How listening saved LEGO from impending doom

You may not know this, but a few years ago LEGO nearly folded – and what a sad prospect that is.

But, of course, it didn’t. But, how did it save itself from a fast-tracked global demise?

Well, it involves digital data, insight, innovation – but mainly – listening to people and understanding how they think, how they feel.

Featured Image VIA

The video below explains one of LEGO’s fresh and forward-thinking culture of co-creation, blurring the lines between business and consumer…

Personally, I reckon this collaborative mindset is the way forward for many of today’s modern businesses.

But back to LEGO’s impending demise. Back in 1989, the rise of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong first saw unsettlement in the LEGO camp, as those in the driving seat believed that this new breed of side-swiping game would cause new generations to lose interest in building blocks altogether.

But, despite these worries, LEGO ticked along steadily – for a while.

When Martin Lindstrom started advising the company in 2004, he noticed that LEGO had increasingly moved away from building blocks and instead, was trying to compete by focusing on theme parks, kids clothing lines, video games, books, magazines, television programs and retail stores.

And according to Lindstrom, during this same period, the head honchos decided that considering how impatient, impulsive and flaky millennials apparently were, LEGO should start manufacturing bigger bricks. They did, too.

The business studied steams or digital and offline data, coming to the grand conclusion (for the second time), that future generations would lose interest in LEGO altogether.

Action was needed – but the exact course of action wasn’t clear.

But, something happened that changed everything – and it involved a beaten up old pair of trainers.

Yes, you read that right. In 2004, LEGO marketers paid a visit the home of an 11-year-old lad in a midsized German city to find out what really made LEGO stand out.

In Martin Lindstrom’s full article, he explains what happened:

In addition to being a LEGO aficionado, the 11-year-old German boy was also a passionate skateboarder. Asked at one point which of his possessions he was the most proud of, he pointed to a pair of beat-up Adidas sneakers with ridges and nooks on one side. Those sneakers were his trophy, he said. They were his gold medal. They were his masterpiece. More than that, the sneakers were evidence. Holding them up so everyone in the room could see and admire them, he explained that one side was worn down and abraded at precisely the right ankle. The heels were scuffed and planed in an unmistakable way. The entire look of the sneakers, and the impression they conveyed to the world, was perfect: it signaled to him, to his friends and to the rest of the world that he was one of the best skateboarders in the city.

From this encounter, LEGO soon realised that their preconceptions of younger generations craving instant gratification were in the main, quite off the mark.

LEGO’s new-found understanding dictated that children attain social currency among their peers by playing and achieving a high level of proficiency at their chosen skill, whatever it might be. If a skill is valuable, and worth sticking at, youngsters will stick with it until they get it perfect, and time is not an issue.

Armed with this fresh information, LEGO not only re-engineered its bricks back to their regular size but started adding even more, even smaller, blocks to their products. The bricks, in turn, became more detailed, the instruction manuals more challenging, and the construction skill far more labour-intensive.

The result? Around 10 years after this discovery, LEGO’s sales increased 11% to exceed the $2 billion mark. And, for the first time in history, LEGO had surpassed Mattel to become the world’s biggest toy-maker.

Okay, the LEGO movie had something to do with this success, but the demand would not have been there if it wasn’t for the company’s critical tweaks, changes, and growth over the decade leading up to its box office smash.

All in all, this is a lesson in listening. In today’s digital world, data, stats and metrics are essential to the evolution of brands and businesses, but without stopping to look, listen and connect with your audience on a human level, you may just miss a trick – the kind of trick that can make or break you.

I’m sure LEGO would agree.


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