Take a look at this abandoned Victorian home.
Now, take a closer look. What appears to be a Photoshop masterpiece or a realist painting was created entirely in Lego. Even the trees and vegetation were made from standard Lego pieces, selected and constructed by New York–based artist Mike Doyle.
Lego: Breaking away by staying true
by Mich Bergesen and Albert Kugel, Landor
The modest studded Lego brick, patented over 50 years ago, has come a long way from its roots in the sleepy Danish town of Billund. Lego has prevented product obsolescence and turned itself into the building toy medium of choice by staying true to a few basic principles. If you can imagine it, it's probably been expressed in Lego. Lego started a creative revolution that goes way beyond the toy aisle, one that appeals to every age group.
Lego's ability to tap into the universal human desire for creative expression is the key to its sustained success. According to Y&R's BrandAsset® Valuator, Lego's brand strength rose 29 percent between 2009 and 2012, making it one of the top 10 risers among almost 3,000 brands tracked. Additionally, Lego placed in the 98th percentile of all brands in Landor Associates' Breakaway Brands® study. Meanwhile, its closest competitor in the construction toy category, Mega Bloks, sits at the 62nd percentile of all brands in terms of brand strength.
The brand's rise hasn't been a story of linear growth, however. It can be told in roughly three parts:
- Worlds of adventure
Lego's first extensions built on its early success as a construction toy. It launched a wide range of play sets depicting imaginative worlds from kingdoms of knights and castles to scenes of the Wild West, pirates, and futuristic space exploration.
- High profile partnerships
The second chapter positioned the brand as a broader platform for popular content. Starting in the late 90s, Lego signed deals with high-profile entertainment franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, partnerships that continue to be a central plank of the brand's strategy today. However, the company lost some focus during this period with a flurry of internally managed extensions into theme parks, apparel, video games, and digital offerings.
- Simplified business structure
The most recent chapter followed poor earnings in the early to mid-2000s, which led the company to refocus on its core strengths. Attesting to the overall success of this strategy, Landor's research data shows the brand regaining strength in recent years, following a period of stagnation.
External restructuring included spinning off the theme parks and turning over the video game businesses to licensees. Internal reorganization accelerated product development from two years to one year. The company also reduced the number of types of bricks it was manufacturing from a high of around 12,000—which included a lot of bulky pieces that were getting away from the standard building brick—to below 8,000 in 2008. This simplified business operations and allowed the business to efficiently continue the brand's central mission of providing a tangible, universal creative medium to all its audiences.
Also, the brand that was traditionally seen as a boy's construction toy has extended its appeal to girls through the Lego Friends line, which includes five female characters, play scenes, and accessories.
The company's dalliance with its own digital offerings that began in the '90s continued until 2010, when it finally abandoned efforts to launch a massive multiplayer game to challenge popular online building platforms such as Minecraft. Instead, Lego began to bring digital entities with strong followings into its own orbit. For example, it now offers physical Lego Minecraft sets, which launched this summer to instant acclaim. Lego also curates a Facebook page that invites fans to post photos of their Minecraft-inspired creations.
This integration of on- and offline activity has pervaded every part of the business. Lego licensees still release video games inspired by action heroes like Batman, but Lego also lets kids play as much offline as online, with Batman Lego sets and minifigures.
The company fuels user-generated content by giving online builders the tools they need to bring Lego creations to life. Creators animate and share their models via a storytelling app, and consumer-generated films from loyal and enthusiastic fans can be shared on Lego's website and social media platforms.
The brand supports a lively online ecosystem. On Facebook, fans chatter about the most recent Lego minifigures. On photo-centric social platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram, users from around the world share photos of their masterfully-built creations. Lego is a regular fixture on Wired.com, and Gawker Media's Gizmodo blog has a category dedicated to adult users called "," the Danish phrase for "let's play," from which the name Lego originated.
The brand's overarching commitment to creativity is also seen in its approach to retail environments. Having sold its amusement parks, the company focuses its brick-and-mortar strategy on small retail stores in high-traffic areas, where kids not only can buy the models, but can also pick and choose individual pieces from colorful containers and play with them right in the store at a workspace. Additionally, the stores regularly hold workshops that are enjoyed by kids and parents alike.
Ultimately, Lego may become marketing's greatest example of user-generated content. A powerful example is Lego's foray into the art world. In 2007, a lawyer named Nathan Sawaya quit his day job to become a Lego artist. His exhibition, "Art of the Brick" has traveled around the world, and his art has sold for serious amounts of money. Today, a vibrant community of Lego artists showcases the brick's power as a tangible creative medium.
Continuing to provide an unconstrained medium to all audiences and channels will present many challenges—not least, managing user-created content with care and clarity of purpose to protect the brand's reputation. But based on Lego's success thus far, we believe the brand will continue to break out by simply staying true to its roots.
This article was first published in the Licensing Book (17 December 2013).
© 2013 Adventure Holdings Group LLC. All rights reserved.