5 ideas you should steal from Lego’s marketing


By: Konnor

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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From once being a misguided and out of date European brand, Lego is now the world’s biggest toy manufacturer.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?


Here are 5 ideas Lego exploits from their own playbook:


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.


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.


By: Bill Ward

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.


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.

Brand happens.

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.


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.

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Telephones vs Loudspeakers: How to make the right choices in marketing strategy


When faced with change we make choices.

The choices we make shape our future.

Think back to when you were asked that question “what do you want to be when you leave college?”

You said “business woman / nurse / artist / designer / vet” and so on.

You may not have become that choice, but the choice changed the direction of your future.
Businesses make choices too.

In the Social Era, we are faced with a choice of similar significance.

Do we become a Loudspeaker or a Telephone?

It’s a choice that will radically alter the results of our marketing and innovation. Every business strategy that follows will be a ripple of this original choice.


When the Bolsheviks seized power by ousting the Tsar in November 1917, they were faced with the challenge of building their vision of Russia.

Now, at the time, even though Russia had been under the thumb of a rather brutal regime, it wasn’t a technological backwater.

Russia had electricity, telegraph and heavy industry.

But, unlike the United States which was emerging as a world superpower, Russia clearly lacked vision.

On the one hand, Russia had access to the telephone.

While Russia lagged behind the telephone rollouts of its more advanced European and American peers (there was an estimated 1 telephone for every 200 inhabitants on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 (compared to one in 50 in the UK) , Russia could have easily and relatively cheaply created a telephone network that brought even its most remote outposts online. A.G.Bell had already made the first coast-to-coast long distance call in the US 2 years earlier and work was already underway to activate the then meaning Russia could not only be connected with itself but also the US and Europe within a decade.


Behind America’s revolution was the telephone.

Here was a technology that was bring the vast continent together, connecting East and West Coast while filling in the blanks in the middle. The Telephone enabled communication between business, gave train operators the information they needed to address network issues and empowered a burgeoning financial sector to stay informed.

The telephone was a simple democratized solution: everyday people could speak to each other about everyday things and it required only the smallest amount of knowledge to make it happen. The US Glen Telephone company in 1917 demonstrated how convenient the technology could be for the untrained user – its operational guidelines supplied with each new lines were, simply put, “Speak directly into the mouthpiece with your lips close to it. Speak distinctly and deliberately.”

The telephone networks didn’t need to train or educate users.

Despite the size of the market, the telephone network grew rapidly. Rapid developments in technology and the railroad meant that within years, centralized operators and exchanges could be dropped allowing true peer-to-peer technology freed of the overhead of top down installation. Telephone exchanges were built out locally, new areas could be added by simply adding a node to the network.

2 years earlier, the US had begun work on activated its then “wireless” networks to bridge the gap between the US and mainland Europe, connecting two of the world’s largest markets.

The telephone could have been an ideal solution for Russia too.

The ruling party wouldn’t have the cost of creating content in multiple languages and time zones. People would create their own conversations and communicate freely with each other allowing the government to get on with the business of rebuilding the country.
But despite the overwhelming technological advantages of the telephone, ideological impasses made Lenin look elsewhere for his vision.

Lenin was looking for a technology that fit his ideological view of how Russia should be communicating. Lenin’s dream of highest political awareness visualized a world where the worker would divide his day into 3 equal parts – 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working and 8 hours studying. The audacious 8/8/8 philosophy meant the only connections you could maintain were between the Party and yourself. Our fundamental societal structure would be reorganized to make the center of every interaction, every socialization and every connection the Party.

The word “Bolshevik” in Russian means “big” or “majority” and big was good. The Big Party, the Big Idea and the Big solution.

“Every government office, as well as every club in our factories should be aware that at a certain hour they will hear political news and major events for the day. This way our country will lead a life of highest political awareness, constantly knowing actions of the government and views of the people”, wrote Lenin in his post-War address of 1918.

Lenin’s vision was not the Telephone but the Loudspeaker.

The rest…as they say… is history.


When a brand takes to social media, the effectiveness of its strategies are little to do with the choice of media or the nature of the content and everything to do with that choice made further upstream.

Media, content, conversions – these are all ripples created by a conscious choice about what role the brand plays.

Is the brand a Telephone or a Loudspeaker?


