Stopping SEOcentrism: What Lego Can Teach All Web Marketers

Posted by gfiorelli1

Houston, we have a problem

We SEOs, myself included, have a habit of almost always focusing our attention on what concerns us directly.

We suffer what I call 
SEOcentrism

Everything is SEO and, and everything ends in the sphere of influence of SEO, as if Search Marketing was a gigantic black hole.

  • Content? Clearly, it is SEO and SEO should govern Content Strategy!
  • Social Media? SEOs are those who really understand it!
  • Inbound Marketing? Isn’t that a synonym for SEO?

In reality, though, things are very different.

Simplifying all components of marketing, SEO is only one small component of a much bigger strategy a brand may have:

That is why most brands, above all, tend to not consider SEO as essential as we would like. Even in the best cases, they usually do not consider SEO (or more broadly Inbound Marketing) as a discipline which could inspire and coordinate all others.

That quadrant can also help us understand why the more traditional media agencies tend to have more success in winning contracts than the new digital ones (not to mention the classic SEO Agencies). The reasons are twofold:

  1. Brands have the ability to have a unique and coordinated strategy designed and built by a single agency;
  2. For a traditional media agency, it is relatively easier to just create a digital (or just SEO) area within its existing structure.

Be aware that I am not saying that this is the best choice a business can make; I am simply describing the reality I see every day.

This Venn by Econsultancy explains all the complexities of a complete integrated Marketing strategy

However, there is another problem.

Even if we are good at analyzing data, fixing technical issues, creating content marketing campaigns, influencing community building… even if we follow the instructions of the “good marketer” book, many times the results we obtain still don’t make us feel fully satisfied with our work.

We score a hit, or maybe more than one, but many times that success is extemporary and does not translate into continuous and long lasting improvements… and maybe for that reason our clients may fire us.

Why? It is ironic to say it, but this is mainly because
we do not think organically.

Because of our innate SEOcentrism, we lose or do not take into full account the global marketing strategy of our clients, and we do not see how our job is influenced and may influence the overall marketing strategy.

For this reason I am going to describe how Lego has designed its marketing strategy, what principles guide it, how all the channels are connected by a common “brand storytelling” and what we can learn from the success of Lego.

Why Lego and not another brand? Because Lego really is a brand that is winning in marketing. It is a perfect case history and—let’s be honest—if The Matrix exists it is built with Lego bricks.

Start with why

Ten years ago, Lego announced losses of over 0 million USD.

In reality, crisis has hit Lego since the ’80s because of various reasons including:
  1. The liberalization of the patents related to its famous bricks; and therefore
  2. The birth of numerous competitors that offered to the public substantially similar products at a cheaper price; and
  3. An almost total impermeability to customers and fans.
Crisis derives from Greek word “choice,” and any crisis—if well managed—can result in renewal and positive transformations that, remaining within the Greek mythology, can revive a person, a country or a business company like they were a phoenix.
Lego understood that, and everything changed.
Lego understood that it needed to reinvent itself, and it needed to start with its 
why:

  • Inspire
  • Think creatively
  • Invent

The mission statement is also fundamental for understanding the archetypical figure Lego wants to represent, and that permeates all its messages:
the Builder (and it is not a case that, for those who know the reference, we all are “Master Builders”).

Reading the 
“Mission and Vision” page of Lego, then, we are able to understand how Lego pretends to make its Why real:

  1. Pioneering new ways of playing;
  2. Pioneering play material;
  3. Pioneering the business model of play;
  4. Leveraging globalisation and digitalisation.

The last two points (and partly the first) have a direct influence in what Lego did and does in marketing.

Takeaway

We must remember to start always from the “About us” page when pitching and building a strategy for our brand or our clients. 

That nearly always-forgotten page is where we can understand the core of the marketing message that must pervade the strategy and work as an unconscious connection with our audience.

Exercise

Pick one of these other great About Us pages and try to define the Why and the How:

Audience

As I wrote before, one of reasons why Lego went into decline was that it was completely misaligned with its audience.

Lego took a long time to realize that it was no longer just a game for children, but that those children who were playing with its bricks had grown up and, because they loved Lego, they wanted it to grow up too and start creating products that could respond to their new needs.

Lego Ambassadors

Lego, then, created the Ambassadors Program (now that I am writing the post, the page is under construction for redesign, but 
this other page explains what it is quite well).

Lego Ambassadors, because of their über-fan nature and their evangelizing Lego values and initiatives in forums and blogs, have the function to operate like a communication bridge between Lego itself and its wider fan base, and they do it on a daily basis.

Lego Ideas

In 2010, then, Lego created the Legoclick community, which evolved into what now is 
Lego Ideas, a place where fans do not just discuss and present their own Lego inventions, but also can see them becoming a real Lego product, thanks to other fans’ upvotes and a final review by Lego itself.

If we have the Delorean Lego version or the Lego Ghostbusters car, it is thanks to the fact that Lego finally understood how its audience had changed. Moreover, the entire Minecraft Lego series, now quite popular, started as a Lego Ideas project.

I will return to this concept later, when talking about the importance of fandom and prosumers in marketing today.

On the other hand, Lego also created a community place for its yourger target: 
My Lego Network

If you click on the previous link, you will see that Lego also prefers not to use social sign-ins, but how it relies on a detailed process for creating “Lego IDs”. This is not just for retrieving useful information, but also—from a marketing point of view—for offering children (and parents) the fan pride of owning a well-defined identity in the Lego world.

