Finding new ways to interact with consumers requires freedom—freedom to take risks and freedom to fail. So said Laura di Bonaventura, marketing director of LEGO Life, who is especially mindful about who those interactions are with: children.
LEGO Life is an app-based social network that allows LEGO fans, typically kids, to share their LEGO creations in a community from which LEGO cannot seek individual data but, collectively, can help the brand tap in to user trends and references. We caught up with di Bonaventura at the Festival of Marketing in London recently to find out what tips she can pass on to executives wanting to transform their organisations. We started off by asking how and why the project was launched.
Di Bonaventura: We set up LEGO Life because we wanted to get more of a one-to-one relationship with our consumers. We had to find a way of doing this while being true to the company’s mission of inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow, and also do this in a way that is safe for children.
Creativity is the foundation of that, and we know that our young consumers love to be able to showcase their creations to one another and would love maybe even to get a “like” from Batman.
CMO.com: You must have had to put a lot of thought into taking parents on this journey with you?
Di Bonaventura: Parents and guardians are our gatekeepers. Everything we do has to go through them. Early research indicated that parents were not ready to verify their children’s accounts with credit card details or other forms of Verified Parental Consent (VPC). Therefore, we decided to put some constraints in the experience to keep it safe, rather than have VPC at the very forefront for launch. We moderate all images and text comments, we’ve created a new LEGO language for kids to communicate instantly, and we’ve made the kids anonymous.
CMO.com: What have you learnt about running the community once a child is signed up? Parental concerns presumably don’t finish at sign-up?
Di Bonaventura: Everything on LEGO Life is moderated by a team of trained moderators. They take great care to ensure that children remain safe. We want children to learn how to be responsible on social networks, and they can use LEGO emojis to communicate with one another or comment on their LEGO creations in LEGO Life. There’s no thumbs down.
CMO.com: How did such a huge organisation get a social community project off the ground? Any advice for another company looking to do the same?
Di Bonaventura: There has been a lot of work by many colleagues to get LEGO Life off the ground, and we have been on an interesting and exciting journey. One big thing is that we got the project approved by constantly championing it at every level of the company. We had to get buy-in from the top but also through the whole organisation to ensure it was supported.
We have not been afraid of many big changes in how we work. One of the big hurdles at the beginning was the development being split with an external developer as well as an internal team. That brought in complexities and delays.
We took a bold move to shift development in-house and brought in our best developers to work on the project. We set up what felt like a startup in the middle of a company that will soon be 100 years old. It was very different and very exciting. We felt that was the best approach to be agile and fast at making decisions.
My one key piece of advice, though, is to not only get buy-in throughout an organisation but also seek permission to fail. Of course, this has to be within limits, but it has certainly given the team the courage to try new things and new ways of working, and gather learnings that can be shared back into the wider organisation.
CMO.com: What have you learnt since launch?
Di Bonaventura: One of our biggest challenges is scaling. We version LEGO Life for each local market, and that involved some effort—for example, opening up moderation in another language. So far, we have gone live in 26 countries and are continuing to roll out worldwide.
We can do a lot to forecast around resources, but we have to always be prepared for that thing that we did not plan and then find a way to tackle it.
We had one instance in the U.S. where we ran a hugely successful TV campaign for LEGO Life, and we got overrun with new sign-ups and users submissions. Our backlog meant children were waiting to have their LEGO creations approved and see them in the app, so we called upon three other departments in the business to help with the clear-up of the UGC queues. It was a fantastic team effort, and it meant that the children did not have to wait too long.
Agility is key in all we do, and we truly have to adapt plans or change the way we work more than we’ve ever done before. For example, we move to biweekly app releases—a departure from two- to three-year LEGO product development life cycles.
CMO.com: Although you do not collect personal data, have the overall learnings from the community been of use?
Di Bonaventura: Absolutely, we’ve found out that children continue to want to share their LEGO creations with each other, and they love to interact with their favourite LEGO characters. It’s all about sharing and enjoying their LEGO bricks, and we have offered them a platform that is more in tune with the 21st century.
We can definitely pick up on trends through the app—such as user desires to share their LEGO Avatar or to build fidget spinners with their LEGO bricks. We let these findings inspire us, and we add features and functionalities based on these.
We can also deepen the bond with our users and strengthen their relationship with the brand. We regularly set building challenges, which means kids can further explore their creativity, learn through playing with the physical bricks, and aren’t at the screen all the time. They can drop by and share some creations, check out what other children have posted, and then get a challenge to make something away from the screen for the next couple of hours.