Content Marketing All-Stars Q&A: Christine Whitehawk of IKEA

By NativeAI / January 28, 2015


IKEA has been excelling at content marketing before the term existed. The company’s iconic catalog was first published in 1951, and for 64 years the various editions have been promoting a philosophy, aesthetic, and lifestyle just as much as particular products.

Moreover, in the past decade the company has gone far beyond its print content roots, developing everything from viral videos to highly-successful user generated content platforms.

To get the inside story on some of these successes, and to better understand how the brand approaches content marketing in general, we went behind the scenes with Christine Whitehawk, Communications Manager for IKEA.

Can you talk about how content fits into IKEA’s overall strategy? Many people are familiar with the IKEA catalog but it has evolved beyond that, hasn’t it?

Everything we do here is based on IKEA’s mission statement and the positioning that we hope to achieve in people’s minds, which is that we are trying to create a better everyday life for as many people as possible in their homes.

So we do a lot of research into how people actually live in their homes via home visits; really trying to look at how they spend time in their homes, what they like to do, what their pain points are, and then as a company we try to come up with the solutions that are going to make their everyday life better.

Content is our way to let as many people as possible know about that. The catalog has always been a great way for us to share solutions with the people in our markets. It has a very large distribution worldwide so we’re able to get that content into the hands of as many people as possible.

As we move forward, the idea is to try to find different ways to deliver that content. You can already see things that have been implemented around the catalog like our mobile app. So as digital evolves in ways to serve content, we will expand the ways we can serve up that content to help people improve their everyday lives.

Speaking of the evolution of the IKEA catalog, can you talk about the bookbook video?  It was brilliant.

IKEA is a global brand originating in Sweden and has spread to many locations throughout the world and the catalog itself is a global production. So it is produced by our group in Sweden who comes out with a standard catalog for the world and then slight adjustments are made as it makes its way through the world for local translation and pricing. But essentially it’s the same content, which we can do because we have a very strong brand.

The bookbook video was actually created in Singapore. But it works very well here in the US because the brand is the same regardless of the country. The expressions may vary a bit–how we want to show different life situations or needs for the home will vary from market to market, to have that the market flavor. But otherwise, it’s the same brand so one of the cool things about this video was that it wasn’t created in [the US] market but works very well, not only in this market but many others as well.

The simplicity of the video and the way it harkens back to a simpler time really resonated with people. And, as it shows, there’s still a place for print today. So, as we move forward, we will constantly be looking for ways to evolve how we are serving up content, and making it easier for the consumer to improve their life at home.


We would’ve never guessed the bookbook video was produced in and for the Singapore market. How do you manage the challenge of creating content for a global brand that connects with consumers locally?

We work really hard at accomplishing that. For any global brand, the brand experience shouldn’t change from market to market. It is the same for IKEA. Part of what makes our brand so special is that you’ll feel familiar with it from country to country. We spend a lot of time sharing and talking with our co-workers in other countries.

Staying with video content can you give us some background on the Time Travel Experiment? The videos look like they were filmed in a store with real shoppers watching.

Yes they were. This is another piece of content that was created for a global audience. The initial idea was: “How you could start every day with IKEA?” The result was an entertaining and clever way to communicate our message.


How does IKEA measure the engagement with these videos and engagement with the brand? How do you measure the ROI for creating this communication strategy?

First off, we are always going to know why we are creating it. And then we set success metrics against any elements in an integrated plan. Those metrics differ based on the social platform; whether it shares, pins, or comments.

You could see the buzz that was created around the bookbook so that was a pretty successful piece of content. The Time Travel Experiment continues to generate good viewership as well. It has maybe a bit of longer shelf life and a longer ability for us through the year; compared with the bookbook, which was very related to the catalog and the launch of catalog at that time.

The other two examples that we wanted to touch on are the First59 and Share Space. How do you look at user generated content in general and what’s the return for you?

Each of these pieces of content has a different goal and reasons for being for us.

To start with Share Space; we knew that there was a lot of content on the Internet that dealt with people sharing what they had done with their IKEA products, and that there was a lot of pride people had in showing how they were able to improve their lives by bringing our products into their homes. We knew that content existed and we knew that people liked to share those pieces.

People love to see before-and-after photos, they love to see rooms that are redone; a lot of that obviously you can see that popularity from the rise in home shows on different TV networks. So knowing that this was something that people were interested in, and knowing that consumers were already doing it, we wanted to give IKEA users a platform where they could share things with each other and also with us.

We continue to have very engaged followers and posters on the site and it’s just a great place for inspiration because it shows how real people do it.

We know that from research that many times people can have what we call “decorating paralysis”; they know they want to do something different in their home or they know they have a problem which needs a solution, but they just don’t know how to get started. Through our content we can help with that. Seeing someone who is just like you do it, it can sometimes help to overcome that fear of getting started.


