In the 1980s and 1990s, LEGO faced a tremendous threat from competing construction toys. After all, the very simplicity of LEGO’s building blocks also made them very easy to duplicate, both by small-scale copycats as well as established toy companies. LEGO unsuccessfully tried to block Tyco Toys, Inc., from selling the Super Blocks series after LEGO’s patent ran out in 1983. The company knew it needed to build a powerhouse brand and develop an integrated marketing approach to compete against a growing set of building-block imitators. — Clare McDermott, Editor-in-Chief, Chief Content Officer magazine, April 2011
Most people don’t realize this, but LEGO is such a giant when it comes to brand content, that at times it more closely resembles a media company than a toy company. Here’s a rundown of some of the major components of its well-integrated and highly effective content marketing program.
Each LEGO story line has a dedicated micro site that features plot and character explanations, online games, movies, polls and quizzes and, of course, retail links. Some great examples: LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Ninjago.
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For each storyline release, LEGO produces a serial-style movie that runs both on cable and, eventually, through the LEGO website. Most recently, LEGO released its LEGO CHIMA series with a new cartoon through a partnership with Cartoon Network.
LEGO Click is a community platform that encourages fans and fanatics alike to share their LEGO creation photos and videos, download apps, and explore LEGO themes through online games and story lines.
My LEGO Network
There is a LEGO social network designed especially for children (with a high level of parental control and safety measures). Members can create their own personal pages, win rewards, meet other LEGO fans (and battle them in game modules), and watch LEGO TV.
“LEGO Club” magazine
“LEGO Club” magazine is customized by local market and by age. LEGO originally released it as “Brick Kicks” magazine back in 1987.
LEGO asks users to sign up for a free online ID that allows them to play multiplayer games, contribute to LEGO galleries, and set up a personal page on the My LEGO Network. This becomes an ideal subscription strategy for LEGO.
LEGOLAND theme parks
LEGO partnered with Merlin Entertainments Group to develop LEGOLAND theme parks around the world (now six full parks and multiple discovery centers).
LEGO Club meetings
LEGO holds meetings for its “Club” members around the world, where boys and girls can imagine together (and usually force their parents to buy something at the end of the meeting).
Building a brand content empire
Believe it or not, these components are just a portion of how LEGO executes on its content marketing strategy. Yes, LEGO has a fantastic product — that must always come first. But it has literally dominated the competition through multimedia storytelling. As a toy company, no one else comes close to what LEGO has been able to accomplish with branded content.
Although LEGO generates direct revenues from its content (licensing fees for LEGOLAND, LEGO cartoons, books, and games like LEGO Lord of the Rings), the majority of content is created to support its business model (which is to sell more LEGO product).
LEGO shows us that, like it or not, we are all media companies today… we all have the opportunity to communicate directly with our audience. It’s how we choose to use that privilege that makes all the difference.
Yes, LEGO sells toys to children (and sometimes adults), but LEGO is also a publisher. LEGO creates and distributes content, similar to any media company in the toy space. But the business model behind it is quite unique.
A critical business model difference
There is only one thing that separates the content developed by a media company from content developed by brands like Intel, John Deere, or LEGO: how the money comes in.
Media companies make money directly from the creation of content through paid content sales (i.e., direct purchases of content, like a subscription) or advertising sales (someone sponsors the content that is created — similar to what we see in newspapers and magazines or a Super Bowl commercial).
For non-media companies, content is created, not for a direct profit, but rather to attract and retain customers (to sell more, or to create more opportunities to sell more). Content supports the business, but is not the business model (meaning that non-media companies are not required to earn revenue directly from the content itself).
In all other respects, the content creation activities of both types of companies are generally the same. This is important to understand. Non-media brands compete with traditional media for attention and retention, just like you compete with other brands in your field.
Why is this so important? Because it gives brands the upper hand. Non-media companies have the luxury of making money from their content in different ways, unlike media companies, which are tied to direct content revenues.
Companies like LEGO have a critical advantage, and can move more quickly and with more flexibility than any media company in its space can. No barriers to entry, better budgets, and business model flexibility? No wonder content marketing is growing so fast these days.
Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” will be released in September 2013. You can preorder it now on Amazon.com.