THE TURN AROUND
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Lego has is a classic brand turnaround case study.
From once being a misguided and out of date European brand, Lego is now the world’s biggest toy manufacturer.
Look around and you’ll see signs of success: tapping into fan bases with the Lego Harry Potter, a multi-million grossing Lego Movie and long tail variants like Lego Minecraft.
The Lego Movie Trailer
24 million views and counting
So what makes Lego so successful?
5 IDEAS LEGO USES IN THEIR PLAYBOOK
Here are 5 ideas Lego exploits from their own playbook:
1) CONTENT vs CONTEXT
It’s just a plastic brick.
It’s easily imitatable.
But then it’s not just a plastic brick is it?
Your Grandparents don’t buy the cheaper Chinese knock offs because they trust the Lego brand.
People don’t buy stuff, they buy what stuff does for them.
Look on social media from Youtube to Instagram and you’ll find countless homages to Lego builds.
One of the many Lego unofficial movies created on Youtube
This is the world of the Fan and the “what stuff does for them” is the social packaging of that plastic brick. The social packaging is the stories we tell, the memories we make with those pieces of plastic.
Lego understands the power of Context – what stuff does for them. The Content – the plastic brick – is meaningless. Soda brands have known this for generations. The Content is just fizzy water and sugar, all the same.
But the difference between Pepsi and Coke, between Red Bull and all those knock-offs is the emotion.
In the modern attention economy, the fine line between marketing success and failure is the difference between being liked and being loved. If customers “like” your product, you might as well be invisible.
Don’t fall in love with your product, fall in love with what your product does for them.
2) FANS START AT THE TOP
Lego CEO Jorgen Vig embraces Fans.
Lego doesn’t see Fans as those clicks on the Facebook page but as core to their marketing and innovation strategy.
Unlike many brands today, the buy-in for Fans (and social media) starts at the top. Lego has a clear business case for why Fans count.
The data stands up. When it comes to word of mouth and persuading peers to buy, fans aren’t 2 or 3 times more influential than your average customer. Fans are up to 100 x more influential.
When the buy-in for Fans starts at the top, social media doesn’t become an adjunct to marketing strategy but a cornerstone of their whole business. Social media is a promise, and delivering on that promise requires a business-wide effort.
Social media is a key driver in marketing and innovation.
Lego Ideas is a key platform for sourcing the next line of products. Rather than turn to an outsourced design agency, Lego lets its Fans steer the direction of innovation. As Vig said himself, they may have only 120 designers in-house, but they can leverage 120,000 designers out-house.
ReBrick helps connect Fans with each other. By allowing Lego Fans to share ideas and builds, the Lego community and all that Earned Media it generates, grows.
Lego understands that in cultivating its innovative and influential Fan base, it needs to go deeper not wider. When you have a business obsessed by awareness and market share and new customers, resources are stretched. There is never enough time to build relationships.
Where most brands today still aim to be everything to everybody Lego understands a change in customer appetite. Brands need to be something to somebody. Brands need to take risk, alienate a few people but delight many more.
Reversing the trend at Lego requires leadership.
By focusing on going deeper, Lego can identify powerful, influential Fan beachheads. Each beachhead provides a base of ideas and influence from which to grow. Lego’s tie-up with Minecraft is a good example of this idea loyalty transfer. Lego will gain new Fans and new ideas from tapping related passions.
If you don’t know who your Fans are, you have only customers.
3) MANAGE AT “EYE-LEVEL”
CEO Vig talks about “managing at eye-level” and how this strategy underpins Lego’s success.
Brands always struggle with remaining relevant, especially as they grow. The more successful brands become, the bigger the bureaucracy, the less contact they have with customers.
When was the last time the marketing team spoke to a customer?
It’s a question that reveals some uncomfortable truths about marketing today.
Successful brands like Lego maintain a close contact with customers. I’m not talking about focus groups and online market research but maintaining a Frontline.
Apple’s Store is a Frontline.
