Troy Taylor, LEGO’s general manager for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, talks about a brand that has kept children amused and entertained for 86 years. Sharon Kwok reports.
60 years ago, the first classic red 2X4 LEGO brick was created, 26 years after the brand LEGO was first established in 1932 producing wooden toys for children. Taylor says LEGO is the most unique toy in the market because it grows with a person from childhood to adulthood.
“LEGO” comes from the Danish word “leg godt” which means “play well”. He says “put a big smile on people’s face” is the core mission and value of LEGO that remained unchanged throughout the years. The mission-driven company aims to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow - from the very beginning until today.
Taylor has been with the LEGO Group for 16 years in a wide range of senior roles across the brand largest and most developed markets in the United States, Australia, and now Hong Kong and Taiwan. He says it is more complex and challenging working in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is a very fragmented market. You have lots of retail partners.” he says. This is not to mention other business issues such as parallel importing and currency fluctuations.
On the other hand, Taylor says working in Hong Kong can be more challenging, yet more fun. He explains the brand has lots of opportunities to be creative and experimental in Hong Kong.
While there is more brand-building work for China and other APAC countries which are not very familiar with LEGO, for an established market such as Hong Kong, marketing efforts are focused on retention of children and fans.
“Coming up with new product to get fans excited about LEGO, whether that be through innovation such as Boost or movie launch, we always try to come up with ways to keep their attention and keep them engaged in LEGO.”
In Hong Kong, the 60th anniversary celebration was kicked off with the opening of the “Tsuen Wan Plaza X LEGO Our Playground”. LEGO certified professional Andy Hung took about four months and 130,000 pieces of LEGO brick to build the largest-in-Asia exhibit of a three-metre tall classic red 2X4 LEGO brick, alongside an historical exhibit which was first displayed in Hong Kong from Denmark, taking people back in time to experience every milestone of LEGO.
LEGO has done a lot of work in grassroots marketing this year. Taylor says event marketing has been crucial and effective for LEGO in Hong Kong. “We have support from our shopping mall partners. Not only does the event boost the numbers in the malls, it also allows customer to have ‘brick-in-the-hands’ moments with LEGO. It gives family reason to get out of the house, and bond the family.”
Meanwhile, LEGO introduced new limited-edition gifts with purchase for fans to redeem. The design refers to the classic wooden toys of yore, and reappears in the form of LEGO bricks, such as the wooden train, alongside a 60th anniversary edition pencil holder and other items.
Last, but not least, the brand’s Hong Kong team developed and launched the first LEGO brick filter for Facebook, which was released globally. It was well-received worldwide.
“The things we do are quite unique and ‘high touch’. They require families and kids to get their hands on the bricks. They are not cheap campaigns to do, but we believe the longer lasting effect for our recruitment standpoint has certainly made it a worthwhile investment.”
Taylor also points out the importance of localisation for marketing. “It is important to have brand consistency, but it is also important to engage with the local community you are operating in.”
For the 60th anniversary campaign, the brand has produced a series of three online short films, each of which portrays local daily scenarios so that people from all generations can experience the happiness brought by a little creativity enabled by the little bricks.
The three short films - “Healing Hearts”, “Agent L vs Mrs.L” and “Detective L+” - show scenarios such as a young brother and sister fighting for LEGO toys, a LEGO fan husband smuggling LEGO to the corner of the house to avoid being caught by his wife, and a family having quality time with LEGO Duplo with a twist ending.
“We developed local moments and content for the first time in Hong Kong, without using content given from Denmark. We intend to do more things like this in the future.”
LEGO notoriously has a mature fan base called AFOLs, which stands for “adult fans of LEGO”, as well as a young fan base. The Hong Kong AFOLs community is the most engaged in the world with the highest amount of AFOLs per capita.
“The true owner of the brand is the fan, you really don’t have a brand unless you have fans. Our job is to represent the brand well and bring it to life.”
He adds the brand’s marketing strategy focuses on children through new creative products, while applying a retention strategy for Hong Kong AFOLs. All the marketing efforts cater for both parties.
“Our AFOLs marketing strategy is quite comprehensive, from product development, to event development, and customised marketing activities with them.”
