How Brands Can Harness Customer Creativity

Chris WrenSeptember 7, 20173 min

Today Lego is one of the world’s top brands, but not too long ago the brand was in serious trouble. A substantial budget deficit in the early 2000s saw a few executives try their hands at a brand turnaround. While global restructuring has helped to improve profits, a great deal of the brand’s turnaround (which lasted until very recently) had come from the ways it fully embraced the creative power of crowds.

Over time, the product hasn’t changed much at all. Even Lars Silberbauer, Lego’s Senior Global Director of Social Media and Video admits, “It’s just a plastic brick.” What did change though was the mindset of the brand leaders at Lego to realize, “We [Lego] may own the copyright but we co-own the brand with adults and children.”

At this year’s Cannes Lions, Silberbauer shared the two pillars upon which Lego’s social strategy is built, and it’s pretty simple because they revolve around some fundamental human needs: the need to play and build together, and the pride of creation. Each of these human needs map to the relational motivations that are essential to building a strong network and also show the brand recognizes the creative power found in its customers.

As Jeff Beer shared in Fast Company, “By facilitating, supporting, and promoting the efforts of its fans, Lego amplifies their passion to a global audience, further fanning the flames of fandom everywhere it goes.” Beer further recounts some examples Silberbauer shared of how Lego’s strategy comes to life:

  • First Lego League is a robotics competition that isn’t run by the brand. Up to 70,000 kids around the world compete against each other to build Lego robots that solve problems.
  • Lego Ideas is essentially a branded version of Kickstarter, in which aspiring Lego designers must get 10,000 supporters for their project to be considered. And support isn’t a simple “like” it’s a survey!
  • The Kronkiwongi Project famously used Facebook to encourage customers all over the world to share their creative interpretation of “What’s a Kronkiwongi?”

Silberbauer continues to say, “At the end of the day, no matter what we do, there’s always going to be creativity within the fan community. And all of our outgoing stuff and brand messaging may just be obsolete when fans come up with some really cool stuff.”

He makes a good point. Brands that understand modern storytelling is porous, and make investments to harness the power of regenerative listening and tap into the cognitive surplus unleashed by the global network society, will be in stronger and more relevant positions than those that continue to adhere to strict brand rules.

So, what can your brand do right now? For starters, provide a platform for fans and customers to engage. In too many decks, whenever ‘brand’ and ‘social media’ appear on the same slide, you see something about conversations. Lego, however, gets specific about what they want social networks to do. Engagement for Lego means feedback from customers, product research, competitions and user-generated content.

For some brands or those just starting out, existing platforms might provide everything you need. But notice how Lego also “remixed” the familiarity of Kickstarter into a branded platform to solicit new product ideas, and collect valuable customer data in the form of surveys. That’s the level of creativity that truly sets Lego’s definition of engagement far above most brands. Oftentimes, a remix of a technology, platform or concept is all that’s needed to raise the bar and may prove more compelling than something entirely new.

And to that point, Silberbauer’s Cannes presentation ended with a fan-made Lego recreation of Red Bull Stratos – user generated branded content based on branded content. How very meta.

But, sadly, Lego is in trouble again – likely over-extended between films and new product lines. Hopefully, via their robust social infrastructure and highly involved customers, the brand will quickly find its way back to profitability.

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