Red Bull’s events are Frontlines.
Monster Energy’s Army is a Frontline.
And Fan conventions like BrickCon are Frontlines.
Lego BrickCon: Connecting Lego Fans with Lego Fans
Managing at Eye Level means getting out to where the conversations take place. Sure, there are conversations on social media but that’s the easy answer. To understand what these conversations mean you have to be out there interacting with customers.
Managers need to go to the shop floor. Not as easy as it sounds. Too many “I didn’t take an MBA to do customer service” attitudes in the business today. Overcoming corporate ego starts at the top through the CEO setting an example.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, mans the call center phones when he’s at HQ. And Jorgen Vig can be seen chatting to Fans at Lego conventions.
Great brands are built in the field, at the Frontline. Relevance isn’t a function of your marketing or innovation team’s genius, but of the distance between you and the customer.
Toyota brought the term “Genchi Genbutsu” to the public philosophy. Outside of Japan, the term is sometimes called “Get your boots on”. Genba means to “go and see”. Go and see how people drive their cars. Go and see how the shop floor builds on a daily basis. Go and see how the machines work.
Only through getting out there can we build empathy with Fans and gain real insight into the Context of our Content.
Get your boots on.
4) CURATE DON’T CONTROL
Old School Brand Management has a lot to answer for. We live in an era where brand managers want “conversations” and “buzz” but they still operate from brand templates. The two are mutually exclusive.
You cannot take a brand like Lego and expect to impose a singular brand narrative across all the Fans. You have Harry Potter fans, technical builders, young explorers, Minecraft Crafties and so on. There are a million conversations, each retelling their own stories using Lego.
In the era of Brand Democracy, the monolithic brand narrative no longer applies.
The modern marketing landscape is one of many narratives. Brands are defined in the everyday conversations between Fans, less so in the advertising messages seen in the media.
There is a well worn military adage that says “no plan survives the enemy”
The same can be said of brands and customers.
When the bullets fly, when customers talk, old school templating falls apart.
And Lego accepts this.
Lego accepts its role as a custodian of the brand. Lego curates rather than controls their conversations. ReBrick aims to connect Fans to share ideas and builds. Lego doesn’t impress or force conversation topics or ideas on these Fans. Just like your mobile phone company.
Lego Rebrick: showcasing Fan builds
Curating not Controling the conversation. Nobody picks the phone up and listens to the mobile phone company talk do they? In the same way, Lego accepts that Fans don’t talk about Lego, they talk about themselves. Lego doesn’t employ celebrities to broadcast the Lego story, they help Fans tell their own. And in the era of Curation, this is how it needs to be.
Every Fan looks at your marketing and asks “where am I in this story?”
It’s not who’s telling your story, but whose story you’re telling that counts.
5) DISCOVER YOUR HIGHER PURPOSE
It’s not just a plastic brick, it’s a tool for play and cognitive development.
Lego is a tool to help father and daughter spend time together, a tool for a teenager to explore his passions for science, a tool for adults to create and even a tool for scientists.
In a world where we are losing public space and the ability to engage in unstructured play, Lego helps redress the balance. Such is the anomaly of this plastic brick that it’s the most popular toy in the world; a world of iPads, Playstations and mobile phones.
Lego’s Higher Purpose is one of storytelling.
That humble plastic brick is a blank slate to tell a story.
It’s easy to forget your Higher Purpose.
Lego helps Fans connect. Only getting out there into the market do Lego managers understand and empathize with the needs of Fans and how to best connect them. By spending time at the Frontline, Lego can better understand its Higher Purpose.
Lego KidsFest 2014 Calgary
Kodak used to be about Sharing Moments. But by failing to spend time at the Frontline, Kodak lost contact with Fans. Kodak failed to empathize. Kodak began focusing on Content not Context. Why would Kodak be developing film in an era when Fans were turning to Instagram and iPhone. If Kodak followed Lego’s playbook, Kodak could be in the mobile business now.