OPINION2 September 2009

At Least It Wasn't Comic Sans

IKEA’s font change leads to questions about the relationship between social media and research.

The Church Of The Customer blog reports on the storm in a flatpack around IKEA’s decision to change its catalogue font from Futura to Verdana. Well worth reading the comments, too, which put both sides of the argument over whether this actually matters. Is it much ado about nothing, or the thin end of the wedge?

I’ve worked closely with graphic designers, and they care very passionately about this kind of thing – as is only right, in fact if they didn’t you’d wonder what they were doing in the business. The question is, though, does the font switch damage the brand, and will it impact consumer behaviour? These are questions which get to the heart of social media’s relationship with market research. Let’s imagine a dialogue between a researcher and a social media consultant.

Researcher: If IKEA had tested the catalogue on a sample of its customers it would know for sure whether this mattered or not.

Social Media Dude: Fiddlesticks! The people complaining are its most passionate consumers, and their influence will damage its brand values.

Researcher: Erm, we don’t KNOW that. The problem with you social media types is that you only care about what people SAY, not what they do.

Social Media Dude: That’s rich coming from you, Mr Survey Monkey. You need to listen to your vocal customers. Don’t you know there’s a conversation going on?

Researcher: Your vocal customers are probably highly unrepresentative.

Social Media Dude: Great! Some customers just are more important and influential.

Researcher: What if the influential ones aren’t using social media?

Social Media Dude: Why are you speaking in Martian?

And so on. Perhaps the truth is that social media gives people a voice, and the researcher’s job becomes working out which ones are worth paying attention to. It won’t necessarily be the loudest ones. After all, “the customer is always right” dates from a time when “the customer is mostly quiet” was true too.