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    Q&A: Nigel Richardson – Ikea’s Head of Marketing in Southeast Asia

    Richardson talks about challenges as Ikea expands its footprint across the region, how the brand has evolved during the pandemic era, coming store openings, and more.

    By Bobby McGill - Jan 5, 2021
    Q&A: Nigel Richardson – Ikea’s Head of Marketing in Southeast Asia

    With Ikea expanding its footprint across the Asia Pacific, Branding in Asia decided to catch up with the brand’s Head of Marketing for Southeast Asia, Nigel Richardson. Nearly a 25-year veteran at Ikea, he has been guiding the retailer’s brand in Southeast Asia since 2018.

    This past year, as social distancing policies around the world saw more people staying at home than ever before, Ikea launched the “Home is a Different World” campaign – a concept that Richardson told us was actually in the making before COVID, and “only became more relevant in 2020 as our homes became even more central, instantly transforming into our office, school, gym, and more.”

    Over the course of our conversation, we talk about the campaign, challenges for the company as it expands its footprint across the region, how the brand has evolved during the pandemic era, coming store openings, and more.


    Tell us more about the “Make Home Count” brand platform and the “Home Is A Different World” brand campaign that launched last month. How has it elevated the Ikea brand in SEA?

    As a mass-market retailer first and foremost, there’s always a focus in our marketing to drive sustainable and profitable growth. But in amongst all this hard-working advertising, I think it’s important to sometimes step back and communicate purely on our brand. That’s what the Make Home Count platform allows us to do. It’s about inviting our customers in Southeast Asia to take a step back too, and remember that home really is the center of our lives.

    This year, we brought the message to life through our “Home is a Different World” campaign. It’s actually an idea we were playing with long before COVID changed the world, but it only became more relevant in 2020 as our homes became even more central, instantly transforming into our office, school, gym, and more.

    Through this work, we want to solidify our place in customers’ hearts and minds as a brand that truly enables everyone to have created a better life at home.

    As the Head of Marketing in Southeast Asia, what are some of the challenges for the growth and development of the Ikea brand in such a diverse region?

    You said it in the question – our region is so diverse! Homes and lives are very different in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, so what resonates with one market may not always work in the others.

    On top of this, the levels of brand awareness differ hugely. In Singapore, we’re very much “part of the furniture”, having been here for over 40 years – in fact, our brand awareness in Singapore is higher than in Sweden! We’re a little newer in Thailand, and fewer people live within easy reach of our stores, which presents a different opportunity.

    “We’ve been through a lot – working remotely, putting social distancing measures in place to keep customers safe, followed by up to 73 days of store closures.”

    It’s a challenge we enjoy tackling though and goes beyond just marketing. For instance, lots of our effort in Thailand is about communicating the affordability of Ikea – we lowered many of our prices this year specifically focusing on Thailand, to bring our products within reach of many more people.

    How has the brand evolved regionally this past year in the face of a global pandemic?

    The brand itself hasn’t really had to evolve. We’ve always been about democratic design – the belief that everyone should be able to afford great design. And, that’s even more relevant today.

    Business, though, has clearly evolved. Shopping online has been very important to customers in a socially-distanced world, and we’ve been very busy fulfilling web orders. We’ve also seen shopping behaviors change as people spend more time and do more activities at home. Everyone seemed to become home chefs and bakers this year, judging by the amount of interest in our cooking and eating ranges.

    “Homes and lives are very different in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, so what resonates with one market may not always work in the others. On top of this, the levels of brand awareness differ hugely.”

    Obviously, home office furniture was hugely popular too as people realized that sitting at the kitchen bench for 8 hours a day isn’t the most comfortable way to work! The job for us as marketers is to recognize these behaviors and be top of mind communicating inspiring and affordable solutions. We put lots of effort into this on social media, as it allows us to be nimble and react quickly to the latest trends.

    In terms of managing your team, what lessons have you learned from working amid the pandemic and what strategies will you carry forward in a post-COVID 19 world?

    I think we’ve all learned something about how resilient we are as a team. I’m super proud of the way everyone in the organization has rolled with the punches this year, seamlessly adapting to each challenge. We’ve been through a lot – working remotely, putting social distancing measures in place to keep customers safe, followed by up to 73 days of store closures.

    Togetherness is a key value at Ikea and this year we’ve seen exceptional delivery by teams across all functions in Ikea, working together to meet the needs of our customers in an often challenging environment.

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    Obviously, we’re all looking forward to getting back to something approaching normality, but we’ll keep the positives from this year. We know that we can work well as a team remotely, so flexible working is a viable option. We know we can change direction quickly when needed, so we’ll keep that nimble mindset. After such a year, I think it’s crucial to come out of it with some positives we can all learn and grow from.

    Ikea’s Seventh Global Life at Home Report delves into how people have redefined their relationships and activities within their homes during COVID-19. Did the report reveal anything that particularly stood out for you?

    We called the report “The Big Home Reboot”, which is telling. 2020 forced revolution rather than evolution in our homes, as we all had to adapt to spending much more time at home and doing many more things. 37% of people cooked more at home this year, 29% exercised at home and 22% socialized virtually – all things we wouldn’t have predicted this time last year! As marketers, it’s our job to make sure the products we offer and the inspiration we provide our customers are in tune with these changes in their lives at home.

    What other markets in the region is Ikea eyeing in the near future?

    2021 is going to be exciting! We’re launching our third store in Singapore at JEM mall. This location means the store’s going to be quite different from the “big box” retail space that people usually associate with Ikea, so we’re really looking forward to inviting people in the West of Singapore to come and visit us. Look out too, for the opening of our new Home Planning and Renovation Studio set to open In January, the first of a number of new developments coming In the next years.

    “Obviously, we’re all looking forward to getting back to something approaching normality, but we’ll keep the positives from this year. We know that we can work well as a team remotely, so flexible working is a viable option.”

    We’re also entering the Philippines market – our Pasay City store in Manila’s Mall of Asia is going to be the largest Ikea anywhere in the world. We’re thrilled to dive into Filipino culture for our launch campaign, not to mention welcoming our new Philippines colleagues into the family. Aside from that, we’ll be celebrating our 25th Anniversary in Malaysia. Time flies!

    Can you elaborate on the success of the brand platform Make Home Count with creative partner TBWA\Singapore in reference to:

    355 Make Home Count – Our 355 Make Home Count brand campaign first established pre-Covid that home is where we spend most of our time.

    Making Home Count (Covid) – During the thick of the lockdown in Singapore and Malaysia, we then launched Making Home Count (Covid) which connected with consumers in an authentic way by capturing real-life moments at home, with the entire production shot and created from homes.

    Home Is A Different World brand campaign – Nine months on, the “Our Home Is A Different World” brand campaign reinforced that home is our sanctuary especially in times of uncertainty and that home in the. future looks dramatically different. Home is where the people that really matter can be found, and where the things that really matter happen.

    Our Efterträda campaign was to launch our first foray into branded merchandise. I loved the idea of using a very different kind of  “model” to communicate that great design should be for everyone. Our Singaporean glam-ma and glam-pa influencers looked fantastic!

    Part of the Efterträda collection. (Image via Ikea)

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