Many Heads Are Better Than One: How LEGO Co-Creates

A headshot of Chad Neufeld

by Chad Neufeld

Pile of yellow LEGO heads with varying expressions.

Chaordix makes a white label platform that allows brands to build social communities they can manage and control. We call it our Community Platform, and it’s used by global brands to connect and co-create with their customers. One of our
customers is LEGO.

This article looks at why LEGO, one of the world’s most beloved brands, has adopted co-creation as a core operating principle, how it has helped them go from a struggling legacy brand to the world’s top brand, and how you could apply the same principles to your business. Why? Because many heads are better than one.

Note: This article was originally published as a video session for G2’s Reach 2020 Conference. You can watch the full session here.

First: What is co-creation?

Co-creation is the practice of inventing and improving products or services with the people who use them. A restaurant chain could practice co-creation by inviting regular diners to create a new dish for their menu. A fashion brand could allow customers to submit designs for next season’s line. Or a toymaker could invite their customers to come up with new models that they could produce and sell in stores around the world. And, that’s exactly what LEGO does.

So, why co-creation?

You may be wondering why LEGO does this? Why invite the 1.8 MILLION people in the LEGO Ideas community to submit their ideas for new LEGO kits? Why not just let the brilliant Danish designers come up with new models each year? They know the product best, they understand the organization, so they must be able to come up with the best ideas, right? Not necessarily.

Before answering “why”, let us first take a brief look at LEGO’s history. 

As recently as the early 2000s, LEGO found itself near bankruptcy, under a mountain of debt and with negative cash flow of almost $200 million, plus a 30% fall in sales year over year. Fast forward to 2019 and the brand boasted PROFITS of 1.7 BILLION, plus a slew of accolades including world’s most loved brand.

Mad scientist and skeleton LEGO figures

So, what changed?

One of the things LEGO did was refocus their approach to innovation. The company had been diversifying, venturing into video games, DVDs, amusement parks and other toy-adjacent businesses. They decided to go ‘back to the brick’ and focus on their core product. But, how do you keep things relevant and fresh under the kind of financial constraints required to bring a struggling business under control? LEGO’s response: invest in co-creation.

Next, we’ll take a look at what co-creation actually looks like.

What does it mean to open your organization up to the crowd?

For LEGO, co-creation happens in many places, but the most powerful and high-profile is LEGO Ideas. It’s a space where people can submit ideas for new sets. If an idea receives 10,000 supports, it gets officially considered by LEGO as a potential future set. This allows the brand to outsource ideation to their biggest fans, and have that same group evaluate the ideas. The most popular ideas rise to the top and LEGO puts them on shelves. We're big Schitt’s Creek fans over here at Chaordix, and the Rose Motel recently reached 10K supports (Fingers crossed this one goes into production!).

Screenshot of LEGO Ideas

LEGO Ideas is more than just a submission box. Co-creation is a dynamic, ongoing process. While some members are submitting ideas, others are supporting their favourites, asking questions, making suggestions, and being inspired.
All of this is happening in a space LEGO manages, and ultimately controls. Of course it is possible for organizations to co-create using social media, perhaps using Instagram Stories to have fans vote for one concept over another, but when organizations want to take co-creation seriously, they should own the channel. This allows them to dictate the rules, control how the community looks and feels, and of course own the data. None of those things are really possible with mainstream social media.

In addition to awesome ideas that fly off the shelves (nearly every set that has come out of LEGO Ideas has been a best seller or has sold out completely), LEGO also racks up user-generated content, like this YouTube channel that has 980,000 subscribers and whose LEGO Ideas set builds generate literally millions of views. Through Ideas, LEGO also launches contests to gather content for their mainstream social channels. They recently did a contest with Land Rover that generated exciting builds from all over the world.

LEGO figure entering a LEGO Range Rover

Finally, LEGO Ideas generates a TON of press. When LEGO launched Central Perk, an Ideas set, to celebrate the FRIENDS 25th anniversary, Jennifer Garner posted an Instagram video of her playing with the set. LEGO didn’t pay for this endorsement, it wasn’t an ad, it was just someone famous playing with a fan-created set. The video went out to Jennifer Garner’s 9.7 million followers and has well over 2 million views.

Screenshot of Jennifer Garner's Instagram where she is playing with her FRIENDS LEGO set

Jason Horowitz from Mattel refers to this as ‘cultural noise’. The Ideas Community allows LEGO to stay in the news and stay relevant as people are creating kit ideas that capture trends. Within a day of the famed Tesla window incident, there was a Cybertruck live in the community, and news stories about that same LEGO Cybertruck.

So how do you do this for yourself? You’re not LEGO, how do you harness the power of co-creation to innovate and build your brand?

You can get started with co-creation with three easy steps:

  1. Start with your superfans. Who are the people who LOVE what you do? Your team knows who these people are and they probably know where you can go to find them.
  2. Create a community experience with these people. You do not necessarily have to create a branded community like LEGO Ideas, but you should give your superfans access to a space dedicated to co-creation. Maybe this is as simple as a closed Facebook group to start. You want to make sure you have a team member designated to manage this community.
  3. Develop a clear process for co-creation. For LEGO this means quarterly reviews of all the ideas that reached 10K ‘supports’ within the quarter, and then an announcement of the ideas that will be produced that includes a fun video reveal. Maybe your process could be a seasonal creative challenge, where fans submit product ideas and 4 times a year you announce winners.

By taking the time to connect with your top users, giving them a space to co-create, and putting in place a solid process, you are setting yourself up for a stream of ideas and feedback. While the concept of collaborating with fans or customers might seem intimidating, the outcome is a brand that works with customers and listens to them, rather than one where a small team of people try and guess what people want.

LEGO figures wearing different work-related uniforms

So, stop pretending like you and your team are the only ones who can come up with amazing ideas. Bring your customers together in an online space, and give them a voice. After all, many heads are better than one.

If you’re interested in learning more about our platform features, and how they can help you foster co-creation with your brand's biggest fans, see Our Community Platform Features.

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