What Can B2B Marketers Learn from IKEA?

We’ve all been there: You make a trip to IKEA to pick up one thing – some of those tea lights from the marketplace, let’s say – and what happens? You end up leaving with a carload of flat-packed boxes, having spent way more than you intended. Why? Because IKEA is masterful at orchestrating the shopping experience and guiding your every move – where you go and what you see. In a regular department store, you could just run in, grab your tea lights and bolt, but at IKEA the store layout is carefully designed for one purpose: to keep you in the store longer.

Resistance is futile
At IKEA, you have one path to follow (unless you know where the shortcuts are) and it winds its way through the entire store from the entrance to the exit, so you can’t avoid seeing everything IKEA has to offer – all 12,000 products or so. IKEA calls it “the long natural way.” Along this one-way path (follow the arrows on the floor), you are subjected to beautifully styled display areas loaded with clever interior design ideas.

I don’t know about you, but IKEA presents its products in such fresh, innovative and practical ways that I always find myself dreaming about how I can make my home more lovely and organized. Pretty soon, I’m in full HGTV home makeover mode with my cart loaded with all kinds of things to beautify and organize my life (and would you believe I’ve forgotten all about those tea lights….).

This phenomenon is so common that are tons of blog posts and videos offering tips and tricks for outwitting IKEA’s fiendishly clever and EFFEKTIV shop floor layout. Personally, I love these two sage pieces of advice: “Don’t shop if you’re depressed or anxious” and “Take IKEA shortcuts when necessary.”

What does this have to do with B2B marketing?
As a B2B marketer, wouldn’t it be nice if you could control the buyer’s journey like IKEA does, so your prospects would have to see it all: every brochure, video, white paper and third-party report that we need them to read or watch before they’re ready to engage with us?

In the digital realm, things aren’t quite so easy to control: there’s not one entrance or front door, for instance. Every channel – email, social media, search, web, etc. – is a door your prospective customer might walk through. And there aren’t any set store hours either: your prospects are busy and they are firmly in control of their own time. They might come through the door at any time of the day or night.

The IKEA concept of designing a journey that holds on to your prospect’s attention for as long as possible is worth thinking about. Research conducted by Chartbeat shows that if you can hold a visitor’s attention* for 3 minutes, they are twice as likely to return than if you only hold them for just 1 minute. So the longer marketers can hold on to their audience’s attention the better. It’s about creating an experience that fosters real engagement – the kind that translates into more qualified leads and sales.

Think about the journey on the other side of the click
Marketers sometimes put so much emphasis on generating the click that we forget about what happens afterwards. So you’ve got your prospective customer to walk through the door, but then what? No matter where the click is generated, you need to get your prospects to engage with a number of pieces of content before they are going to be ready to buy.

At LookBookHQ, we think a lot about how marketers can take their prospects on a journey or guided tour through the right sequence of content at the right time – kind of like how IKEA controls the buyer’s journey once they’re in the store. We also think about those shortcuts: how can marketers help accelerate the buyer’s journey based on his or her behavior and what they know about them? It’s about putting prospects on the right path toward the relevant content they really want to read or watch, so you create a useful and rewarding content experience.

At IKEA, product and pricing information for each item is readily available to prospective customers (they even provide pencils and measuring tapes). This makes it easy for prospective customers to serve themselves; they can self-service and self-accelerate their buying journey without having to wait to talk to a salesperson. For marketers, this is a powerful concept, especially when so much of that buying journey happens digitally.

Just as IKEA designs its furniture to be self-assembled, digital marketers can design the content experience in such a way that prospective customers can self-assemble their own content journey based on what is most relevant to them – but with step-by-step guidance to help them put everything together.

The Gotcha
Now I have to come clean: while I love making a trip to IKEA because it brings out my inner Martha Stewart, my partner would rather be covered in bees than join me there. Instead of enjoying IKEA’s “long natural way,” my partner finds the store design a confusing maze and the experience deliberately manipulative, controlling and disorienting.

The lesson for B2B marketers is that you need to find the right balance between engaging your prospects and irritating them. It’s about understanding who is in control; in the digital realm, it’s always your prospect. The not-so-subtle distinction here is between coming off as a control freak versus a trusted guide.

Put another way, it’s the difference between manipulating a content experience (where your prospect feels trapped in a maze) and orchestrating an experience that is designed to inform, educate and self-accelerate your prospect through the buying journey on their own timeline and at their own pace.

To wrap up, think about how most marketers nurture today: the standard-issue nurture track with 4 emails over 4 weeks. This “one-and-done” approach drips a single piece of content per hard-won click – it’s the equivalent of running in to grab those tea lights but not stopping to look at anything else while you’re there. If marketers can learn anything from IKEA (other than that a visit there is a great relationship test!), it’s that you need to start thinking in terms of content journeys instead of one-off content events.

Sally Carr is Director of Business Development at LookBookHQ. Prior to joining LookBookHQ, she held senior inside sales management roles at Intangent and Eloqua. When she isn’t singing the praises of the LookBook always-on nurture platform, she keeps herself busy with DIY projects, loves cooking, creating her balcony garden oasis (IKEA tea lights included) and entertaining friends at home.

* Tony Haile, “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong,” Time.com, March 9, 2014