In order to raise engagement among AFOLs customers, the brand has a platform called “LEGO Ideas”, which invite customers to co-create LEGO products. Fans can submit their creations onto the online platform. If the submission gets 10,000 votes or more, the company will put it into consideration to produce as a product.
“LEGO is a toy targeted for children. We are very careful with the marketing strategy, there are limitations and regulations when you sell toys to children.” Taylor says.
“Children don’t have Facebook profile or Instagram; traditional means of media such as TV and putting content on Cartoon Network are still very effective means for us to communicate with our target audience.”
“We are in the toy industry. Our consumers are children. Children don’t have customer loyalty. We have to keep making things interesting and fun to capture children’s imagination and attention.”
Fun fact: Up to 915 million combinations can be built from six pieces of 2X4 LEGO bricks. Infinite creativity, endless possibilities. Apart from creativity, the brand ensures the toy is meaningful.
“We make sure everything we do benefits children, and they see value playing with our products. And I think the educational purpose becomes so much more important now than ever before, because parents are looking for something to get their children away from the screen.”
Playing with smartphone and tablet, which may affect children’s concentration spans, is a huge issue for parents nowadays.
“We offer something that can help break that, and help children learn, but they are learning through play, so they don’t actually realise they are learning, they are learning in a fun way, that’s the value of our brand.”
Digitalisation and technology have inevitably become part of the integration to the lego experience for a long time and it offers a broad range of digital experiences. However, Taylor prefers to say LEGO has been “adapting to the changing market environment”, instead of “changing the marketing strategy accordingly”.
“LEGO bricks will always be the core of everything we do, but we realised the environment changes, and we adapted."
"We are still true to ourselves, we are still true to who we are as a company. But we have to evolve with the changing ways that people consume.”
Taylor believes digitalisation offers the LEGO Group the biggest opportunity. Because it has already got the physical products which people love, the brand has been coming up with ways that customers can have a physical experience as well as digitalised experience, such as the latest innovation - LEGO Boost - which allows customers to build a product, and use smartphone to bring different element to the set.
Another signature product, which has integrated technology, is the Duplo “Steam Train”, which features trains around the Duplo Town that can be remote controlled through a free app on a user’s tablet or smartphone. Taylor foresees more sets like this in the future.
The brand will also launch LEGO Life app in Hong Kong in the second half of this year. The LEGO Life app encourages children to build LEGO and share their creations in a safe environment. They can also receive feedback from their peers through emojis, thumbs-up or stickers.
“This is another example of how LEGO leverages digitalisation to help further promote our brand, and further recruit family and children into LEGO.” Taylor says.
The online effort is not limited to a Facebook filter either; the brand will also roll out its local website for Hong Kong this year. The website will contain content customised for the marketing campaigns launched in the local market, encouraging brand engagement.
However, the brand does try to make every touch-point consistent to bring a consistent brand experience for customers. “When you go to LEGO.com to look at products, you will see the products displayed and presented the same way when you go to the certified store in Times Square.”
At the end of the day, LEGO sells plastic toys, so it has to be fun. Taylor emphasises this point.
“Whether you are being greeted in a fun way by the staff in the store, or when you go into the store you can see a large-scale model that you can take a family photo with, we make sure it is fun and engaging.”
LEGO remains on the top of children/kidults’ wish list, despite it having recorded the first sales drop in over a decade. Taylor says this is rare. He says that ultimately product is the key, and without a solid product, there’s only so much marketers can do.
And he has confidence in the plastic bricks. The LEGO brick produced in 1958 is still compatible with the bricks produced in 2018. The LEGO brick has proven timeless for its great quality and safety, and the brand has demonstrated its determination to bring a consistent experience to customers.
On top of its quality, creative collections have become a big driver of growth. In August, the brand will launch some highly-anticipated products, such as Voltron; Hogwarts™ Whomping Willow™ and Great Hall with mini figures of Harry Potter main characters; James Bond™ Aston Martin DB5 sports car; and an app-controlled Batmobile which features a new-for-August-2018 Batman mini figure.
In the face of some challenges in the market, including rising competitions, copycat products which caused brand confusion, the brand tries to stay as fun and relevant as it was in 1958.
The LEGO population on Earth actually outnumbers us human, reaching nine billion. No doubt, LEGO will continue to build the world.