by Tom Bannister, Branded.TV
Last week, Lego announced that they had cut back on marketing spend to keep up with consumer demand for their products. In a time of uncertainty around changing consumer behavior, some brands are clearly winning.
Lego, like GoPro, has somewhat of a natural advantage. Their products are suited to social media and the self-expression and sharing that underpin it. However, there are other winners, too, like General Electric, Under Armour, Volvo and Google, and there is now a clear pattern of behavior that is working, even as the consumer marketing landscape continues to reform around us.
1. Products That Sell Themselves:
Twenty of the top one hundred YouTube channels review toys. Lego competes in a vertical containing perhaps the most vigilant of consumers: parents. Yet every business now operates in a transparent marketplace of unlimited shelf and airwave space. The consumer has more alternatives than ever before. Lego customers upload twenty times more Lego branded content than Lego does itself. Beyond favorable reviews, brands now need their customers to supplement their marketing. In fact, there should be an category for fan-made branded content, like this Lego Minecraft Movie, at the major award shows.
And Lego customers are using Lego to do amazing things, like recreating the Brooklyn Bridge and building life-sized cars. The city of Budapest broke the world record for the tallest structure to be built entirely of Lego. In short, Lego is redefining what it means to be a toy company. It’s by bringing new meaning and possibilities to old product categories that other brands like General Electric, Samsung, Under Armor and Volvo are creating products which also sell themselves. Volvo is building self-driving trucks and sending them into mine shafts. GE is 3D printing engines and installing sensors in volcanoes. Millions of people are logging workouts and meals into Under Armour’s Connected Fitness. Even brands with far less resources, like Julep and Madison Reed, are finding new ways to invigorate old models and earning their way into our feeds, timelines and awareness.
We are masters at avoiding advertising and inured to the lifestyle marketing that used to work. The best products are winning on service, functionality, pricing and quality. Craft beer is popular because local beer is simply much tastier than the mass-produced stuff. It’s a frightening prospect for marketers that a portion of the power to shape perception and demand is now shared with the consumer. But its also an opportunity for marketers to incorporate their expertise earlier in the process, as the engineers and product teams development the next item that sells itself.
2. A Diverse Sales And Marketing Strategy:
Lego, of course, has millions of friends, followers, views, likes, loops, pins and snaps on their digital channels. including ones on Youku and Tudou in China. Lego also publishes a magazine. On TV, Lego created the All Lego TV Ad Break Take Over and has given out Lego statues at the Oscars. Lego licenses rights to the top entertainment franchises, but also collaborates with mom bloggers. Lego is huge at Comic-Con. Both its in-store and e-commerce experiences are cutting edge.
In short, its sales and marketing strategy is as diverse as the toy landscape itself. The most successful brands are finding opportunity where most see complexity and follow consensus. Industry-wide, marketers are placing 85% of all new digital spend with just two companies. The best marketers are showing a willingness to experiment, take risks and emphasize user-experience above all else. “The Lego Movie” is the ultimate example of these qualities.
Elsewhere, GoPro, maker of “the” action camera, is now making high-end scripted series. Netflix helped print media pivot into native campaigns. Machine Zone and Rovio are diversified out of the mobile channels where they were born. GE, a manufacturer of industrial products, is partnering with influencers, traditional celebrities and Olympians. Along with the infotainment you might expect, they make scripted entertainment, such as their audio series “The Message.” They produce TV spots, along with TV programs. They are experimenting with storytelling in new mediums like virtual reality. We read about them every day it seems.
And we hear that word “storytelling” a lot too. Storytelling is commonly understood to mean associating your brand with heroic traits or embedding it within an interesting context. But it is actually connecting a diverse set of content, channels and experiences to a central narrative. The overall story of GE is one of innovation and experimentation in a time of change. Lego allows people to rebuild the world around them, with the building blocks of childhood. Effective brand storytelling helps the consumer explore the new worlds forming around them too and its an indicator that customer experience is a brand’s highest priority.
3. Being Community Minded:
When Greenpeace produced this amazing “Everything Is Not Awesome” music video to spotlight the connection between oil production and global warning, Lego ended its partnership with Shell. Lego has committed to run off 100% renewable energy by 2020. Social audiences like to use their influence to propel causes like #blacklivesmatter, healthy eating, environmentalism or even to highlight society-positive innovation like space travel or self-driving cars.
Socially-minded brands are taking on these challenges and generating value. Think Chipotle and non-GMO, Patagonia and sustainability, Etsy, Warby Parker, Whole Foods, Google’s Moonshots Program or even Samsung and the buzz generated by their “safety truck”. GE’s reported “inadequate” Hudson River cleanup is a rare misstep and perhaps shows a perceived cutoff point between the brand equity generated by environmentalism and the actual costs of it.
But being community-minded isn’t just about community issues at large. It also relates to bringing value to specific communities. Lego allows fans to suggest new designs and product lines, and if an idea gets 10,000 likes, they build it. GoPro recently sponsored the Tour Du France, bringing an entirely new way to experience the sport. And even smaller brands are succeeding by being community-centric. For example, Walker and Company make health and beauty products for people of color. Loot Crate curates game merchandise for gamers.
The web allows us to discover, follow and pursue our passions and interests. We no longer need a brand to curate a lifestyle for us, but prefer them to augment and service interests we already have. Yet businesses can also create new communities around themselves. Paint Nite, America’s second fastest growing business, organize communal painting nights at local restaurants. Exercise brands like FlyWheel, Soul Cycle, Crossfit and Toughmudder are remaking the fitness landscape. Mobile gaming and live web shows are as much about the communal experience as the content itself. Community is everywhere.
So those are the three behaviors that are winning the marketing revolution! We read a lot about constant change in the marketplace, but the current changes have been upon us for almost a decade now, and its possible to identify a clear pattern of behavior that works, even as the next set of change, internet of things and the rise of live, rolls in.