LEGOLAND on why traditional marketing is not dead

LEGOLAND Malaysia opened up in 2012 with a big bang. The team hired the director of marketing at Sunway Lagoon, Thila Munusamy (pictured right), to be the director of sales and marketing for LEGOLAND and to lead its marketing plans.

Since then, LEGOLAND has enjoyed growth and industry wide recognition. Just recently, it was awarded the BrandLaureate for Country Branding Award 2014-2015 for promoting Johor and Brand Malaysia as a premier destination for Theme Parks and Resorts.

I sat down with Munusamy to understand what makes a great marketing success.

Softly spoken, yet determined, she tells me that while digital is no doubt a focus for any organisation going forward, traditional still has its part to play. She remains firm in her belief that traditional media in today’s vastly digitised ecosystem still has immense value.

Each platform offers its own set of pros and cons. While the digital age has certainly created new avenues and means to convey a brand’s marketing message, sometimes you need a combination of traditional and digital to get the greatest impact, she explains.

This is a tactic she not only employs in her day-to-day duties in LEGOLAND, but in all her marketing roles.

“Consumers are getting very demanding so as marketers we need to keep up on which trends are working at any given time. Today, there are hundreds of advertising channels, so marketers are faced with a lot of choices. You just have to keep up to figure out which one works and which one doesn’t,” she says.

In particular for LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort, TV is still a key medium in creating visual impact and reaching out to consumers. Nearly 60% of its marketing spend currently goes to TV and 20% is on digital. The rest is split between press and radio and other marketing means.

“I think a big part of being a great marketer is about understanding your target audience and being able to find what appeals to them. Another part is also understanding the mediums available for you to use to reach out to your audience with market research.”

Simply put, marketing is not just about chasing the next big trend.

Social media, she adds, has made marketing somewhat overwhelming at times because of the amount of information and possibilities present. At the same time, marketers only have a limited amount of budgets and means to stretch their dollars.

“People around will try to sell you their platform, but you need to know which one works and which one doesn’t. Some of the methods for traditional marketing are tried and tested and will work for the target audience. Adding the digital element to it doesn’t mean giving up on traditional elements, it’s simply adding another dimension to the marketing mix.

“The idea is to not get carried away. We at LEGOLAND are very focused – we know Malaysia and Singapore are our core. Then, in the second-tier, we work in phases when targeting geographies.”

Going international

For LEGOLAND, Singapore and Malaysia are two of its key residential markets. Currently, 30% of its footfall is international and with the Malaysia government putting an emphasis on the Chinese market this year this is only set to grow.

I ask Munusamy if LEGOLAND has felt pressure to grow the number.

“Definitely,” she says. “With each year, the number of tourists coming into Malaysia is increasing. So accordingly, the international footfall into LEGOLAND will also have to increase.”

China at this point, she says, is a secondary market. It falls under the same category as India and the Middle East which are all set to aggressively grow this year.

To push for these markets, LEGOLAND aims to embark on mass advertising campaigns and joint promotional campaigns with airlines and tourism offices.

LEGOLAND will also be working closely with partners to create special tactical promotions in these regions. Also, for its international consumers, the theme park will embark on a digital strategy as well as the use of B2B and B2C campaigns directly targeted at customers.

Marketing and exposure wise, LEGOLAND also works very closely with Tourism Malaysia. The tourism board actively helps LEGOLAND to attain media buys and ad space in international markets such as Indonesia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand, India and the Middle East. In fact, when LEGOLAND first started out, it only had to pay for the creative costs, while Tourism Malaysia compensated it for the media costs.

“Partnering with LEGOLAND, Tourism Malaysia is also leveraging on the international image of the brand. It’s a win-win situation for both parties. It works both ways,” she says.

“We incorporate information from Tourism Malaysia into our marketing campaigns and they incorporate ours.”

Keeping it fresh

From a galaxy far away or the spooky realms of ghosts and ghouls, LEGOLAND is known for its active PR during all periods seasonal. Just recently it launched a Star Wars-themed exhibition which showcased more than 2,000 well-known LEGO Star Wars models and iconic scenes from six Star Wars films.

It also launched a very successful special Halloween celebration for children last year despite no paid advertisements being utilised. Marketing initiatives were handled through “selected communication channels” such as newsletters, EDMs, park communications and PR initiatives held before school holidays in Malaysia and Singapore.

How hard is it to always keep things fresh then, I asked.

Enthusiastically, she says the limit to creativity is endless in a theme park setting. As a park, in its third year of operation, LEGOLAND needs a lot of new story ideas and concepts to keep its footfall on track and lure in repeat visitors.

While a creative arm comes up with attraction concepts, she explains her marketing team steps in early in the game to see if the concept will meet the needs of the local markets – this presents the team with new challenges and opportunities at every turn.

Coming from a hotel PR role and then soon after joining Sunway Lagoon, she adds that while those experiences were vital to her growth as a marketer, she no longer sees herself going back into the hotel industry.

“Unlike the hotel industry, in the theme-park world, there’s no repetition. I enjoy the strategising work here and putting things together for different initiatives. Theme parks present fresh challenges all the time and how interesting my work here gets depends completely on me.”