Believe it or not: when Sara Riis-Carstensen started working for LEGO, nobody at the company cared about brand strategy. Luckily, she managed to turn things around, transforming LEGO into the most powerful brand in the world (according to Brand Finance).
So how can you build and maintain a strong brand, even in times of crisis? Sara told us all about it during her BAM keynote Building a Meaningful Brand, Brick by Brick.
Trying to be relevant for all? You’ll become nothing to no one!
At the end of the nineties, LEGO’s founder set an ambitious goal: becoming relevant for everyone, everywhere. And since not everyone likes to build, he expanded his product range massively, for instance with clothing and jewellery. But that didn’t work, because in the early 2000s, the toy giant was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Sara explains: “If you try to be everything for everyone, you’ll become nothing to no one.” Basically, LEGO failed to address its core customers and neglected its core business, all because of a mindless brand expansion strategy.
So how did they fix this? LEGO, as a brand, had to answer a simple question: “If we went out of business, what would people actually miss?”. The little brick it all started with.
With that example, Sara illustrates what every strong brand has in common: a strong purpose. Or as she puts it: “The superpower of a brand lies in their core purpose”. In LEGO’s case, that goal has always been creativity. Inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow.
So by going back to its core, LEGO managed to avoid bankruptcy. But spoiler alert: that wouldn’t be their last brand crisis.
LEGO’s marketing to girls, and the public outrage that followed
LEGO used to have a hard time marketing to girls. So in a bid to turn things around, they did a four-year long study, leading to a dual conclusion:
- Girls’ greatest concern is beauty
- Girls like to build, but prefer roleplaying
That’s how LEGO Friends was born. A new brand line, focusing on beauty and fashion, showcasing slimmer figures instead of the usually blocky ones. But … boom: LEGO got bombarded with angry parents, criticising its reinforcement of gender stereotypes and body dissatisfaction.
Of course, this public outrage didn’t come out of nowhere. There was a bigger trend going on, promoting diversity, gender neutrality, and so on. LEGO failed to take this into account, resulting in a tone-deaf product launch.
But despite the controversy, LEGO Friends ultimately became one of their biggest successes. How? By rethinking the entire LEGO Friends brand, making it more diverse, inclusive and edgy. In other words: by embracing the change.
Keeping up with constant change
“How to stay familiar and fresh, when the only constant at the moment is change?”, Sara asks. And not just that, she continues, because “the velocity of today’s change makes things even more complicated”. Meaning: what’s in today, is out tomorrow.
Well, ignoring change is not an option. It’s best to embrace the change, like LEGO did with their renewed LEGO Friends line. Or what’s even better, is impacting change. Basically taking it one step further, to be in control of, rather than reacting to the narrative. In LEGO’s case, by changing the entire toy industry.
Of course, impacting change won’t be quick and easy, Sara says. You’ll need a certain mindset. And the best source of inspiration? Children. Because unlike most adults, they aren’t so structured in their thinking. They aren’t scared to take chances, to make their own rules. Just think of successful companies like Uber and Airbnb: they changed the rules of the game, and look where it got them.
In Sara’s words: “If we want to be disruptors, we should think and act more like children”.
About the author
Kim is a passionate, driven and creative marketing consultant. She is particularly interested in content creation and strategic marketing communication. After completing her Masters in Corporate Communications at KU Leuven, she kicked off her career as a Marketing Officer in a major HR company. Right now, she is working as a Communication Expert Advertising at Roularta Media Group.
Want to know more about Kim? Feel free to connect on LinkedIn.