The secret to Lego's success? Push back and let the community do the heavy lifting

As part of Marketing's creative tour of the world, Peter Espersen, head of global community co-creation at Lego explains why its Cuusoo fan platform is "rocket fuel" to the brand.

Lego's Cuusoo fan platform crowdsources creative ideas from around the world
Lego's Cuusoo fan platform crowdsources creative ideas from around the world

Design and creativity are inherently Danish. A lot of the senior people at Lego are Scandinavian, so you do feel that in the business.

There is a mindset of not just doing things by the book, but doing it a bit differently. That is closer to the Scandinavian way of thinking. Also, trusting yourself and the brand to go off the beaten track, that’s something we try to do here at Lego.

Is our open culture unique to Lego? There are a lot of companies that do open relationships incredibly well. But we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously and we have an informal nature, which is the Danish way.

We were receiving 20,000 unsolicited ideas for new products a year just through the call centre

Lego should not be "Mr Know-it-all". We must respect the people who love what we do. To us, that means being reliable, engaging with fans, being fair and trying to limit our secrecy.

However, our culture is not one thing. We have a presence in about 60 markets and, as a consequence, it does differ from one country to another.

More than anywhere else, I look first for inspiration not to a place, as such, but to our fan community. Our fans have always created buzz around what we do.

We were receiving 20,000 unsolicited ideas for new products a year just through the call centre. With crowdsourcing, however, comes the issue of crowd control. When you open up, it can be like the flood gates and everyone rushes in.

Today we see it as a give-and-take relationship with our [fan co-creation] Cuusoo platform.

Sometimes you need to push back and let the community do the heavy lifting. They need to do some of the sorting and help out. It’s a tyranny of ideas, with people saying: "I have this great idea, why don’t you do…"

I say: "Great, make a prototype and figure out what it actually is."

Now, they make the prototype, or a drawing of the concept then put it on Cuusoo. They campaign for it to try to reach 10,000 people thinking it’s a good idea. When that happens, we’ll review it for production.

Cuusoo is an innovation tool, but it’s also a marketing vessel and brand inspiration area. It is tremendously important to us.

We have learned some big lessons. First, that creativity has almost no boundaries; people can do amazing things.

Second, we can’t always predict what consumers want. One of the Cuusoo products out of Japan was the Shinkai submarine; we would never have figured that out. Then a huge idea like Minecraft comes along – that was hiding in plain sight.

Another lesson is that when you combine the idea of Lego with another strong community, and a fun one, that is rocket fuel in the engine – it really works. That is what we’re seeing with Lego Minecraft, Lego Ghostbusters and Lego Back to the Future.

So far we’ve had 24 ideas push through to 10,000, and we’ve produced six of those to date.

We can’t produce all of them, of course. There are key things to consider, such as good building experience, hitting Lego values and not conflicting with what we already have in the pipeline.

Also featuring in Marketing's Global Creative Hotspots special, Brad Noble, managing director of Lambie-Nairn in Munich talks about the Eastern European markets, while Peter Knapp, global creative officer of Landor Associates shines a spotlight on Russia.

Brad Doble, managing director, Munich, Lambie-Nairn

Across the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe, an emphasis is placed on getting the message across to a chosen audience. This affects how creativity is used – messages must be simple, and humour goes a long way. For example, finance and insurance brand Wüstenrot stands out by being visually arresting and funny.

Slapstick resonates well here, and many brands employ a sarcastic tone. You also see cultural references to fairy tales, old TV shows and public figures weaved into a campaign story. "Epic" cinematography isn’t as popular here as in Western Europe. Simplicity and a relatable look and feel seem to appeal – people want to feel the brand is talking to them, not the wealthy. Fame still holds currency, though, and local celebrities often act as brand ambassadors.

Animation and infographics are trendy and used to good effect by big brands. Soft-drinks brand Kofola takes its illustrative style beyond packaging, applying it beautifully across its website and to customised, seasonal microsites. Artisan and hipster brands, on the other hand, favour a retro look.

Peter Knapp, global creative officer, Landor Associates

Russia’s consumer market has experienced turbocharged growth since the end of the Soviet Union, and is predicted to be the biggest in Europe by 2020. Yet, while many of the barriers that once existed between Russia and the West have disappeared, Western brands still struggle to understand the complexities of the market.

Landor launched the Russian Insights Programme to track prevailing consumer trends. We surveyed 2000 people, covering all demographics. So who is the modern Russian consumer? The answer is a far more complex proposition than you might think.

In the early 90s, many consumers were willing to pay over the odds for premium products and Western status symbols. But the tide has turned, and almost half of respondents now believe that modern Russian brands understand their needs better than Western ones do. What’s more, 29% said Western brands aren’t appropriate for Russia at all.

As Russian consumers have matured, they have become acutely aware of quality and sceptical of premium products’ value: 72% of respondents said they would investigate the quality of a luxury brand before deciding to buy it.

When it comes to innovations, Russians are less conservative: 34% said they try out new brands most or all of the time, and are not brand-loyal. While Russian businesses may be switched on to the aesthetic elements of branding, they have a way to go in using brand equity to retain customers.

What should brands take from this? Russians are curious and like to shop around, which bodes well for newcomers. The answer is not to "Russify" – consumers see through this – but to take a considered, sensitive approach that observes cultural nuances. A strategy that merges innovation and quality with cultural references, while engendering a sense of local pride, is a recipe for winning over the Russian consumer.

Creative showcase

FNAC, France

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After a Twitter user sent a humorous drawing to French entertainment retailer FNAC in September 2013 showing how he couldn’t fit a blue ray of the oceanic variety into his Blu-ray player, the company responded in similarly comical style. FNAC created a drawing with instructions on how to fold the ray’s wings, file down its teeth and snap off its tail to turn it into a Blu-ray disc. The reply went on to receive almost 2000 retweets.

A Non Smoking Generation, Sweden

Not-for-profit’s anti-smoking psychologists counsel gamers

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Media Markt, Russia

Electronics retailer unveils shoppable billboards

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