* Help people have a conversation with each other (who wants to “have a conversation” with the phone company?)
* Promote conversations no matter how mundane or trivial (e.g. SMS texting, gossip, chat)
* Focus on connecting not the content (nobody’s interested in what the phone company has to say)
* Empower localized connections not a singular, monolithic narrative


* Set up in every town square or work place
* Promote the award-winning, infallible “Big Idea”
* Broadcast constantly, everywhere
* Control the content, dominate the conversation, crush parallel narratives


We all make choices.

When you sit in a marketing meeting, you have a choice to say something or not when the Director says “we’re going to talk about our latest handset on Facebook”

You have a choice to say something when the Creative Director says, “here’s the Big Idea”
We can make choices about who we believe we are and what role we play in the lives of our customers.

Simple choices can shape our future.

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Social Media is a Promise


A promise you will let the customer’s story be heard.

When you fail to deliver on that promise, you anger customers.

Delivering on the promise isn’t a tactic but a mindset: Set Up, Step Back and Shut Up.

We’ve seen how this mindset works well for Lego. So, why isn’t everyone doing it?


For traditional Top-Down brands, the problem lies in letting go.

…and you won’t get fired for hiring Lady Gaga.

We’re so used to managing brands, controlling conversations and templating everything that customers just seem to be a fly in the ointment.

The reality is, unfortunately, that people don’t want to “answer Tea or Coffee?” on your Facebook page, they want a platform to connect with each other and have meaningful conversations.

Rather than Set Up, Step Back and Shut Up, traditional Top-Down marketing does the opposite:

Set Up: Instead of instilling a culture of fan appreciation at the very top of the organization, they see social media as a channel strategy, an adjunct to the marketing. Top-down marketing outsource to social media agencies who have to do their best to deal with what is left of the marketing.

Step Back: Top-Down brands have almost no contact with the customers they wanted to engage. Marketing managers wouldn’t know a customer if she walked into the office with a $10 note taped to her head. When you are this removed you have no empathy, no understanding of the challenges, no appreciation of the types of emotions involved.

Shut Up: Brands just want to talk about themselves, and they’ll Lady Gaga to do it. New media becomes a platform to broadcast their monolithic narrative just like TV, radio and print had served them for the last 50 years.


The radical Bottom-Up approach to social media marketing adopted by Lego has transformed the brand into the world’s most successful toy brand today. Sure, they have great products, but products without a promise are just plastic bricks.

What we must commend Bottom-Up brands like Lego in achieving is demonstration that success isn’t about deflecting the bullets and editing your message so not to offend anyone but delivering on that promise, whether you like it or not.

Change means you can fail.

But unless you are prepared to fail, you are not prepared to change.

And this puts many people off because they’re focused on what could go wrong rather than what could go right.


In the modern era, where the average American sees 170,000 marketing messages by aged 17 our biggest challenge is attention.

In marketing today, attention is your biggest cost.

If people “like” you, you might as well be invisible.

Sure, you can get noticed by hiring Lady Gaga, an award-winning campaign or a clever social media viral stunt.

But, remember this, unless you’re delivering on that promise, all that goodwill is soon lost. We easily forget that bacteria and viral outbreaks soon die out.

Creating sustainable engagement means giving customers a platform to tell their own stories.

* Lego Fans connect with senior management to share their ideas.
* Lego Fans connect with each other.
* Lego Fans tell their own stories by building homages to their passions – from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Minecraft.
* Lego Fans recreate stories of their youth by building together with their own children

The only way to make it work is to realize that indifference, not vitriol, is your biggest enemy.

What social media storytelling is about is something far more emotional, it’s about connecting with what they love.

And to do this we have to put customers, not ad agencies and celebrities, in control of their own storytelling. Because in the Social Era, you can’t buy their trust and attention anymore, you have to earn it.

It’s not who’s telling your story that counts, it’s whose story you’re telling.

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Teen Falls into Manhole (is the Mobile Generation a lost cause?)


Teen Falls into Manhole (is the Mobile Generation a lost cause?)

Alexa Longueira, 15, from Staten Island New York fell into an open manhole cover on Victory Boulevard while casually walking and reading a text on her friend’s cell phone. She plunged 6 feet into four inches of raw sewage.

“From your sink to your toilet, it’s down there,” Longueira’s mother told the television station. “She was smelly… it was putrid. One of her sneakers is still down there.”

