“Don’t run a campaign, create a stage”, this is how Lars Silberbauer built LEGO’s social media presence into the world’s most powerful brand in 2015, according to Forbes. Silberbauer is in South Africa for the BCX Disrupt conference and also spoke at an Entelect networking session about how the company re-invented itself from a traditional toy manufacturer into a media and entertainment giant. Just ten years ago LEGO was nearly broke and after new leadership stepped in to drive cultural shifts and radical product development ideas is today the world’s largest toy company.
Fundamental to this turnaround was a change in mindset that re-oriented them back to their true customer. Says Silberbauer they rewired themselves to “think like kids” which brought their imagination back to life and shifted marketing spend away from traditional channels like TV and heavily into social media platforms. They were first movers on the Facebook sticker platform, which they used to insert controlled media content into personalised user conversations. LEGO also invested heavily in Russian social media platforms and their GIFs acheived 1.2Bn downloads. Not everything worked; an overly sophisticated LEGO avatar that responded to user’s facial expressions achieved only 251 downloads.
Such learning from failures was also part of their new organisational culture, which also values empowerment, diversity and agility so they can embrace and adapt to change rather than be disrupted by it. LEGO has become the most engaging brand in the world because they leverage the creative power of the crowd, and regularly tap into the imaginations of young customers and even adult master builders through multiple channels. An example of this was the Kronkiwongi project which featured uncasted videos of unscripted kids building unplanned constructions; their mind’s definition of something that even Google couldn’t describe.
Kronkiwongi was aimed to teach parents and kids that LEGO comes in highly successful, branded sets such as Ninjago, City and Technic but these shouldn’t live on the shelf in the form of the last step of the instructions – kids should regularly break them down and rebuild freely and creatively. This is the brilliance of “the stage” social media marketing strategy; a free and uninhibited space for kids to fill creatively with countless different types of inter-locking blocks – of which LEGO have made 400 billion in their lifetime. Interestingly the man who ran quality control at LEGO factories for 15 years was headhunted by Elon Musk to help build the new Gigafactory; a mega-scale lithium battery manufacturing plant that needed the precision engineering standards perfected at LEGO – only 18 Lego bricks per million fail quality control.
Silberbauer and his globally distributed team use these principles to ensure that today’s LEGO brand is an always-on, multi-dimensional presence that inhabits the digital lives of its customers; mostly young children but increasingly older and nostalgic adults who, like myself, grew up on earlier versions of LEGO. This global brand reinvention is a toy story with a happy ending; another generation gets to experience and inhabit the world of the brick – a daily invention of their limitless imagination and a success story with lessons for any business that needs to revitalise its product development.