Want people to love your product? Tap into the IKEA Effect.

As General Motors’ most successful brand, a total of 10 million Chevrolet cars are sold every year. One particular model bucks the ritual of forecourt negotiations and is able to command a premium. TIL Chevrolet Corvette Z06 buyers have a $5,000 option of visiting the Corvette factory and assembling the car's engine themselves alongside a Chevy technician. The engine is then fitted with a plaque bearing the owner’s name and the assembly date. But why would either side bother?

This extra effort involved in contributing to the final product is actually a powerful means of growing an owner’s attachment in their purchase and upping its perceived value.

It’s called the “IKEA Effect” and it can work for you too.

Its discovery came about during a pioneering study in 2012 entitled “The ‘IKEA Effect’: When Labor Leads to Love”, named in honour of the world’s favourite Swedish furniture manufacturer. Anybody who has bought a piece of IKEA furniture will have had to assemble their new flatpack purchase at home, decoding its instruction. Few realise the powerful emotional attachment this simple act can create between owner and object. Researchers Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely demonstrated people were willing to pay a staggering 63% more for furniture they assembled themselves versus a prefabricated alternative. Not only that, participants also attached a similar or greater value to their creations as those created by experts, and expected others to feel the same.

The revelation of an IKEA Effect has its origins in home cooking products. Housewives were initially resistant to cooking mixes. They liked the idea but the formulas made cooking almost too easy! The low level of effort exerted made their labour and skill seem undervalued, eliminating the satisfaction any home baker feels when their cake looks and tastes just as it should. As a result, manufacturers made one simple tweak to the recipe to up the human intervention and enhance the gratification felt: the need to add an egg. That’s it. Problem solved.

The IKEA Effect is baked into all types of products.

Don’t confuse the IKEA Effect with customisation. It goes one step further by inviting the promiscuous postmodern consumer to get involved earlier in the design process and become a co-creator of the end product. At Sofalogy you can design your own couch. Secret Cinema relies on your input to add to the experience for others and decode the mystery. The burrito assembly line is about more than just efficiency. Intrmnt watches come with the tools to finish the job. News company Wikimedia enlists you as its sub-editor. Tech platforms invite you to beta test new features, update your profile and add your own photos or playlists. LEGO invites you to use your imagination to turn plastic bricks into endless creative structures.

What’s the science behind the IKEA Effect?

The debate about whether marketing is art or science rages on. However, it’s undeniable that effort creates an enduring bond. The extra effort that a customer puts into a product’s development will later transform into love for that product. It doesn’t matter if that effort is large or small, skilled or unskilled, it is simply about executing the task and contributing to a workable product. However, if the product is unfinished or unusable then the connection never takes hold.

Another example of nudge marketing gently influencing consumer behavior in the right direction.

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

Thomas Paine

Our brains aren’t flying solo in this effect. A person’s touch increases this bond. Activating the body’s neuronal circuits, it also increases a person’s ownership of a product, even if they are not its owner. A 2009 study by Joann Peck and Suzanne B. Shu backs this up:

“In four studies, we find that merely touching an object increases the feelings of ownership a person has for the object. This, in turn, results in a person being willing to pay more for most objects that they touch versus objects that they cannot touch,” they claim “We also find that when touch is unavailable, such as shopping online, having people imagine owning a product increases their perception of ownership and how much they are willing to pay for a product.”

Therefore, the assembler feels a sense of accomplishment and connection that would otherwise not exist. That known, the phenomenon is used in marketing and product design to get customers to pay more, upgrade, hand over their personal details and preferences, and add their own modifications as experienced with the IKEA hack community.

Helping customers get in the zone.

The optimum state of participation is something we’ve all experienced. Known as ‘Flow’, it occurs when we are so immersed in an activity that it propels us into an almost euphoric state. When a task is simultaneously engrossing, enjoyable and rewarding, we lose ourselves in the moment. Often associated with artists who get lost in their work and find themselves sacrificing food, water and even sleep in the most prolific periods of their careers, it can take hold of us all if the conditions are right. When designing your products consider whether they adhere to Schaffer’s 7 Flow conditions:

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing your progress and receiving clear feedback
  4. Knowing both the end goal and how to get there
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. The skill and confidence to complete the task
  7. Freedom from distractions

In other words, achieving Flow state relies on both enjoyment and performance. Our skills must match the task at hand and we need to hit the psychological sweet spot of losing ourselves in the task but not too much.

The IKEA Effect only exists during onboarding.

If you’re not easy to do business with during the point of purchase or if your customer service is lacking during moments of truth, you will undo any loyalty the customer has to your brand. The harder they have to work at the relationship or self-serve in times of need, the more likely they are to leave.

According to a Harvard Business Review study delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty. Reducing the effort needed to find a solution does:

“Of the customers who reported low effort, 94% expressed an intention to repurchase, and 88% said they would increase their spending. Only 1% said they would speak negatively about the company. Conversely, 81% of the customers who had a hard time solving their problems reported an intention to spread negative word of mouth.”

So in order for the IKEA Effect to work for your brand, you get the level of customer effort just right and focused in the right areas.

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