The LEGO Group announced its best annual financial results on February 25th at a press event in Billund, Denmark. An increase in sales by 15 percent in 2014 resulted in an operating profit of 9.7 billion DDK. A result so satisfactory, it was presented by the CEO in song: “Everything is awesome.”
A few days earlier and 8,600 kilometres away from Billund, in the San Francisco Bay Area, a man in his 30’s who calls himself JANG celebrates his own milestone: His YouTube channel of “adult-friendly LEGO set review & custom build videos” reaches 300,000 subscribers. He is one of thousands upon thousands of adult fans of LEGO, who enjoy buying, building and bonding over plastic bricks, a group that identifies itself as Afols (Adult fans of LEGO).
The LEGO Group has embraced their adult fans in recent years with “expert” LEGO sets and communities, but that has mostly been a response to – and is not what actually built – the adult fanbase. When grown-ups enjoy products that are normally thought of as kids’ toys, it has a lot to do with the kind of values associated with the product and its brand.
Nikolaj recently met with one of the Danish adult fans of LEGO in a radio interview about what makes the toy attractive to grown-ups. They talked about the “dark ages” where teens step away from LEGO only to rediscover it later in life. And they talked about what makes it attractive once again after the adolescent dark ages.
The multicolored bricks have a strong value proposition, which has nothing to do with the actual toy. Instead LEGO sets are about “creativity, imagination, the joy of building, and the pride of creation”. LEGO takes a step back from the physical product, to focus on the values behind it. This enables the toy company to make product that are attractive not only to their core target audience, but also far beyond.
This process requires a thorough understanding of the aspirations and needs of consumers. If companies are to align their underlying values with consumer aspirations, they need a comprehensive understanding of their own company’s culture. The story of LEGO is the story of a refocus on the core values and the identity of the company.
Culture shines through
Ask any employee in any company and they can tell you something about the culture of their workplace. Ask two employees in the same company and there will be some overlap in their answers to the question. But using cultural values like creativity or imagination as the core values of your products requires more than a gut feeling about the culture.
It requires a formalization of a company’s business culture to form a condensed and comprehensible core. Identifying cultural strengths and working systematically with business culture is one of the ways Stagis helps companies stand out.
Getting to the core of the company
Asking every employee about the culture and finding overlap is not enough.
The culture is much more than the things we think about and are reflected about; it’s deeper and broader.Broader ind the sense that it’s also based on the physical place, the operation procedures, the products, the service, the relationship to customer and a million other things. The warranty policy, the employee handbook and the contracts with suppliers are all artefacts that shed some light on the culture.
But while all of these things are part of the culture, the interesting aspects of the culture is a layer deeper. Identifying relevant artefacts, patterns and ideas requires a certain gaze. A gaze anthropologist and ethnographers have developed in the scientific study of culture. Getting at the interesting deeper layers of the company culture requires a sensibility for understanding culture and more exact a sensibility for understanding culture in this specific context.
When we identify authentic strengths in a company, we focus on the deep shared layer of culture in the organization. We also focus on the aspects that are relevant for employees, customers and other stakeholders. There are many aspects of culture at LEGO.
For JANG and other fans of LEGO, some of them are more important than others. Focusing on relevant aspects that resonates with customers is essential; in the way the company operates, the way it communicates, and the way it acts. Using it to guide communication and practice requires a deep understanding and a formalization.
The LEGO Group’s formalized aspirations, promises and values form the basis for an experience with the company’s product that appeals to both their main target group of children and adults like JANG. And it shines through in their products and in the joy of adult LEGO fans.