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Trendsetters: IKEA’s Camilla Hammar Shares Insights on Marketing in China
IKEA is not only one of the world’s top home furnishing companies, its record in China has been phenomenal. The company started its first store in Shanghai in 1998, and today 98% of Chinese people in Tier 1 cities recognize the brand.
Swedish-born Camilla Hammar, Marketing Manager for IKEA Retail China, has been driving communications, branding and brand development through strategic marketing for the retail giant since she accepted this Shanghai-based assignment in 2010. With fourteen stores open to date and with three new stores planned to open annually, her challenge is to continuously improve the high brand awareness in Shanghai and Beijing, while introducing the IKEA experience to the diverse consumers in China’s developing markets.
Prior to this IKEA role, she was based in Almhult, Sweden as the Global IKEA catalogue manager for three years. The IKEA catalogue is the world’s largest commercial publication.
No stranger to China, she had lived for more than 10 years in Asia with varying roles in India, Hong Kong and China. By joining a small Hong Kong graphic design company in 2003 as the business developer and account manager, Camilla started specializing in brand communication to Chinese consumer markets (China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong) with Veuve Clicqout champagne and other Moet Hennessey wine brands, as well as high-end retail brands such as Shanghai Tang.
Named this year as one of The Internationalist’s CHINA 50, she recently talked about the marketing challenges and opportunities she found while working in the Middle Kingdom. She acknowledges that “China is really a frontier at the moment, particularly in digital marketing or in finding ways to engage with consumers via new platforms. It is also a dynamic market for testing as the Chinese are very keen to try anything new. They spend more time online-- mainly on mobile phones-- than most people in other markets.”
Camilla admits that her biggest challenge is to better understand China’s different consumer segments—based on the decade when someone was born combined with the part of China within which they live. “Chinese consumer behavior and preferences are changing even as we speak. It is difficult to find the right references when introducing a new brand to consumers who are being bombarded by so many new brands.”
She adds, “Of course, the greatest marketing opportunity in China is to reach the fast-emerging middle class in a manner that resonates with them.” Camilla’s prior work in Hong Kong provided her with an understanding of Chinese consumers. She acknowledges, though, the importance of having story behind the brand that connects with people. “The heritage of your company and the knowledge with which you design products matters to the Chinese.”
Interestingly, she mentions that there are still a lot of Chinese who do not know IKEA as Swedish. “What they recognize, though, is that we offer a unique shopping experience and that we can show them solutions to their home furnishing needs.”
When asked “What was the biggest surprise you encountered when working in marketing outside of your home market?”-- Camilla Hammar admitted this was a difficult question. “I have been in China for so long. Yet, coming from a small and historically homogenous country like Sweden, I was amazed to discover the market and consumer diversity ‘outside.’ I have a much broader perspective of how many ‘individuals’ there are in the world; at the same time, I am enjoying the fact that most human values are universal and common.”
Camilla Hammar holds a Master of Science degree in International Business and Marketing from the School of Business at Stockholm University. Her first move from Sweden was to India in 1998.
With the Inter-IKEA Shopping Center in Wuxi to be opened in 2014, IKEA will have its first shopping center and retail store combined in China. The company now has its goals set on tripling its store number over the next decade.