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Marketing 360® Blog

This is How the Ikea Effect Can Help You Sell More (With Less Work)

Is the key to customer satisfaction making them put in some effort? It works for Ikea, and it might work for you. Here’s why.

(Almost) Instant Cakes

In the 1950s when Betty Crocker wanted ideas on how to sell more instant cake mixes, they turned to psychologist Ernest Dichter, aka the “father of motivational research”.

Dichter ran focus groups, then advised the company to replace powdered eggs with the requirement to add fresh eggs. His reasoning was that the all-instant cakes made baking too easy. This undervalued the skill involved in baking; give the baker more ownership and they’ll be happier with the final result.

History proved him right.

Cognitive Dissonance

I’m on a health kick. Gotta eat right, drop a few pounds.

But last Friday at the office I found myself staring a box of doughnuts. A row of glazed beckon to me, and I became certain one doughnut would perfectly round out a breakfast of fruit and organic granola.

I chomped it down like Homer Simpson.

Now came the inconsistency in my mind. Yes, I’m committed to eating healthy…but why, then, did I just devour that doughnut?

It was a case of junk food-induced cognitive dissonance.

This wouldn’t do. I couldn’t go through the day trapped by the guilt of giving into a pastry.

I sought justification – and found it.

I’ll just spend an extra 30 minutes in the gym tonight.

In one fell swoop, I aligned my beliefs with my behavior. Sometimes your brain takes it to you, sometimes you take it to your brain.

The Ikea Effect

In 2011, a group of psychologists published a study involving DIY efforts and their connection to consumer behavior. Their main conclusion was:

That labor alone can be sufficient to induce a greater liking for the fruits of one’s labor.

They gave their finding a name: The Ikea Effect, chosen because products from Ikea usually require some assembly.

The study involved a series of tests in which people had to invest a certain amount of labor in to creating something, then decide what they’d pay for that item in comparison to items they didn’t work on.

For example, one experiment asked participants to fold origami animals then bid to buy the creations. This included bidding on origami made by expert folders.

Participants tended to see their own creations as far more valuable than those made by others – and almost equal in value to those made by experts.

This study makes a connection to effort justification, which is part of dissonance theory. This is the idea that when people make sacrifices to achieve a goal, it enhances the attractiveness of the goal.

And indeed, cognitive dissonance was evident in the study. People didn’t just like their origami because they created it. They actually expected everyone else to value it just the way they did, putting it on the same level as the professional creations.

Dan Ariely, who co-wrote the study, sums all this up for us.

Make Your Own Pizza Pie

The Ikea Effect is evident in a lot of business practices, even though it causes cognitive dissonance because the theory suggests people will value what they buy more if it’s less convenient and requires more work.

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry had his doubts about Kramer’s make your pizza concept:

Fast forward to today, and Mod Pizza is one of the fast growing pizza restaurant chains in the country, and – you guessed it – their main offering lets people create their own pizza.

They don’t go as far as Kramer’s idea (customers don’t pound the dough and literally cook the pizza), but it does show how letting people be a part of creating the product they’ll consume creates value.

Give People What They Don’t Know They Want

Effort justification is one of several types of cognitive dissonance that are valuable for marketers to understand.

The first thing you have to get around is the reaction Jerry has to Kramer’s idea. This doesn’t really make sense. Just because you put some work into something shouldn’t mean it has more inherent value.

But go back to the cake story. When people made cakes that were nothing more than pouring stuff from a box, it didn’t feel like they were making anything at all. The lack of ownership in the process decreased the value.

It’s kind of like showing up to a pot-luck dinner with take-out. You might have brought far and away the best dish at the dinner, but you won’t have any pride or sense of accomplishment because you made no effort to create it.

If people put effort into a project, they’ll value the outcomes more only because their energy went into those outcomes.

Also important to note is that we apply this same justification to what others do for us. I appreciate the effort is a strong sentiment that can be used persuasively in a marketing message.

If your product line allows for customers to do some of the work themselves (but not so much that they’ll give up), it’s likely they’ll value it more than if you simply made things as convenient as possible.

It may not make sense, but that doesn’t matter. The way we justify putting effort into something will, in the end, make us value it all the more.