The Susan E. Wagner High School sophomore was lucky, coming out with only cuts across her arms and down her back.

“It was four or five feet, it was very painful. I kind of crawled out and the DEP guys came running and helped me. … They were just, like, ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’”

She said the manhole she fell in to was left open and unattended with no warning signs or orange cones. She said two workers with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection failed to secure the area as they prepared to flush the sewer.

The girl’s mother said Alexa will see more doctors next week to get an MRI and check for damage to her spine.


In the 13 years I’ve been writing about the Mobile Generation, I’ve seen all kinds of stories like this:

  • teens falling into manholes while on the phone
  • teens falling off the end of piers while reading their mail
  • teens selling their virginity for an iPhone
  • teens selling their kidneys for an iPad2

The list goes on…

We’ve all seen the scenes from dinner tables around the world. Teenage kids playing with their phones while parents look on confused. Students sitting together in a cafe while messaging their friends who could be miles away. Messaging secretly under the desk, checking Facebook in bed and even messaging in the bathroom.

20 years ago, these sights would have been strange, if not shocking for the casual observer. What has happened so quickly and with such acceptance that the mobile phone has co-opted the attention of the younger generation?

I’ve been studying this question for the best part of 20 years, ever since I arrived in Tokyo as a cultural observer at the start of the mobile phone boom.

And what I found is that the answer to WHY? is nothing to do with addiction, the seductive nature of technology or the social ineptness of this generation.

Instead, it has everything to do with their social reality.

You see, teens aren’t addicted to mobile, they are addicted to what mobile does for them.


“Yeah, but… I didn’t have a mobile when I was a kid… and I turned out okay!”

Let me guess.

You grew up in an era when:

  • You talked to strangers at the bus stop
  • You ate peanut butter sandwiches at school
  • You went to school even when there was snow and ice on the path
  • You could hang out somewhere without having to spend money or get arrested by the cops
  • You sat in the pilot’s cockpit because it was your birthday
  • You knew who the kids were next door
  • You took archery lessons at school (yes, crazy as it seems, this actually happened back then!!!)
  • You were treated as “different”, “creative” or “boisterous” rather than having a syndrome and needing medication
  • You didn’t get threatened with arrest or exclusion just because you kissed a girl/boy at school
  • You didn’t even know what a “terrorist” was
  • You played out until dark
  • You could play with friends without your parents organizing a “play date”

Yeah… apart from mobiles, things were the same right?

The average American today has 1 close friend according to experts, down from 3 in the 1980s.

Times are changing and it’s this gradual degradation of our offline social connectivity that forces us to mobile technology.

We are all addicted to this social connectivity and have been since we first lived in rudimentary Stone Age societies.

So, before we jump on the bandwagon about this lost Mobile Generation, let’s take a few minutes to remember how lucky we were “when we didn’t have mobile phones”.

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Set Up, Step Back, Shut Up: The Secrets Behind Lego’s Social Media Success


Brands spend millions securing a few words of seconds from celebrities like David Beckham to endorse their projects.

Perfumes, clothing, sunglasses, mobile phones – the list goes on.

Yet, Lego gets it for free.

“The last big thing I made,” said Beckham in a media interview,” was Tower Bridge… It had about 1,000 pieces. I think Lego sometimes helps to calm me down.”

From David Beckham to everyone’s Grandchildren, Lego’s appeal crosses all divides and appears universal.


Lego is the world’s second largest toymaker, behind Mattel, and despite being an anomaly in an era of digital games and the iPad, its sales continue to grow. 10% growth in 2013 took global sales to $4.6 billion and there’s more to come, especially with its eye on emerging markets.

It’s just a plastic brick, so easily imitated.

What gives?


Lego wasn’t always the runaway success it now is.

Back in the 90s, the Danish toymaker was struggling.

Lego retired a large number of designers who had created sets through the 70s and 80s, replacing them with 30 innovators recruited from the top design schools around Europe. Unfortunately, these new designers knew little about the Lego culture and the logistical nightmares of the brand grew: the number of parts increased from 6,000 to 12,000 meaning storage and production costs doubled. Products like Znap, Primo, Scala and Galidor – products which now fade into history – all emerged from this dark period in Lego’s history.

Due to high production and distribution costs, many sets were making a loss even before they hit the shelves. Many more were seen as either too out of touch or too expensive for their market. By focusing their energies on an internal story of design, Lego lost touch with its fans and was facing an irrevocable slide into irrelevance.

