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  • Writer's pictureMary Elizabeth Wieder

Using LEGO® to analyze LEGO®: from core product to global marketing mix

What does a professor do with a group of international marketing students during a hot Friday afternoon lesson on foreign marketing mix adaptations? Try to make it fun with play!

As I am already about a month into the fall semester as a Professor of International Marketing with USAC (Universities Studies Abroad Consortium) in Verona, Italy, I wanted to make sure my students grasped the concept of go-to-market using situational analysis (SWOT) and marketing mix adaptations. So, I could either lecture for two hours, or put the theoretical into practice and have them show me.

I resorted to a scaled down version of a LEGO® Serious Play® workshop. Divided into small groups of 2-3 people and armed with a vast selection of colorful LEGO® bricks and figureheads, the Serious Play® methodology asks participants to build physical models in response to “challenge questions” made to unlock creativity, engage in deeper conversations and think outside the box.

In this lesson, we were going to analyze the marketing strategy of LEGO® using LEGO®.

Before building, I wanted to know what their preconceived notions of LEGO® were. Therefore, I asked them what the LEGO® product actually is. Almost in perfect unison, they cried out “toys!”. The next question to the group was who LEGO®’s target market is, and again I got a harmonized chorus of “kids” and “children”.

Interesting, but I had a feeling their answers are going to change after our workshop.

Challenge 1: Divided into four groups, build the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) for the global LEGO® group. Each group took one of the areas.

*Note: they had no limitations on what kind of bricks or how many they could use. They had five minutes to complete the build.

My main objective as a Professor was to get them to understand the difference between controllable and uncontrollable factors in the market and how to account for them in a strategy.

Already in the first build, the students unlocked some of LEGO®’s biggest strengths, which were almost all related to the product itself. We talked about the durability of the material, the limitless possibilities of combining pieces and the ability to appeal to a wide range of people.

In this build, they already started to understand that LEGO® bricks were more than just a toy. When I asked about the LEGO® product itself, I told them to look at exactly what was in their hand: a plastic mold. That’s it. But what does that plastic mold signify? Tangibly, it creates a product that can be produced as a mass scale and replicated easily to fit into different LEGO® kits. So from an internal prospective, it’s smart design and manufacturing at an economies of scale. And yes, marketers need to understand that as it affects the pricing and promotion of the product. The intangible side of the product is the unlimited number of possible creations this product promises (two 8-studded bricks make 24 combinations, six 8-studded bricks make over 9 million combinations).

I noticed that no one mentioned the price of LEGO®s in their analysis at any point. This factor is often overlooked when analyzing strengths and weaknesses since most don’t consider it a controllable factor, even if it absolutely is. Getting pricing strategy right is complex, but very important, and it often falls to the marketer (as it should).

The exercise allowed the students to build abstract concepts and get an idea of how to position this product in a global market. For potential opportunities and threats, the students pointed out a need to be innovative in highly competitive markets, and that LEGO® wasn’t just competing with toy companies, but with anyone that could provide a form of educational or creative entertainment.

As a follow up to this challenge, I asked the students to look at what they had built and to define LEGO®’s three levels of product (core, actual, augmented). We learned that their unique selling proposition is not only the highly customizable product, but the LEGOâ community of builds, characters and experiences developed for a wide range of demographics.

Challenge 2: Still divided into four groups, build the Marketing Mix (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) for LEGO®. Each group took one of the areas.

In this exercise, the students got closer to building a global strategy.

Product: reflecting on our last discussion, the group built the intangible elements of the product and focused on possibilities and the community.

Price: we finally got around to this important topic, and the general consensus was that the product is a bit more on the expensive side, and most wanted to put this under the weakness category. Here we reflected again on the target market and agreed to eliminate children as targets since they typically don’t have purchasing power. LEGO®’s pricing strategy is pretty much consistent globally (a kit that costs €10 in Italy is usually around $10 in the U.S.), but what possibly changes is that perceived value based on demographics and level of purchasing power.

Place: my American students designed shoppers at Target purchasing LEGO®s somewhat impulsively, and they mentioned eCommerce options. It was a good overall visualization of the customer journey to purchase. But now our conversation turned to how this changes globally when channels like Target don’t exist.

Promotion: This is another fun one to analyze, and again the group looked to design a purely digital strategy using social media and the idea of an “omnichannel” type communication that surrounds the consumer from all angles.

What are the key benefits of using LEGO® in this type of situation?

1. Hands-On Strategy: instead of talking it out, participants build their responses and try to visualize complex and abstract concepts.

2. Metaphorical Models: logic and creativity meet to describe abstract concepts with concrete objects

3. Storytelling and Collaboration: participants share the thought process and stories behind their models

4. Practical and Clear Outcomes: the participants have a clear understanding of the objectives and a clear strategic vision from the outcome

Most importantly:

Fun and Engagement: it creates an enjoyable and relaxing environment free from distractions. In my group, smiles and laughs all around and no one playing on their phone! All attention was directed at building, which when we consider that humans have an average attention span of 8 seconds, it’s not a bad outcome!

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