LEGO sees its consumers as its real product development and marketing gurus
Listening to the customer has always been a key component of any successful business. Ensuring that you’re generating products that they want, communicating effectively with them on the problems that matter to them; and most importantly of all, ensuring they come back time and time again and spread the word to their friends.
However, the colourful plastic building blocks known as LEGO don’t just do this, it embodies such an idea, living it in every pore of the business.
And that’s why in 2013 it had a turnover of $4,519 million. It’s also why it’s immensely popular with children, teens, and adults and has stood the test of time as one of the most popular toys in the world – still, doesn’t make the pain any less when you accidentally stand on one. Even LEGO’s CEO Jørgen Vig believes that placing consumers at the heart of the LEGO development process is crucial to growing the brand and keeping it strong for years to come.
“The Lego community, like the basic interchangeable plastic brick, is one of the company’s core assets,” Jørgen Vig explained to Harvard Business Review. “I think I realized the power of customer contributions in 2005, when the company started involving a couple of enthusiastic fans in product development and I started systematically meeting with adult fans of Lego. Since then, we’ve actively encouraged our fans to interact with us and suggest product ideas. An amazing number of grown-ups like to play with Legos. While we have 120 staff designers, we potentially have probably 120,000 volunteer designers we can access outside the company to help us invent… Perhaps most important [sic], these super-users can articulate the product strengths and weaknesses that young children may sense but can’t express.”
It’s understandable why LEGO has been working with its global community, even making use of an active thirteen years or older set of consultants about future products and ways to effectively reach their desired target audience. It makes sense too as LEGO users have a deep knowledge of the product – some, dwarfing that of those who actually work there. They also can provide new perspectives that many inside the company couldn’t see so easily, and they’re so vast and widespread that there’s skills and capabilities there that nobody in your organisation could even dream of having.
Speaking at Marketing Week Live ’14, LEGO head of co-creation, content and campaign, Peter Espersen mentioned how some of the LEGO consumers who provide vital feedback to their products are space engineers, digital strategists, even government covert agents. To paraphrase Liam Neesson (although from Taken, and not The LEGO Movie) these people have a specific set of skills, skills they’ve acquired over a long career; skills that make them indispensable for your business.
So, to make it far easier for this knowledge sharing to take place, and for pet projects to flourish, LEGO utilises the LEGO Ideas platform – formerly known as CUUSOO. Here anybody can submit an idea, along with proof of concept, for a new range of LEGO sets. The public then votes on what designs they want most, along with sticking a price in for what they think it’s worth, and then the LEGO board reviews it and approves them if they fit the criteria for a successful product. Through LEGO Ideas the popular Minecraft sets have come about, along with Back to the Future and Ghostbusters sets too.
Of course, those who submit the ideas that become reality also get a cut of the profits, so it’s in their interest to create something that will do well.
And this is why LEGO’s latest project, the ExoSuit, is being created purely through the community. They’re responsible for absolutely everything, marketing, promotion, development, etc., all with general guidance from LEGO to ensure things are on track.
It may sound weird, but LEGO see this as the future of product development and marketing. They have a point too as the success of The LEGO Movie was because of the huge community involvement. Before the first trailer even aired, promotional material created by the community had reached an audience of 55 million people.
So, using postman Peter Reid’s idea for creating an ExoSuit out of LEGO, they put together a team of community members and Peter and got to work on creating this new LEGO line. The fact that having such a diverse base fans really makes the project work effectively. They created a marketing campaign that encouraged families to get the LEGO out of the attic and build space sets, they even wrote a LEGO Space novel and created a short trailer for the ExoSuit set. Blog posts are being written, and their active participation as LEGO community members has only helped spread the word about the upcoming set more.
According to LEGO’s head of community business, Daivia Staneikaite Nadal, the biggest challenge in all of this was figuring out how to set up the company to work as a community-led business. As they move forward, the business will shift to provide even greater focus on their customers and fans.
The greatest advice Nadal could give was to tell every brand that 99 per cent of brand talent doesn’t work for the company at all, it’s all in the community and they can pull off some incredible stuff. You really need to let control go of your brand and let fans take charge, they won’t rip it to shreds if they respect your business. Staying closed off to community ideas and interaction only damages your brand in this day and age.
Espersen’s closing remarks sum it up the best, “product development will no longer happen in-house, instead it will be entirely social.”[Image: Steve McCoy – Flickr]