Jorgen Vig, the current CEO, identified these problems immediately on his appointment in 2004.


By: Brickset

His first task was identify the biggest asset and build on it. It would be this asset that the company had ignored, and one which used properly would restore it to its decade long growth story.

Lego’s strength was its fans – customers who loved that simple plastic brick.

“When the company started involving a couple of enthusiastic fans in product development I started systematically meeting with the adult fans of Lego,” said Vig in a media interview, “…I realized the power of customer contributions.”

Lego’s problem was that it had spread its energies to thinly over a wide range of products to manage these contributions. By refocusing its resources on those the fans loved, it could help win back some of that support. Vig slashed the number of parts down to 6,000 and began the reorganization of the company. The unprofitable Lego computer games business was shut down. Interestingly, the programmers left and started their own business (Traveller’s Tales) which now licenses the Lego brand today, profitably.

“We’ve actively encouraged our fans to interact with us,” says Vig, “and suggest product ideas. An amazing number of grown-ups like to play with Legos. While we have 120 staff designers, we potentially have 120,000 volunteer designers we can access outside the comapny to help us invent.”

Rather that recruit from the best designers in the world, Lego’s creative minds would come from the fans themselves. Designers were people who grew up playing with Lego, ones with ideas, ones who were passionate about the kits.


Vig’s core push was to promote a culture of “managing at eye level” which encouraged all managers to hit the shopfloor, talk to factory workers, engineers, marketers and, importantly, the fans.

Perhaps what differentiates Lego from many companies is this institutionalize endorsement of their grassroots.

Social media would no longer be “what the social media marketing agency does” but a core strategy that helps keep the company focused, helps keeps product development real.

It’s this groundswell of support that Vig calls, “the avenue to truth.”

Peter Espersen, Head of Lego Online Communities, says of this approach that “Our main goal is to work with fans in creative ways as opposed to simply managing a Facebook page or our Twitter feed.”


(Lego ReBrick Video)

Seeing a senior LEGO leader interact with fans at a live event isn’t uncommon. Espersen points out that senior managers meet with fans numerous times a year and have conversations with them, conversations that spill out onto social media, attract others along the way and eventually become their own movements in the Lego community.

At Lego, social media is an integral part of the whole development process, not one of the possible end-channels to retail, sell or market the products.

Supporting their fans isn’t a way of improving the impact of their ATL advertising ROI, it is their whole marketing strategy. Lego Ideas is a popular platform for fans to submit their ideas for new product lines. Typical entries focus on existing franchise such as Batman with the Lego Dark Knight series and most have bubbled under with several hundred or, if lucky, 1000 votes of approval from the community. But when the idea floated that Lego should make Minecraft sets, the submission received over 10,000 votes in 48 hours.

Lego Rebrick connects fans with each other by sharing designs and ideas. The Lego Movie premiered to applause making $69m in its opening weekend, not bad for an hour long “commercial” for Lego products.

Lego understands that people aren’t buying plastic bricks, they’re buying what those bricks can do for them. Take a look at that lego box and you’ll understand the appeal. Inside a rather disappointing plastic bag of bricks that occupies a fraction of the padded box. On the outside, however, the story. To this day, in my adult years, I feel a sense of anticipation when I see the bright colors of the Firetruck and the lego figure scaling the ladder to the rescue. The “what those bricks can do” for the child is a promise of play, discovery, exploration, creation and telling a story with friends, with siblings, with parents or alone in the bath.


Lego is a tool to help tell stories.

Take away the stories and it’s just a plastic brick, something easily copied by Chinese imitators.

But then that’s what people pay for – not the plastic brick but the platform Lego gives them to tell their own stories.

It’s the story of father and son spending a weekend building the Millennium Falcon together.

It’s the story of the daughter building a firetruck all on her own without help from her parents.

It’s the story of enthusiasts whose passion for Lego helped her connect with similar minded people all over the world.

Lego’s social media success isn’t the result of a clever social media strategy, it’s the result of recognizing what Lego stands for and creating a platform for the truth, the authentic stories of the fans to take over.

Letting go requires a lot of courage but in time it’s going to be the only way to go.

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Brand Democracy in Times Square


By: davejdoe

In Times Square, Brand Democracy springs to life, albeit it with baby steps.

