Colourful bricksAt GasPedal’s Supergenius event, Ant’s Eye View Chief Strategy Officer Jake McKee shared his experiences as Global Community Relations Specialist at the LEGO Group. It’s an amazing case study of a 180-degree shift from company-centric culture to a customer-centric culture. Once the company started thinking about their higher calling — LEGOs as a creative medium — sales went through the roof. Here’s how it played out:

Before:

  • LEGO was a “fort business” whose culture was largely walled off from the world.
  • Each year, LEGO went to Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart and Target and asked the retailers what they wanted LEGO to make. Often, the retailers said they didn’t know.
  • The company didn’t accept unsolicited product ideas, largely out of fear of being sued.
  • LEGO’s target market was boys aged 7 to 12. Adult fans were considered weird.
  • Their attitude was “We’re too busy doing business to answer your e-mail.”
  • The company was losing money in 2002.

After:

  • LEGO began by listening to their “minority passionistas” and fans of multiple ages.
  • They invited their most enthusiastic users, adult fans, to share their feedback and ideas.
  • They realized they needed to focus on creating a better building experience.
  • LEGO set about enabling users to design their own sets, which they can now receive in custom boxes.
  • This led to cooler, more expensive sets such as a $500, 500-piece “Star Wars” product.
  • By 2007, LEGO was highly profitable and was the cover story of Wired Magazine in February 2006.
  • Taking this to another level, they are now developing a massively multiplayer online game, LEGO Universe, which will be released in 2010.

In response to the question “What were the initial steps you took to bring about this shift?” McKee shared his insights into the process:

  • There was not much boardroom activity.
  • The company Jake and his team learned slowly, achieving “success by 1000 papercuts.” They did the smallest things they could get away with, then turned those results into a case study, and those case studies grew over time.
  • Tenacity was essential.

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16 Responses to “LEGO’s mind shift from company to consumer”

  1. In many of the places I’ve worked for, “listening to customers” is seen as a failing on the part of product development. “If we’re just going to let any-old person design our stuff, why do we pay you guys?”
    However, as social media brings connectedness front-and-center, the guys in the boardroom might start realizing that good ideas from the outside compliment good ideas from the inside.

  2. James Ball says:

    Excellent post Merritt! I love the before-and-after format. I wrote about Jake and LEGO 11 days ago on my blog. More interviews/video/Etc. Jake stopped in and commented as well. The book “The Cluetrain Manifesto” had much to do with how Jake went about the transformation that you speak of here. I added the main Theses (95 of them) from the book, and a link to the entire book online. Perhaps you and your readers would find the article useful! It is here http://noteasytoforget.com/2009/12/learning-social-media-from-lego/ Mr. McKee says that he’d love it if more people were aware of the book!

  3. Jake McKee says:

    Great post, and thanks for the write-up!

    One point of clarification though. When you said: “The company did the smallest things”, I’d point out that it wasn’t so much “the company” that was making these small things happen, it was me and the small team I was part of. If we had more wide-scale support (as exists today), we wouldn’t have needed to start so low key. As it was, we had a lot of resistance to work through, and therefore we choose the Success by 1000 Paper Cuts route in order to help get things done without getting bogged down in approval processes.

    Thanks again for the write-up!

  4. Merritt Colaizzi says:

    Good point, Doug. And James, thanks for the link to your related post. I like how you spell out the 85 theses of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which I shamefully neglected to mention. Take a look, folks http://noteasytoforget.com/2009/12/learning-social-media-from-lego/- you’ll be amazed at how spot on those tenets are 11 years hence! We’re finally catching up. Last, but certainly not least, thanks for the correction, Jake — it’s a key distinction and I’ve clarified above. I really enjoyed your session at Supergenius.

  5. Ajay Tejwani says:

    I was also there for the supergenius presentation and Jake had a very engaging presentation.

    I also know that getting things in a large organization can be bigger challenge than what it look. So, sharing small success and engaging the right stakeholders on the way are part of making social media a success in organizations.

    Not to forget, a progressive IT team also helps tremendously.

    Thanks,

    Ajay

  6. Felicia says:

    Thanks for this post. Not only was it interesting, but it was written clearly and concisely. Like so many other people, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about social media and it’s so refreshing to find a case study that gets to the point without all the hype. Thank you!

  7. Great post, and great case study. Another good point to remember is that Lego was an early adopter in creating an amazing social network for kids that is a trusted and secure space.

  8. Lego Universe is seriously cool! I don’t play MMORPGs, but I would consider this one. Funny that Lego was not taking adult buyers seriously for so long. Who pays for the set that is gifted to a child?!? Just look at video games; 24- to 40-year old men buy the majority of new games and consoles. Nice post!

  9. Lego Universe looks great. I’ve never been a fan of MMORPGs, but I would consider this one. Surprised to learn that Lego never took adult customer feedback seriously. Who is gonna buy the sets to gift to children?!? The overwhelming majority of video game purchases are made by men aged 24-40. Glad lego got the message!

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