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  • Writer's pictureMary Elizabeth Wieder

LEGO® Serious Play® Workshop: the power of Metaphor and Storytelling for Product Positioning

As I wrap up another semester of International Marketing with USAC Verona, one of our last lessons was the famous LEGO® Serious Play® workshop, a cumulation of the global marketing strategies and go-to-market tactics we had studied throughout the semester. My focus for the students this time was on product positioning and re-positioning and relying on detailed metaphors and meticulous storytelling to build a marketing strategy.

Why did I want to focus on product positioning?

I wanted my students to understand how crucial market positioning is to long-term success, and that it is a continuous effort on behalf of a company. Product life cycles are shorter and shorter in today’s face-paced economy where competition is fierce, markets are saturated and choices are endless. It’s increasingly difficult, if not impossible for products to have a unique selling proposition based on features alone, so what will set them apart?

Through the course of my International Marketing class, I told my students that there are three things about their product they should know at all times as a marketer:

1. Where it is in the Growth-Share Matrix (Star, Cash Cow, Question Mark, Dog)

2. Where it is in the Product Life Cycle (Development, Growth, Maturity, Decline)

3. How price elastic the product is (how demand fluctuates with price increase)

And what’s more important is that this situation can change depending in which country you are doing your marketing.

The first part of my workshops are dedicated to “getting to know the bricks”. It may seem silly since everyone knows what LEGO® bricks are, but do we really know the creative potential behind them?

Just six 8-studded bricks can make over 900 million different connections.

We warm up by making different connections between the bricks and then we play a game of metaphors. A metaphor is simply a way of describing something using something else. The bricks are a perfect way to start thinking outside the box and assign meaning and significance to concepts like color, shapes and formations. It is always interesting to see how commonalities form in assigning meaning to certain colors (yellow tends to be positive and happy, while black tends to be negative and sad. Red is a toss-up and can be passion or anger).

Metaphors are extremely powerful in business to understand how consumers typically perceive things. Using physical and visual tools like LEGO® bricks is extremely valuable in identifying symbols and signifiers that can be culturally relevant when it comes to marketing campaigns (the study of semiotics!).

Metaphors aren’t complete without the ability to narrate what is envisioned. This means creating storylines, a plot, characters and some sense of a conclusion or final outcomes, just like involving your stakeholder in a story.

So let’s jump into our LEGO® marketing strategy builds!

We did 3 builds that consisted of different elements of a marketing plan. 18 students were divided into 6 groups of 3 and presented with a build challenge and a time limit to complete it. Why a time limit? Obviously the workshop has an overall time limit, but also the time constraint forces participants to eliminate all distractions and rely on instinct and hidden creativity.

Build #1: Construct the 3 levels of product for a Fitbit smartwatch (Time: 4 minutes)

In our class, we learned about the core, actual and augmented levels of a product and where the product starts to differentiate itself on the market.

Most groups agreed that the core was a time-telling device, without the essential need to tell time, the product was useless to most consumers. In the actual product, several features came up include fitness and health data, nutrition tracking, social community, and more. But we still didn’t have a deciding differentiator, one group even accidentally slipped in the presentation mentioning Apple Watch. The augmented product is where things got interesting, because students built the intangible needs of a smartwatch that FitBit satisfies like self-actualization (“becoming a better form of oneself”) where students built metaphorical images like bridges and one figure dominating another. One group went one step further to exploring the idea of becoming a better version of yourself, creating better opportunities but the reliable watch will never fail you.

Build #2: Construct a Buyer Persona for Nutella products in the United States market (Time: 3 minutes).

Students were given some background market research on Nutella company (Ferrero Group), products sold in the U.S., their price points and channel distribution. Extra challenge: the build couldn’t include any figureheads. Otherwise, too easy!

The groups came up with 6 distinct characters: from Stephanie, to Kendall, to Angelica, to Carol, to Maggie to Syd. Without figureheads, they built environments, hobbies and surroundings that would fit the buyer persona. The two groups basically came up with two distinct customer segments:

- Early 20-something females living independently at university, culturally aware, working part-time jobs but also financed by parents, who enjoy diverse snacking products

- Late 30-something millennial mothers who are looking for affordable, tasty snacks that are somewhat healthier alternatives to American choices

From here we can start to build customer journeys.

Build #3: Construct the Customer Experience for the Starbucks digital app in the Italian market from awareness to advocacy (Time: 4 minutes)

This is by far the most difficult built. I was also asking them to switch gears and consider another culture. Starbucks has only been in Italy for a few years, so the digital touchpoint was a crucial step in the overall customer experience.

The goal was to have the students think about why Starbucks would want to capitalize on a digital experience and what the desired outcomes of this app would be. Building a journey isn’t easy, and awareness was already a difficult challenge as the looked to build metaphors for “word of mouth” and “social media advertisng” campaigns.

I asked them to think about specific Call to Actions for the app. Lastly, they had to demonstrate added-value for the customer. Some groups used the bricks to metaphorically emphasize economic value: customers wanted discounts and rewards. The convenience of being able to order and pick up (like in the U.S.) wouldn’t be culturally relevant.

After each build, I asked them to reflect on how companies benefit from these exercises. In the case of this last build, we talked about how companies need to decide on whether it’s worth investing money and resources before developing new channels.

To wrap up with a fun exercise, I had them do a build representing themselves professionally in 5 years from now using only one figurehead and no more than 5 pieces. What amazed me was that they already have an healthy concept of work-life balance and some with even specific job roles they want to take on.

Another fun workshop to wrap up the semester!

Workshop playlist:

1. Stand by R.E.M.

2. Love and Memories by O.A.R.

3. All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix

4. Great Expectations by Gaslight Anthem

5. Something Just Like This by The Chainsmokers, Coldplay

6. Little Secrets by Passion Pit

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