There it was standing there – a 5 foot/1.5m tall wooden lectern with a megaphone holster attached with a sign reading “Say Something Nice”.

There was nobody around, no obvious cameras, no politician on the soapbox and no celebrity with a book to launch. Just a wooden lectern on its own in the middle of Times Square New York.

A passer-by scowls at the object.

Why is it here?

Who left it here?

Is it a terrorist bomb?

Where is the rally?

He scoots by.

A few minutes later a group of students stop by the wooden plinth. “I love you” one giggles through the amplifier as they quickly disperse into the crowd. As more curious shoppers and tourists stop by the lectern, the conversations become braver, more vocal. A solo joker simply says “something nice” through the speaker.

Was he expecting a prize?

A group of children too small to reach the lectern try desperately to pull themselves up near enough so their voice is heard as their bemused mother watches arms folded from a safe distance.

Two twenty something guys take the opportunity to discuss domestic affairs over the speaker. The more vocal member of the pair publicly castigates his embarrassed partner for backing out of his move into a downtown apartment.

A lady promotes an event she was working on. Another, predictably, takes the opportunity to engage no-one but himself in a lengthy monologue about the return of the Messiah and the need for Christianity in our lives. Nobody is listening.


I recently watched a nature documentary about dolphins and how they reacted to a strange bubble blowing object placed in their home waters.

At first they were suspicious but it took the bravery of a few early explorers to test the object. Within time, they began developing their own games out of the object and the whole school had joined in.

In time, too, the lectern changed from an object of suspicion to a valid Social Tool; two students serenading potential mates across the microphone – one with acoustic guitar, the other just his voice. Then there was the makeshift gospel choir of women who needed little prompting to break into full song while passers-by stopped to momentarily let them into their lives.


This is how we as customers take to Brand Democracy.

The lectern project by New York artists Improv Everywhere is revealing.

As they themselves write on their website

“It was exciting to stage a mission that we had so little control over. Unlike our more performance-based projects, the results of this one were entirely in the hands of random people who happened upon the lectern… Mission Accomplished”


If you’re a brand, consider Times Square your social media platform.

What do you do?

Do you dominate the megaphone and talk about your brand all day or do you free it up to let people talk about themselves?

You can see why brands struggle with the latter.

Not only is there the issue of ceding control but you need patience.

We’re so not used to media, brands or institutions giving us a voice that when it comes our way, we treat it with suspicion, we don’t know what to do, we look to other people for guidance and direction.

It’s at this point brands throw in the towel.

“We tried the Brand Democracy thing and it didn’t work, so we’re going back to Brand Management”

Impatient brands parachute in a celebrity who’ll show these “ordinary” people how to do it by example.

Impatient brands scrap the project and go back to the Big Idea.

Patient brands, however, let things happen naturally because they know, in time, people will work things out.

In time, they won’t be able to get enough of these tools.

In time, they’ll become reliant on these tools and your brand.

In the era of Brand Democracy, you’ll gain more attention and importance than you ever did by just stepping back and shutting up.

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What’s Fun About a Building?


Tom Hanks Big

Boardroom meeting.

Marketing presentation

Product launch.

PAUL (head of marketing)

“These tests were conducted over a six month period using a double-blind format of eight over-lapping demographic groups.”

“Every region of the country was sampled, the focus testing showed a solid base in the 9 to 11-year old bracket–with a possible carry-over into the 12-year olds. When you consider that Nobots and Transformers pull over 37 percent market share, and that we are targeting the same area, I think that we should see one quarter of that and that is one fifth of the total revenue from all of last year.”

“Any questions? Yes? Yes?”


“I don’t get it.”


“What exactly don’t you get?”


“It turns from a building into a robot, right?”




“Well, what’s fun about that?”



“Well, if you had read your industry breakdown, you would see that our success in the action figure area has climbed from 27 percent to 45 percent in the last two years. There, that might help.”


The dialogue could be any scene from any boardroom anywhere in the world.

It could well be a meeting you’ve sat in yourself.

This particular dialogue comes straight from the movie “Big” where Josh (Tom Hanks) plays the role of the kid who never grew up, who assumes the reign at the head of a toy manufacturer given his extraordinary powers of empathy with the customer.

Paul, the head of marketing, is the face of tired marketing everywhere.

He’s the face of a marketing industry that tells its story to support the organization.

