by selling I don’t necessarily mean revenue (though earned revenue is great), it’s about driving repeat visitation and engagement, paid or unpaid. In a world where competition is relentless, loyalty is vital.
4. Keep Them Part of the Family
IKEA’s Family program is another aspect of the experience, and something that not only brings a lot of marketing benefits to an organisation, but can be easily adapted. On the face of it, it is a basic loyalty program, offering selected product discounts to members. It also gives some small perks to those who sign up. In the USA, it’s free coffee; in Australia, it’s an unlimited return period for goods.
I’d be inclined to say that less than 10% of customers who join the program ever make good on those perks, and free coffee (at least the American stuff) is cheap to implement (and covered by the profit margins of paying customers). But the benefits are huge. Customers feel part of a group (especially with email newsletters with discounts), and in return IKEA gets their email, along with purchase records linked to membership numbers.
This model can be easily replicated in an arts organisation – find a small investment in a perk which seems like a big reward to a customer that signs up, then create a system that encourages visitation (and allows you to get data-driven insights).
In fact, IKEA doesn’t have the best example of this model, an arts organisation does. The Dallas Museum of Art’s “DMA Friends” program is a fantastic example of how to create a loyalty program in a free-entry institution. They even go one further than IKEA by incorporating elements of gamification (badges, points that can be converted into bigger and more unique rewards).
5. Dealing with (customer) Mistakes
The final point involves when things go wrong, particularly at the customer end. In my case, it was buying the wrong size linens for the mattress at my new apartment. Now a lot of businesses, given that situation (even if the sheets are unopened) will balk at a return, or at the very least make it difficult. In the end, that’s no good for repeat business. When I went to IKEA to return my purchase, they made it easy. I had my refund in under 10 minutes (which I promptly spent on new linens and other things in the store).
How many times in arts organisations is it the case that a customer loses/forgets a ticket, misplaces a membership card, or turns up to a show on the wrong night (or is it just me?). How an organisation deals with these scenarios is critical to driving repeat business and for creating positive word of mouth. When you make the process quick and friendly, you build loyalty. Imagine a customer who has turned up on the wrong night – you can politely turn them away, but if you’ve got a show on that night and a seat spare, why wouldn’t you let them in? The lost marginal revenue that close to curtain is minimal, and you will have made that customer’s day. And chances are that they will bring their friends next time.
Or write a blog post about what can be learned from your organisation’s business practices… ;)
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.