Profile: Anna Crona, marketing director for IKEA UK and Ireland

Anna Crona
Anna Crona

Anna Crona, marketing director for IKEA UK and Ireland, is working to inspire shoppers to spend more on their homes.

When IKEA is presented with the prestigious 2011 Cannes Advertiser of the Year Award later this month, Anna Crona, marketing director for IKEA UK and Ireland, will not be there to pick it up. Nonetheless, she is proud of the accolade.

'It's great recognition that we can do well with country-specific communications,' she says. 'Doing what we've done and adapting to markets with a warm, human touch is something we're proud of and want to continue. We're really happy to get the recognition that this seems to be working.'

The 50-year-old Swede, having spent a remarkable 25 years at the retailer, is somewhat bashful when receiving praise and, although comfortable being interviewed, prefers to maintain a quiet family life over attending marketing industry bashes. Crona, like many IKEA employees, just enjoys simply getting on with the job.

Raising awareness

So, instead of hanging out on yachts and sipping Champagne on the Cote d'Azur, Crona will be a world away from the glamour of Cannes at IKEA's UK headquarters, based just off London's North Circular Road. Walking up a dingy stairwell and across the top floor of a multistorey car park to reach head office, the ambience feels out of sync with IKEA's desired brand values of providing inspiration to shoppers and being 'happy inside'.

That's the positioning Crona worked on with ad agency Mother, and it is to the next campaign, 'Bedrooms' - the follow-up to the creatively eye-catching 'Kitchens' ad - that she is turning her attention. Like its forerunner, 'Bedrooms', due to break in late-summer, will concentrate on making IKEA's bedrooms 'famous'.

'Before we do any campaign we do thorough research, and with kitchens, we found we had no position at all,' says Crona. 'People thought we just sold pots and pans, so we tried to create fame and awareness through our ads. We had the best growth in the world in kitchens, and on social media it just exploded.'

Quite how much growth is, however, impossible for outsiders to ascertain. Having opened its first UK store in 1987, IKEA has yet to make public any profit or revenue figures for the UK. Being privately owned and with its headquarters outside the UK, it has no obligation to shareholders or Companies House to do so.

Not that it should be inferred from this that IKEA is struggling financially. The retailer's flash sales never fail to prompt a bout of IKEA-mania in its 18 UK stores, while its 85-year-old founder, Ingvar Kamprad, is worth an estimated $6bn (£3.6bn), according to Forbes magazine.

'I don't think we're being secretive on purpose,' says Crona. 'We're just focused inside and on the customers. We have an understanding now that people want to know about the company and that being secretive is not who we are - we're actually very open and transparent. So we're now trying to improve that.'

Last year, in an effort to shake off claims of secrecy, IKEA published overall global revenue figures for the first time. They revealed £2.2bn profits in the year ending August 2009. An unrelenting growth strategy, with India next in its sights, means IKEA continues to expand rapidly.

This is Crona's first media interview in her quarter-century at IKEA, which has included several senior management roles. So how does she see the progression of the company to which she has devoted her working life to date?

'We're being a lot more efficient. We've improved the quality of furnishing; the design and inspiration is a lot stronger,' she says. 'Then, of course, I've seen the negative sides of a big company. It's harder to make changes than before - even though we have a fairly flat organisation, it takes time.'

While its effectiveness is difficult to scrutinise, due to the lack of open finance, IKEA displays a creativity and flair in its advertising. Having received its first Lion in 1991, it has gone on to win a further 50; testament to its enduring creativity.

As with other companies, a strategy is in place to make use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, but it's IKEA's TV ads that have driven its reputation as a stylish advertiser.

Crona has employed Mother for the past two years, having previously used Beattie McGuinness Bungay as IKEA's lead creative agency. 'As with any relationship you need to adjust, but in terms of understanding the business, Mother has been very helpful and creatively it's strong,' she says.

Beyond specific media, IKEA is turning to behavioural economics to inform its advertising. 'We're doing insight in areas around each store to really understand how people live and what they can afford. On top of that we're doing a nationwide family survey: 60% of grandparents look after their grandchildren during the week, for example. We need to understand what the best solutions are for that.'

The fact that consumers are feeling the pinch has not passed IKEA by. Crona is visibly frustrated that many Brits would rather save up for a summer holiday in the sun rather than investing in their more immediate vicinity.

'People (in the UK) have the smallest homes in Europe and the money they have is decreasing. What we have to do is show the value - the price and the quality, the fact it is sustainably produced - and show the inspiration. To get inspired and grow the interest in the category is our aim,' she says.

With this in mind, Crona has been focusing on customer satisfaction. Having previously failed to make the top 10 in Verdict Research's customer satisfaction survey, in 2010 IKEA came second only to John Lewis. Yet Crona recognises that the in-store experience must improve further.

'We have been looking at the store and improving the experience on the web so that people can be prepared when they come here,' says Crona. 'We need to provide information about what they can buy and what is in stock and improve the shopping experience.'

Crona has achieved an admirable level of creativity at IKEA and depth of insight into British life. With the retailer's plans to announce its first UK figures in January, what next for Crona after 25 years' service?

'I'm a marketer - that's what I like,' she says. 'The thing with IKEA is that global roles don't have any budget - the countries are where the action is. Working with one market in depth, really understanding it and working across all media - I love that way of working.'

It seems that Crona has found her calling and IKEA's UK marketing is the better for it - even if she would not be so bold as to say so herself.

INSIDE WORK

1986-present: Trainee in the flagship Stockholm store, rising to marketing director, UK and Ireland, IKEA

OUTSIDE WORK

Family: Married with two children

Hobbies: Yoga, training, spending time with the kids

Music: Michael Jackson and Snoop Dogg

Favourite ad campaign: Apple

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