Paul is the guy lost in data and graphs. He is the guy who buys the latest market research, has all the data at his fingertips and can point to countless focus groups that vindicate his conviction that customers love the products.

He’s the guy with the title, the big office and the big car. He’s not going to lose these readily.

He has spent too many years fighting his way up the greasy pole to be told what to do by a kid.


In fact, Paul hasn’t talked to a customer for…well, he can’t remember… it must be years, back when he was a marketing grunt sent out to fly events with the girls in roller skates.

I never ceased to be amazed by how many Paul’s I’ve sat across in presentations who have paid good money for me to come in and share some insights about how youth are using their technology products for them to tell me,

“yes, my 13 year old daughter does that at the breakfast table”.

They just spend millions on an ad campaign that sells all the cool features of their latest device but completely overlooked how their 13 year old daughter used it to message her friends before school.

And it’s there right in front of them every morning of their life.

How could they miss it?

Because when you become Paul, when you have everything in front of your eyes, you stop looking.

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Why Marketers Need to be Farmers not Hunters


This is a long post so if you are in a hurry or you want a shareable copy CLICK HERE to get the PDF version for free.

When we create marketing strategy we face an internal tension between the immediate need to hunt sales and the long term business case to farm relationships.

It’s a tension Apple faced back in the 90s, but thanks to a clear vision of where they needed to take their brand, the right approach won the day.

Apple’s success today is the result of nearly 20 years of clear, consistent brand building; a process that required as much discipline to say “no” to short term demands as it was “yes” to new ideas and innovation.

Apple had to sell the idea of marketing to a low-spend category of customers (students and teachers) as opposed to high end road warriors. Apple had to sell a vision that would take years to effect with its K-12 education strategy, summer camps at Apple Stores and student discounts.

But that forfeit paid off.

When I graduated University back in the 90s, everything was PC. Mac users were left handed architects and designers. Fast forward 20 years and the situation has flipped on its head. Students graduate, bring their Macs to work with them, become IT managers and the beachhead grows.

Who could have called it back then?

Rather than face these awkward decisions most brands would rather “watch the birdie” and concentrate on the window dressing of Apple’s success, factors like “design thinking” than look at what really goes on behind the curtain.

I believe this is a distraction that keeps most brands committed to hand-to-mouth hunter existence of building relationships.


By: Cliff

Hunters chase their quarry.

Farmers sit and wait.

In industry terms, hunting is far sexier, carries far more appeal and glamor than simply sitting and waiting it out.

We like to pick up our spears and go chase down the next big thing, that one killer app, that insight, that silver bullet that will change everything.

The problem is endemic: we are an industry of hunters by training.

We live in a world where people would rather spend their money on a quick-fix diet, learn Chinese in 15 minutes a day or hack their way to a happier life.

When our back is against the wall and we need to get numbers for the next quarterly review, we go hunting: we commission viral videos; we ask the social media agency to push this link out to the Facebook page.

It’s easier to outsource the whole marketing plan to a funky award winning agency who’ll jazz up your design philosophy than it is to sit down and develop a clear vision of where the brand needs to be and go within a generation.

What hope is there for long term relationship building when most brand managers are lucky to get 2 years in their role at the company?


By: Stacie

In reality, most brands are 80/20 in their marketing activities. They spend 80% (and up) of their budget on hunting.

Successful brands, however, are 80% farming, 20% hunting, if not more.

Perhaps the reason most brands don’t farm is because farming requires doing the work.

In marketing terms, “doing the work” means going out to the community, building a presence at the frontline, growing an organic brand.

Doing the work means making a choice between what’s important long term and what’s popular right here right now e.g:
1) Building your own retail store vs treating retail as a sales channel
2) Building your own organic community vs paying a social media agency to hijack Facebook
3) Creating your own event vs buying headline sponsorship at someone else’s
4) Nurturing athletes in your scene vs buying celebrity endorsers to pretend they use your products

In these 4 examples, doing the work means you can’t simply pick the hottest, agency du jour and tell them to come back when they’ve finished your campaign. You have to be part of the creative process, if not the owner of it.

The other reason most brands continue to hunt despite the obvious benefits is short-termism. When I talk about farming relationships, clients sometimes say “well, that’s all well and good but I need results tomorrow, how do I do that?”

There isn’t an easy answer to this question, at least one that some clients are willing to hear.

