You’ve seen the movies, the colourful boxes at the toy store, and you might’ve even been to one of its many theme parks. That’s right, we’re talking about LEGO – the Danish-owned toy manufacturer of over 400 billion interlocking bricks that have entertained kids and adults alike for nearly a century.
But did you know that not too long ago – faced with stiff competition and the challenges of digital disruption – the 85-year-old brand faced the possibility of bankruptcy?
At CeBIT Australia 2018, Lars Silberbauer, Senior Global Director of Social Media and Video at the LEGO Group, shared the story of how the world’s most-loved toy company propelled itself from a state of near irrelevance to a powerful brand that today connects with 30 million fans on YouTube monthly.
From simple bricks to thinking like kids
At its lowest point in 2004, LEGO was nearly $1 billion in debt, had fired 1,000 people and had sold the Legoland amusement parks to Merlin Entertainments Group.
LEGO’s then leader, Jorgen Vik Knudsdorp, felt that the company had lost sight of the foundation of its success: the basic LEGO brick.
Vik Knudsdorp figured that kids still wanted to play with their hands, even in an age of video games and iPads, so in a bid to confirm his suspicions, Knudstorp handed over creative direction to the fans of the brand.
And that’s when LEGO began to discover the power of listening to its consumers.
Once a powerful, but conservative brand, LEGO moved away from the simpler designs of yesteryear to tie-ins with video games and spinoffs from popular culture, including collaborations with famous film franchises Star Wars and Harry Potter.
But it wasn’t enough to just revamp the product. LEGO’s goal was to adapt to, predict and create change in the digital landscape and build a sustainable competitive advantage that would carry across the generations.
They found that the best way to achieve this goal was to put themselves in their audience’s shoes, and, in fact, think like kids.
“Too often, a child’s imagination is seen as merely a passing phase of childhood that has little to do with the real work of learning. Too often, we educate the imagination out of children, thinking it has no practical role in how they ultimately perceive the world and create meaning in it,” said Silberbauer. “The fact is, most of us don’t know how the world is gonna look like in six months, and we need to, as kids do, explore the possibilities.”
The power of user-generated content
Once LEGO recognised that their toys provided a way to bring imaginations to life, they could build a brand that helped people – kids and adults alike – tell the stories they wanted to tell.
Then they discovered that when people used LEGO toys to create their own magic, they would typically upload images of their creations onto digital platforms.
The power of the LEGO brand and experience suddenly centred around its ability to enable user-generated content that spread itself on social media. To take advantage of this, Silberbauer developed a digital strategy guided by three core principles:
- Social needs
- Value creation
- Real-time relevance
According to Silberbauer, in the toy industry, there are two lines of communication for brands to take: to parents, and to kids. After some research, he understood that there were two social needs LEGO needed to home in on:
- Building together – the fact that LEGO fans enjoy sharing and playing with their toys together.
- Pride of creation – how proud kids and adults are of their unique LEGO builds, to the point where they want to share their creations on social media.
Applying these two principles to its social media strategy, LEGO created events such as building competitions, which spurred the joy of collaboration and creativity in its fans.
In one notable example – as part of an educational collaboration between the toy company and NASA – Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa built a LEGO model of the International Space Station while on board the real space station.
After piecing the toy brick station together, Furukawa used it as a demonstration for a series of recorded videos meant to engage and educate children about living and working in space.
“Social is not about investing money, but about investing in your brand,” said Silberbauer.
Silberbauer wanted his team to think more about the dynamic of the content and not just the spend available. This led to the conception of the “$100 campaign”, where his team was challenged to conceive a marketing programme for under $100.
The point of the $100 campaign, from the company’s perspective, is that it doesn’t have to cost much to help customers derive value from what they’re doing with their LEGO creations.
One such campaign celebrated LEGO’s Life of George range, and involved the company inviting members of the public to create the George character and take pictures of him in different cities. Within 24 hours, LEGO fans all over the world had taken pictures of George visiting Spain, Hollywood and Rome among other locations.
“It’s about engaging with customers on different levels and helping them see the difference they can make,” said Silberbauer.
It can take a while to plan impactful campaigns, but staying relevant by responding in real time was something that Silberbauer said marketers must consider in their strategies.
"It used to be that people would come up with a campaign and run it a month or two into the future. That doesn't work anymore," he said.
As proof of the success of real-time engagement on social media, LEGO gained ⅓ of their then 320,000 Twitter followers in 2015 when they devised a clever social content strategy to keep their followers engaged during the famous Comic-Con convention.
That year, they also tweeted an image of their iconic Star Wars minifigures, pictured standing in line to see the film The Force Awakens, the day before the movie’s premiere, resulting in more than 8,200 total interactions.
Lego’s social value in numbers
These principles have worked well in LEGO’s favour, and their strategies have resulted in some pretty phenomenal results today:
- LEGO’s Youtube subscriber count more than quadrupled (from approx. 70,000 to 300,000) in 2017 alone.
- The brand boasts a 7.5 million daily reach on social media.
- LEGO can reach up to 36 million people organically with a single social media post.
LEGO’s success with social media comes from deeply understanding the relevance and value of social media and how it strengthens their marketing goals, creates brand awareness, and improves sales.
But more than that, LEGO has looked outside the box when it came to social content creation, allowing its customers to become the stars of their content, and demonstrating what it means to truly be customer-centric in marketing.
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