The First59 campaign aligned to one of our priorities for the year, which was to really show how IKEA can help to improve your everyday. When we started talking to consumers about that, we realized that the start of the day is pretty stressful for most people. Whether you have kids and you are trying to get them out the door; whether you have a long commute ahead of you; whatever it might be, there just never seems to be enough time in the morning.

What is great is is that you can take away or minimize some of the stress by getting a good night’s sleep; waking up refreshed; having your clothes in a place where they’re organized and easy to get to; having a bathroom where maybe multiple people have to share it but you can kind of get in and out because of how it’s setup.

So we wanted to share that idea with people, to hear about how they start their days and then also provide some of the solutions. So that’s where the First59 campaign came from. And whenever we develop content and look to share it, we always look for the best platforms. So in this case we used Twitter and Pinterest in order to help to share the content and tips.


How does IKEA go about protecting itself from some of the negative social media experiences that have been encountered by other brands?

I think one of the things that’s interesting once you come into the social space is there as a bit of unpredictability around it, and there is a bit of risk. We have put practices and processes in place to minimize that risk, but we also know that without taking a risk, you won’t always see the greatest successes. So sometimes you have to do things that are a little bit risky and pushing the envelope in order to get things to the next level.

What’s your favorite IKEA campaign or content project so far, and why?

That is probably the hardest question because they’re all like our children.

Our latest project is what’s called IKEA Home Tour; and what’s so great about it is that we’ve evolved from others creating the content with us as a partner to us creating the content and using different third-party platforms to serve it.

The idea behind the IKEA Home Tour is again to improve people’s everyday lives at home. We asked folks to submit their situation at home that might be in need of a makeover or solution. We then selected people that we would feature and helped to solve their problems.

We have a team of IKEAs co-workers on it. These are folks that are plucked out of our stores who wanted to engage in the project. They go in, assess the situation, and determine what the solution is and then work with the homeowner.

The really neat part of that is we know that we have this talent in our stores and that they are there to help anybody that comes in who has a situation that they need a solution for.


Has there been a content campaign that has surprised you in terms of its response or its results either positively or negatively?

I don’t know surprised, but I enjoyed the very positive reaction that we received to the assembly videos.

As you know we have paper instructions that come with all the products that we sell, but we were thinking that people like to process information in different ways. We know that some are visual, and we thought it would be interesting if we took the same paper instructions and then just illustrated them in a video in a way so that people could have access to those as well. 

So we went ahead and we created a series of assembly videos and when we posted those they very immediately got lot of attention. Not just from the press from but also from people who actually needed to put together our products. They were really fulfilling a service for people that are more visual in nature. 


I think another interesting experience was when we partnered on Easy to Assemble with Illeana Douglas. That was one of the first things in content entertainment that we got involved with. And to me the surprise there was at the time we thought who will see this? And it was launched at the right time where people were getting more involved in watching video and engaging with content that way.

What other brand’s content has inspired you?

I get inspired when I see integrated communication campaigns and where you engage with a message in multiple ways. So you’ll see something maybe at an event and then there’s a follow up email and then you can see how the brand is engaging with you socially.

We just partnered with recently was with Oprah Winfrey and O Magazine and they did a large Live the Life You Want event where they went to many cities. We were one of the sponsors of the event. The integration of the messaging that you saw was not just at the event but also from every speaker at the event, and all of the speakers in their social media. How they handle their platforms is just seamless. And then all their follow-up communications; because they continue to engage with you to ensure that you are living the life that you want. It is really inspiring and it’s a neat thing to see.

I also really like it when content marketing is cleverly done–meaning that you are not even aware that you are getting a branded message until after you consumed the product. For example, something as simple as Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars this past year; where you are watching and you think “Oh that’s fun!”; and then you are thinking “What kind of phone is that?”; and then you realize that Samsung had a role in that entire event.

What’s next for IKEA content, and where do you see content marketing going in general over the next couple years?

A couple of things. One is finding ways to integrate communication across all platforms, so that you really see consistent messaging. And doing it in a clever way, so that consumers feel that they are getting something from the content–whether they are getting information to improve their everyday life at home, or they are being entertained by it. People want to feel like it’s worth the time and worth their while to invest with us. So that’s what we’ll continue to do.

I think one of the other things is to not to be afraid to make some mistakes, because that’s how you’ll know that you are continuing to evolve things. So we’ll continue to push ourselves.

The content marketing world is changing so quickly; in two years it’ll be so much different.  Consumers are becoming savvy and realizing how marketers are involved in this space.  So brands will definitely need to be more entertaining and ensure that they are giving the person who is engaging valuable information.

And what is of value is going to be different, depending upon what space you are in and what the consumer is looking for. The key is to figure out how you can serve value to the consumer and then to do it in a way that is cleverly engaging for them.

Written by NativeAI / January 28, 2015