It’s the same question I used to hear years ago as a financial adviser when clients would protest,
“I can’t afford to save $100 a month!”

What I found was that either people saved or they didn’t. These aren’t skills you can train people to understand, these are world views deep rooted in their psyche and formed at a young age. Let’s just say, it comes down to whether they “got” the story about “3 Little Pigs” or not.


Subway Ad Fail

In the absence of clear leadership, hunting always wins: business gravitates to the lowest common denominator, marketing opts for the line of least resistance.

Subway sandwiches built a student brand over 20 years using stories like that of Jared Fogle: the guy who lost 100lbs on the “Subway Diet”. But like many brands, Subway got greedy and took shortcuts. The most famous example was the ad campaign showing how big their baguettes were. It’s only when somebody pointed out that the girl holding up the baguette in the ad was actually a midget* that customers realized they were being tricked.

Nokia built one of the most recognized brands in the world. Much of the brand’s appeal lay in the foundations it grew in the youth market and the fan base of enthusiasts they won over through the ground-breaking 3 series. Check out the countless homages to the indestructible Nokia on Youtube. But, like Subway, in the face of competition Nokia became impatient and tried to short cut its success. Rather than farm the numerous real world relationships it had built organically it employed shills like Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga to launch the Lumia.


When the success and failure of the brand is down to how deep and far you can sustain the hunting, marketing becomes little more than a business function you can assign to a department.

This is how it used to be. As a function, marketing is easily outsourced.

But, when you realize that marketing isn’t a department but the r’aison d’etre of business then the organization lives to support the marketing, not the other way round.

Steve Jobs (Apple), Nick Woodman (GoPro), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Tony Hsieh (Zappos) and Mark Hall (Monster) are all marketers, long term visionaries and farmers.

When you have the guy at the top buying into this philosophy you also have a culture that has both time and space to farm relationships.

And the time to start farming is now.

Farming is an investment in long term relationships. Like all investments, you can’t expect results tomorrow.

Like saving, start small and start building the internal business case for the approach. Once you have demonstrated success, bang the drum to assign more hunting resources over to farming.

As the Chinese Proverb reads, “The best time to plant a seed is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a seed is today.”

*Sorry, I don’t know what the PC term is these days, so I guess somebody’s going to predictably call me out on this.

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Social Media Trend Alert: Thin Connections


In 1985, the average American had 3 close friends.

By 2004, that number dropped to just 1.

We have more social media friends but less real world friends.

Our networks are broader yet thinner.

The numbers say we have more friends than ever but increasingly our feelings tell us otherwise.

14-17 year olds have 1500 listed as friends on Facebook, but have only interacted with 155 of these “friends” in real life (source: MobileYouth Report).

25% of people surveyed said they have no one to confide in.


The difference isn’t just one of quantity, it’s quality.

87% of 14-17 year olds would share a secret with their real life friends, compared to 13% who would share it with Facebook-only friends (source: MobileYouth).

Not all connections are the same.

Our social networks are wider but our connections are thinner.

Social connection is becoming more functional and less emotional. We have more online friends but less “real” friends offline.

While we seek out broader networks we crave deeper relationships, real meaningful friendships that you cannot necessarily find on social media.


It’s easy to get a million followers. I know a guy on Fiverr that will give crank up your Facebook Page to six figures for around $10. $15 and he’ll do a 2-for-1 offer on your Twitter feed too.

Social media is easy.

It’s easy to send an Christmas E-card to a valued client.

It’s easy to send a birthday text to a customer.

It’s easy to click LIKE and follow Krispy Kreme on Facebook.

Because it’s easy it also erodes the value.

Easy simply spreads the value out thinly across the network making every single connection worthless.


By contrast, in the era of Thin Connections, we come to place a premium on the stuff that is hard.

It’s hard to send a hand written letter but when you get one, you almost always open it.

It’s hard to send a handmade card but when you get one, you feel important.

It’s hard for the marketing manager to pick up the phone and call you back when you submit a complaint online, but when you get that call, you almost always tell your friends about how you were impressed with the service.

Getting customers to look at your communication; creating emotional connections with customers; brand recommendation.

These are all the things brands strive for today.

Don’t kid yourself thinking that you can get there by pressing buttons and doing the easy work.

If you want to make a difference in marketing, if you want you brand to mean anything, you have to do the hard stuff.

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