IKEA is a big hit across Europe. Young and old people who are looking for good value-for-money know where to find the blue and yellow coloured IKEA outlets that are scattered over the continent. Also in Swedish households and even lots of commercial venues, the IKEA brand is everywhere. Today, I am trying to dig into the Swedish culture to find out how the IKEA concept fits in with the Swedish way of thinking, because it most obviously does!
Danny (29) has been living in Sweden for over 20 years but is originally from Lebanon. He has got no IKEA products in his apartment, because of what he calls `inferior quality`: `It may be inexpensive but it also quickly breaks. I prefer to buy one beautiful thing over buying three rubbish products at the same total cost.` Danny thinks that IKEA appeals most to people in their late teenage years or early 20s, when they live on their own for the first time.
`The innate search for cheap yet effective solutions comes from the Sm?land province`
Magnus, a friend of Danny who is half-Danish, half-Swedish, is a big fan of IKEA and has his house full of IKEA stuff. He tells me that the IKEA concept of simple, standardised and semi-do-it-yourself perfectly matches the Swedish way of thinking. It is free of pretension, serves a lot of people simultaneously without any need to customise the product to personal needs and gives people the idea that they manage to get a bargain. Maria (21) and Eric (24) also have ample IKEA products at their disposal. Both at home and in their working place, where all coffee mugs are from IKEA. Maria explains that they are quickly replaceable and not very expensive. Dropping one to the floor every now and then is not much of a problem in that case.
Henrik (30, photo) tells me that the innate search for cheap yet effective solutions comes from the Sm?land province. This province is also home to a substantial housing industry, which works in a way similar to IKEA. The housing industry manufactures entire wooden houses in easy-to-assemble pieces. Their offer comprises anything from small summer houses to modern family houses designed to be placed in new residential areas on the outskirts of cities. Some people may look down on such solutions in public, but at the same time they are proud of the fact that Sweden is successful in putting together new concepts and marketing them worldwide.
Henrik says that Volvo is also met with ambiguous feelings in Sweden. `It is typically middle-class. Nothing fancy, but in general very reliable.` And just that combination seems to be the key to success for anything sold in Sweden. It should be easy to operate, make people`s lives easier, if possible be used as a tool to create something more important than the product itself. It has to be middle-class, decent and reliable. Fancy doesn`t do it. When I ask Henrik which car is the most expensive type driven by any of his friends or acquaintances, he thinks and comes up with a Mercedes S-Type. Surely an upper-class car, but still not a car that will impress people by its unconventional design or posh look. Showing off is almost like a sin, being careful with money and complying with the average are considered true virtues. IKEA and Volvo perfectly fit in with that idea.
Fredrik (44) further explains that, besides Christmas and Mid-Summer, hardly anything in Sweden has got anything to do with tradition. `The tradition is that there is no tradition. Change is everything.` And so Sweden copies and pastes formulas that work well in other countries, improve them or improve their marketing. `People do not get emotional about stuff like kitchen utensils, or about nothing else that`s tangible, for that matter. Swedes care about whether something is rational, functional and standardised. They take pride in improving procedures, increasing efficiency and outperforming others. Swedes may have little confidence in their individual selves or in their neighbours, but they do have confidence in the achievements of the Swedish society as a whole. Even to the point where they consider the Swedish society a perfect example for all other countries to follow.
Swedes put the highest trust in the leaders of their country, in banks, in numbers and in authorities, as long as they can be controlled, verified and reassembled to the people`s needs. IKEA fits in with their idea of authority and some even see it as a state-owned organisation. `They claim customer rights, because they pay taxes`, says Fredrik, adding that `people put stickers on their mailboxes that they don`t want to receive commercial mail, but if they do not receive the IKEA catalogue for the next season, they will not understand why they did not get it.
Taking all of the above into consideration, the perfect road to success in Sweden requires that your product: fit in the functional reflection mechanism of the Swedes, is not too fancy but has sufficient quality to last until the guaranteed expiry date, does what it promises and blends in with other standardised products and services. Putting that into personal traits: be influential and smart rather than exerting power, be modest rather than extrovert, improve existing products and standards rather than coming up with revolutionary ideas, smile and laugh at yourself. Success guaranteed, almost.
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