Rediscovering Your Brand Story: An Interview with LEGO's Vice President of Marketing, Michael Moynihan
Storytelling Innovator Series

Rediscovering Your Brand Story: An Interview with LEGO’s Michael Moynihan

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Show of hands: How many of you play(ed) with LEGOs?

A two-time Toy of the Century, LEGO is more than just a household name. Its a brand with a rich history that touches generations of families across the world. Today, its even a problem-solving tool for enterprise businesses.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with LEGO’s Vice President of Marketing, Michael Moynihan, about how marketers must focus first on the consumer’s needs, what leaders can do to transform discouragement into inspiration, and how LEGO built its once-stagnant business back up.

So I’m told that LEGO is the world’s largest tire manufacturer. What can Bridgestone, Michelin, and Goodyear learn from you?

I’m not sure there is anything here to learn, other than that we’re lucky to be serving the dream to drive for children of all ages, not only those with a driver’s license.

Jokes aside, what’s your background and how did that lead to marketing at LEGO?

I have a BA from Bowdoin and an MBA from Harvard. I started in strategic consulting before moving into brand management at General Mills, working on both the Yoplait yogurt and Big G cereal divisions, including Cheerios. I am from Western Massachusetts and I’m very close with my family, so I returned to the area to join brand management at LEGO, working first on our preschool and education businesses.

How would you describe your job? When you wake up in the morning, what are you going to LEGO to accomplish?

Our collective goal is to serve our consumers more than we sell to them. If we can meet their needs in a compelling and authentic way, we’re doing our jobs.

Did you play with LEGOs growing up?

I did indeed and I still do. We put a lot of emphasis on first-hand understanding of our brand experience as a means of staying connected to our consumers and their needs, so opening a LEGO set and putting it together is part of our work.

Children playing with classic LEGO bricks

Because LEGO is so embedded in many people’s childhood memories and has achieved the status of an iconic brand in the last two decades, most people probably don’t know that things weren’t looking so good for LEGO around the year 2000. Can you tell me a bit about the core challenges LEGO was facing at the time?

We lost sight of what we meant to our fans and how best to serve their needs. We thought the way to grow the business was to find ways for the LEGO brand to be everything to everyone, and we took our eye off the ball of being the best construction toy for children who like to build. Once we refocused on doing what we do best, we quickly found ourselves on a path to renewed growth.

What suggestions do you have for marketers to avoid running into this type of situation?

It’s easy to get caught up in the potential your brand has to be bigger, better and more profitable. We found that the best way to grow was to do what we do best, not expand the brand into areas that consumers couldn’t readily follow or relate to their understanding of the brand. We learned that a brand can only be so elastic, and that consistent growth comes from prioritizing focus on consumer needs. Once we returned to that approach, brand growth was organic and rapid.

Your team was responsible for helping to rework LEGO’s brand framework at this critical time. How were you able to take the initial discouragement of having a marketing plan that wasn’t gaining traction and transform that into invigoration for you and your team?

It’s amazing how very simple and aligned words can drive organizational energy and motivate teams to start pulling in the same direction. In crystallizing our brand mission and purpose, the prioritization of four core promises—Play, Partner, Planet and People—and defining the core values with which we seek to achieve these goals, the brand framework has become the roadmap (and rally cry) for 15,000 LEGO employees around the world to relate to and understand how their work fulfills our greater purpose.

You’ve said before that your number one priority is to serve your stakeholders—who are they, and how do you accomplish that?

First and foremost, children are our biggest priority. They are the builders of tomorrow, and the hours they invest with our brand are the core of our business. Their families are another important stakeholder—parents, grandparents, gift givers. Of course, we also have hundreds of Partners who help us to fulfill our mission—retailers, studios, vendors, suppliers. We’ve also made commitments to the greater good through a Planet Promise—doing well is a function of doing good—in the ways in which we source and consume materials, the standards we set for manufacturing, the ways in which we consume energy, our involvement in our local community. Finally, our people are a critical and important stakeholder in the business. Without their talent and passion, we cannot serve any of our other stakeholders. Most importantly, these promises are mutually reinforcing. For example, our Play Promise to consumers helps to reinforce our Partner Promise to retailers and licensing partners, and so on.

You have to have a balance between selling your product and providing value to your stakeholders. What does LEGO do other than sell LEGOs to satisfy the second half of this equation?

We try to understand the value that the LEGO brand brings to each of our stakeholders as a starting point for how to nurture and grow our mutual value beyond product sales. For Partners such as retailers, this can come from the ways in which we can create differentiation; for consumers, it’s all in the experiences we deliver beyond the box; for the planet, it’s the commitments we make to the environment and local communities; and for our People, it’s the ways in which we enable them to accomplish their career and family goals.

Building off of this, how has opening up this line of communication and providing avenues for audience engagement helped to inform your marketing strategy and brand story?

Sometimes the best way to engage consumers in the brand is to involve them in the process. We’ve found time and time again that truly listening to our consumers, leveraging their feedback and ideas, and involving them in the solutions is the best way to continue to meet—and exceed—their needs.

LEGO fans come in all shapes and sizes. How can brands successfully connect with many demographics—kids, young adults—parents—while still telling one cohesive brand story?

We are very fortunate to have a brand that resonates across generations and lends itself to just about any activation. It’s important to understand what the brand means to each of the audiences and then to work hard to continue to earn their respect and loyalty. We leverage nostalgia and brand heritage where relevant, we lean into pop culture when appropriate, we innovate for every audience. Generally speaking, it’s about balancing all of the reasons they love the brand, while continuing to give them new reasons to fall in love.

Obviously this happened to be the case with LEGO, but you’ve said that you shouldn’t wait for something to go wrong to make changes and take risks. What’s an actionable way marketers can do this in their day-to-day?

We try to be a humble organization, and we never want to get ahead of ourselves. We know that the success we have is nothing we should take for granted or assume we can sustain without pushing ourselves to try new things. We ask ourselves all the time if we’re being complacent, and we fundamentally believe that we should be “skating to where the puck is going, not to where it is.” It’s exciting to be part of a population that is always looking ahead and not over the shoulder.

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