Using the "IKEA Effect" to connect with your audience

June 17, 2010 Off By Eric Jensen

In his new book, The Upside of Irrationality – The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, behavioral economist Dan Ariely describes the psychological effects of ownership and creation, what he calls “The IKEA Effect”. In a nutshell, we tend to overvalue what we create or work on. This phenomenon is well documented and anyone who has put together IKEA furniture or lovingly shown off pictures of their kids understands this immediately.

Marketers have exploited this human trait for years. A classic example cited in the book: the instant baking mix products introduced in the 1940s. Initially these all-in-one mixes did not catch the interest of housewives, but when the formula was changed to require adding eggs and oil the market took off.

This effect partially explains the popularity of blogging and user-generated-content on the Internet. Musicians have built strong connections with their fans by encouraging them to contribute, through remixes, blog comments, videos, graphic design contests, etc.

As musicians, do we overvalue our creations? Of course. Music is an extension of who we are and what we stand for. It will always have a unique flavor to its author.

All artists need to put in the hours every day; creating the conditions necessary to welcome The Muse, irrespective of the marketplace. See Steven Pressfield’s classic, the War of Art for the definitive word on this subject. When we change hats to take care of business we must be very clear that making something for others to use is different from making something for yourself alone. Not such a problem when getting paid to write music for a commercial, but a little more challenging when trying to figure out what to do with original work.

Good, objective feedback from trusted collaborators and partners is essential. “Trust” is the key word here. The most meaningful insights come from people who understand business but also truly get your vision and your values.

If we cannot distinguish the two processes we run the risk of compromising our work in an attempt to be more “commercial” or repeat past successes, or we simply give up on taking care of the business side of our careers.