The recent criticism aimed at IKEA in recent weeks – much of it on Twitter – is just the latest reminder that companies change their iconic brands or products at their own peril…particularly when they do so without consulting their most ardent fans. IKEA’s apparent misstep? Switching the font in its catalogs to the more pedestrian (some say ugly) Verdana font, from the original customized Futura. Check out  this account of the debate in Maclean’s magazine, and others in Time and a popular blog.  Keep in mind, folks, that we’re talking about changing the font – not a price or product – and only on the printed catalog, not the web platforms.

This story brought to life a few axioms we like to throw out over discussions on marketing:

  • It’s great to have passionate fans, but it’s often the most committed customers that react negatively with “their” favorite brand changes
  • Design and visual identity is as much a part of corporate identity as products or advertising – with fonts and logos being the focal point
  • Surprising your most ardent fans with important news is rarely a good idea
  • Social networks are as effective in spreading bad news as good news
  • Everything matters when it comes to brand image – look, font, music, color, tone…etc.

The most important lesson here may be that companies need to consider their fan base – as much as possible – in any decision involving products or the brand. IKEA likely thought they were making a fairly innocuous change – seems very logical when you read their explanation – but they would likely have detected instant and strong opposition had they tested the idea with customers or influential third-parties. If we needed another reminder, customers  really are co-owners of the brand.