Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ikea: Smart PR, Smart Business

It is refreshing to see that Ikea, the Swedish/International furniture store, is community relations sensitive, as evidenced by its actions in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. The store has distinguished itself, particularly in light of protests which have kept other major chains from entering key markets (e.g., residents of Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx have kept Wal-Mart out; and Manhattanites have kept Costco out.) The New York Times tells the story in its front page article on August 11, “Brooklyn Neighbors Admit a Big Box Isn’t All Bad.”

The protests against competitors obviously inspired Ikea’s benevolence but, regardless, its unique community strategies have inspired Brooklyn residents to embrace Ikea rather than turn away, as many opponents did — before Ikea acted — who felt the neighborhood would lose its character.

What I like about what Ikea did is that its management demonstrated wise strategic thinking, which is what one would expect from an established enterprise but often does not get. Management’s tactics addressed multiple audience segments beyond its basic customer base, focusing on those who influence customers, as well: young, old and even the general public. In doing so, the “resistance mat” has become a “welcome mat,” diluting anger through what I call a “community give-back program” focused on building current support and future customers.

Specifically, here are the magnificent moves Ikea made, according to the Times:

  • Built a grassy waterfront esplanade featuring benches with a view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, which is catching on as a neighborhood gathering place

  • Provides free N.Y. Water Taxi service between Red Hook and Manhattan, an appealing alternative to the subway

  • Offers a bus shuttle service taken by many people who are not even planning to enter the store

  • Allowed local Red Hook residents to apply for jobs at Ikea before others could

  • Selling 50 cent hot dogs in its café and offering free soda refills
One resident said Ikea’s actions are bringing badly needed visitors to the area who will spend money at other local stores. Another said Ikea may be a role-model for a future where people are less dependent on cars — and for building more developments on the waterfront. “There is a ripple effect,” he said.

But there is a ripple effect for Ikea as well. What it did has already appeared on the front page of the Times, not an easy achievement. That in itself is a magnet for customers. These moves will undoubtedly give a jump-start to business at the new store. Further it positions Ikea as a community leader, thereby sprinkling “stature dust” on it, providing a perception change among both advocates and adversaries, as well as the community at large. Said one resident: “Everyone was talking about it before — now no one talks about it anymore, which is nice.” Smart public relations is more about doing than talking.

Technorati Tags: Ikea, Red Hook, Brooklyn, Wal-Mart, Costco, NY Water Taxi, The New York Times, smart public relations, business, communications, public relations


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