Have you written your New Year's resolutions yet? One of ours is to keep learning and discovering tips and tricks in the world of branding so we can cater la crème de la crème to all. Lately, we've been thinking a lot about the Ikea effect. Ikea made a cool move by reducing furniture costs through customer assembly, but beyond that, maybe accidentally, customers built an emotional connection to the object and Ikea during the process. This amazing phenomenon was rewarded with its own name and teaches us a lot about how emotion affects consumer behavior.

“Design must seduce, shape and perhaps more importantly, evoke an emotional response” – April grieman

IKEA effect.

The term was coined in a 2012 paper named “The IKEA Effect: When Labor Leads to Love” by Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely. They explored that people have a greater connection with objects they have and a tendency to overvalue things they put effort into. The best example is one they share about the instant cake box of the 50’s. Originally, there was only water that needed to be added into these powder mixes, but they were wildly unpopular. When the company hired a psychologist to look into it, they found out that the lack of implication and effort was making baking look too easy. For the housewife of the time who was taught to take care of the family, even if the mix was offering an easy and less time-consuming option, they were not getting any sense of satisfaction from using it. The solution, extremely simple, was to add an egg to the mix in the instruction. This easy task involved the consumer just enough to give the impression of high participation while still offering a great alternative for busy people.

The key is in the efforts and completion.

According to the 2012 paper, people tend to view their job as one of their most rewarding activities, even if they put it into their more challenging one. That is because of the emotional response we get out of completing tasks. We all have an inherent need to be smart, useful, and to know that we can do hard things. This need is fulfilled, and the belief in our competency is proved when we accomplish tasks. What we feel then is pride. Through this emotion, we value and form an attachment to what we did. We tend to believe more in the idea we have, to love the crooked birdhouse we built more than a professional one because we associate positive emotions with it.

It is not just about IKEA!

We can understand why it was named after the famous Swedish furniture store since it is a perfect example of including the customer in the process, but other brands you know well use the same model:

  • LEGO
  • Build-a-bear
  • Kinder Surprise
  • Subway
  • Making your own perfume, shampoo, etc.

“Brands should think of themselves not as storytellers but as storybuilders. We plant seeds of content and let our community build on it.” - Jessica Walsh

How emotions are important in branding.

Emotions play a huge role in how customers engage with brands. Most of our consumers decision are based on emotions. We like to identify and so when a brand make us feel like the product is about us through positive emotions, like joy or excitement, it will steer us toward the brand. They're not just fleeting feelings; they shape our loyalty. When brands craft experiences that stir positive emotions, they build strong connections that customers cherish. And these emotional connections make brands unforgettable. Think about the last time a brand's message made you smile or feel understood – chances are, you're more likely to remember that brand and choose it again. Brands that understand and evoke these emotions create experiences that resonate deeply with customers, ensuring not just purchases, but loyalty and advocacy in the long run.

The IKEA effect taps directly into this whole emotions thing masterfully. In the case of Ikea specifically, it does so from multiple angles:

1. Being part of the story.

Building an IKEA piece reflects a story's journey perfectly. We start as amateurs, unboxing all the little screws, wondering if we can make it. There are challenges, solutions, and finally, accomplishment. We go through a wild array of emotions, from hope to frustration, exhaustion, and finally pride (those two leftover screws don’t count). Chances are, the builder is going to share it all with their family at dinner and show them the finished product. Just like that, IKEA creates a story in our lives. This story grows as we remember where we were when we built those shelves, and for what purpose. Did we move into our first apartment? Have a child? Get a promotion at work? As you move that piece from room to room and apartment to first house, it will remind you of it. IKEA itself has its own story revolving around simplicity, affordability, and do-it-yourself, and every customer's story is woven into the bigger IKEA story, shaping it. This fusion of the brand's narrative with the individual's personal story creates a unique bond through which the customer identifies on a personal level.

2. Positive emotions.

We already went into it, but this feeling of pride that comes out of all the other emotions we go through while building our own furniture, doubled down by the sense of ownership we experienced over things we make compared to things we buy, gets all poured back into our connection with IKEA. In the end, we associate IKEA with how its furniture makes us feel.

3. Fun Experience.

The third aspect emerges from the first two: IKEA provides not only a product but also an experience. It's not just about assembling furniture, which is an experience in itself, but also about their stores arranged to mimic real house rooms with different aesthetics, allowing us to visualize how everything would fit into our own space. Don’t you love going to Ikea??

Nytillverkad collection launch 3 - IKEA Global

What to take into consideration when using the IKEA effect.

1. Make it achievable.

The IKEA effect only works if we successfully complete the task. This means that the instructions should be as clear as possible, as easy as possible while engaging the customer as much as possible to give the sense that they did it all by themselves. If it is too challenging, complicated or long, chances the customer will give up and the lasting emotions that will be associated with the brand will be frustration.

2. Balanced effort level and reward.

A study showed that 92% of people would rather pay for an object pre-assembled rather than do it themselves and it makes sense. Why would you pay for your own labor? When it comes to having customers put in their own work, there should be a good reason down the line for them to do so. In the case of IKEA, it is significantly cheaper furniture. Having full control of how an object will turn out and creating something unique that reflects your taste and personality are other possible rewards.

3. Customization.

Indeed, including customized options is an easy way to have customers participate willingly as we all love to showcase our personality. There is more chance that customers will stick to an app if they put effort into customizing a profile. After customization, the profile feels like an extension of ourselves, making us more emotionally attached.

“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” – Zig Ziglar

Emotions in branding are pivotal in a customer’s choice. We often think about creating inspiring ads and content to engage the target audience, but Ikea opened a whole new door for us by showing that these emotions can also be built through interactions with the product. After all, branding is never about the brand but always about the customers! If you want to learn more, we have a whole post about human connection and its impact on brand loyalty right here.

Tell us what you think about this concept.


  1. https://quotefancy.com/quote/1728698/April-Greiman-Design-must-seduce-shape-and-perhaps-more-importantly-evoke-an-emotional
  2. https://www.theceomagazine.com/business/marketing/best-branding-quotes/
  3. https://emarsys.com/learn/blog/building-an-emotional-connection-with-customers/
  4. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/the-ikea-effect
  5. https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/ikea-effect

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