Then & Now: How Fans Changed The Face Of LEGO's Marketing Strategy

LEGO has been a household name for over seventy years, but it has taken the company more than half a century to learn that fans can be a brand’s best marketing tool. In the earlier part of this decade, LEGO began looking beyond their target customer base of kids and learned that their adult fan base was one of the best marketing tools they could ever ask for. Read on to learn how LEGO has used their die hard fans to spread LEGO love and shift their marketing strategy in social media and beyond.

The History

At the Word of Mouth Supergenius conference in December 2009 Jake McKee, a former LEGO “Community Person” who now works at Ant’s Eye View, talked about the history of LEGO and their attitude towards their customers. Watch the video of McKee’s lecture below.

For decades the toy company turned a blind eye to their customers and fans, living by the credo “We don’t accept unsolicited ideas.” They did not talk to their customers, and they did not accept ideas for new products, comments or suggestions. Rather, they lived in their own little world, creating products based on what they believed consumers wanted.

This mentality was fine, until the Christmas season of 1999/2000 rolled around and the company’s largest sellers – Walmart, Target and Toys R Us – told the company that they didn’t know their customers. Sure, LEGO has historically been a kids’ toy. However, more and more adult fans were rallying around LEGO and the company was not paying attention to this market at all.

Adult LEGO fans were starting their own discussion groups online, creating their own online marketplaces to buy and sell LEGO, sharing pictures of LEGO creations and even getting coverage on the news. However, LEGO was stubborn– they stuck to their guns, claiming that LEGO is for kids. They wrote these adult fans off as “weird” and didn’t realize the marketing potential that was looking them right in the face.

It took awhile, but eventually LEGO began paying attention to these fans and it was one of the best things that could have possibly happened for their business. LEGO began reaching out to fans through social media as well as through LEGO brand communities.

Tormod Askildsen, Head of Community Development at LEGO, talks about the company’s realization that LEGO could benefit from their fans in an interview with Ericsson:

“At first, we didn’t really like it and we were a bit concerned about the various information that started to appear on different Internet pages. This was mainly because we weren’t used to it and didn’t know how to deal with it. But then we realized that we could actually benefit from it.

“It is important for us to build personal relationships with LEGO fans and to have a dialog with those who are really interested in our products. We obviously don’t have big social platforms with millions of users like Facebook or LinkedIn, but our LEGO brand communities are definitely an important compliment to our research and development programs.”

The LEGO Ambassador Program

The first way that LEGO turned to fans to help strengthen the company and their product was through the LEGO Ambassador Program. The Ambassador program is made up of forty LEGO fans, aged 19 to 65, from around the world. LEGO has built personal relationships with these fans and turn to them for ideas and advice.

Askildsen says, “People from my team communicate with this group more or less on a daily basis, discussing different themes, ideas or to brainstorm. The ambassadors report on our discussions on blogs, create picture galleries and have further discussions with their local LEGO group members.”

With the Ambassador Program, LEGO has opened up a channel for conversation with its biggest fans and that is one of the key things that every brand should be doing. If you don’t open up the conversation then you are missing out on helpful suggestions from the people that matter most – your customers. Social media is one of the best vehicles for opening a channel of communication between you and your customers.

The LEGO Click Community and Beyond

Earlier this year, LEGO made its official foray into the world of social media with LEGO Click. LEGO Click is a collaborative website that encourages fans, artists, designers and inventors to share their own LEGO creations. The site encourages users to share content, including photos and videos created with LEGO, with friends.

LEGO Click visitors can also read recent Tweets about LEGO, or download the free LEGO Photo iPhone application that transforms your photos into LEGO creations. Users can also login to the site using their Twitter account and fly a Mini LEGO man around the screen.

The LEGO Click community opens new channels for fans and is an innovative way to get people talking about LEGO, trying out new things and creating viral content such as videos and pictures that will spread the word about LEGO. The great thing about fan-created content is that it’s free advertising for the company!

The Outcome

According to Jake McKee of Ant’s Eye View, LEGO has never seen such tremendous success as they have in the past few years, since they began taking advantage of their most valuable resource – their fans. Not only have they received more coverage on the Internet, through the proliferation of cool LEGO pictures and fan-made viral videos, but have also turned feedback into new products. They have begun selling more products geared towards adults, such as a $500 5,000 piece Star Wars LEGO set, complete with a cool game to promote it, and an option for fans to design and purchase their own original sets. LEGO is booming as fans, kids and adults alike, are embracing the toy company’s new outlook, and as LEGO continues to embrace their fans from all ages and walks of life.

The Moral

LEGO’s story makes the necessity of opening a conversation with your customers undeniable. When you have a solid fan base in place you are only hurting yourself by not tapping into it. Open channels of communication with your biggest fans via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ask your customers for feedback, listen to what they have to say and plan your future products and campaigns accordingly. Only then can you truly maximize your brand’s potential (and your revenue). How has your company or brand used social media to communicate with your consumers? Has LEGO’s story inspired you to do more?

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite LEGO-inspired videos that have gone viral and helped to spread the word about LEGO all over the web. Enjoy!