Letting your audience create what you cannot

Have you ever noticed how Lego City or the simple bricks’ boxes  present no weapons? This is a voluntary choice by Lego, which does not extend to products created through co-marketing (e.g. Lego Star Wars).

This choice, however, is a problem for many fans who use Lego to recreate, for example, aircrafts, vehicles or dioramas related to World War II.
For this reason, forums or even small companies that filled this void, such as BrickArms, begun to arise.
The reaction of Lego is not to go against this unorthodox use of its name and bricks, but it is quite the opposite:
  1. Lego allows the forums to “live,” while maintaining a discreet control over them;
  2. Lego sends very detailed technical specifications to the companies, which manufacture unofficial pieces so that they can accomplish their work while respecting the level of internal quality of Lego itself.

Let’s build

Let me finish this chapter describing how Lego did not forget that its other main public are the children. We saw how their mission is all about them.

Lego targeted them anew, not only with a stronger attention to kids’ inputs (and possibly answering them), but also with its foundation, which has a similar mission of 
building
a future where learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, life-long learners.

Products and marketing around the power of learning through play and through building is at the base of the “Let’s build” tagline. 

Building the game, for Lego, is the common passion that links its two audiences: children and adults.


Takeaways

We must put the users at the center of our marketing strategy, and this starts with achieving a precise audience analysis.

However, we must always remember that the audience is not something monolithic and abstract, but that the data derived from our analysis are a reflection of real people and, as such, subject to changes.
For this reason, the audience analysis should not be conducted only at an early stage, but repeated over time so to identify as early as possible any possible change in the personas, that we have identified.

We must always remember that our audience is multifaceted and that, often, there may be personas with totally opposite characteristics, but having in common the love or interest for our brand. 

Finally, let’s remember that it is in our nature to be data-informed, and that it is in our DNA to retrieve and understand data points that are not the ones commonly taken into consideration by more classic marketers. We must use this as one of our competitive advantages.

More about Audience Analysis:

The Fandom/Canon pendulum

Whenever we deal with a Brand, especially if it targets the main public, we should always remember that 
there exists a constant dialectic between the Canon and the Fandom. Let me explain:

The
Canon represents the official branded content and messages produced
by the brand, and it is defined by the official marketing strategy. 

Moreover, the Canon develops its actions in the so-called “cultural industry channels (e.g. a movie like “The Lego Movie”).

The purpose of Canon is always profit, even if it may be through actions that deal with or encite fandom.


Fandom
, on the other hand, represents the original content fans create using the same brand’s products—a repurposing of the original content a brand creates. 

Fandom is usually delivered using channels independent from those of the brand. To use the Lego example, Vine, Instagram, and YouTube were used by Lego fans far before Lego started using them. Those channels follow very different production principles (e.g. crowdsourcing), and it’s main purpose is pleasure.

The importance of strategy in marketing and brand storytelling

Lego is very much aware of this dialectic, and explores every possible way of taking advantage of it while spreading its own brand storytelling.

From the canonical one, Lego creates (using a typical 
Transmedia term) a “Bible” for each one of its campaigns and products’ lines. 

The Bibles, which we might also call strategic plans, are documents where everything related to a campaign is defined:

  • Business model
  • Audience
  • Brand storytelling
  • Media/Platforms
  • Execution
  • Experience
  • How all these elements interact between them and when.

Moreover, for every single action previewed in the campaign, the strategic plan also defines:

  • Business model (because a website follows different rules than a TV series);
  • Audience (a campaign may target just one of the different personas we have defined);
  • Premise (what is causing and justifying, from a storytelling point of view, this action?);
  • Genre (in our cases this could be the kind of content: long forms, infographics, white paper, video…);
  • Theme (or what facet of the general storytelling the action will be about);
  • Narrative synthesis (somehow a sort of adaptation of what the content will narrate);
  • Technical Specification (a field where we can contribute, as demonstrates Richard Baxter in his latest posts here on Moz and on Builtvisible
  • Expansion (the content created can possibly expanded, and this is where we should think about repurposing the content we create).

Now let’s take Yoda Chronicles, and let’s consider it as complex marketing campaign for giving new force to the Lego Star Wars products.

If we look at the Yoda Chronicles campaign by Lego, we can easily find all the elements described above:

  1. The general business model is the co-marketing with the Star Wars brand, which is at the base of the Lego Star Wars’ product line (generic business model);
  2. Yoda Chronicles is a spin-off of Lego Star Wars (premise);
  3. It it set in the Lego version of the Star Wars universe, in a consistent continuity with it, and it narrates the adventures of a group of young padawans and their master, Yoda;
  4. The audiences targeted are both the Star Wars fan (Yoda) and their sons (the Padawans);
  5. The media/platforms used were:
    • TV (the 8-episode miniseries aired on Cartoon Network, but we should also consider the classic promotional teasers and trailers);
    • Microsite (intelligently hosted inside the main Lego Star Wars section in the Lego.com site);
    • Online videos, hosted both in the Lego Star Wars section and in the Lego YouTube channel;
    • Images of any kind (wallpapers, avatars, ready-for-memes images);
    • Several apps, for pre and post-launch, and for iOS, Android, and desktop browsers;
    • Billboards;
    • Guerrilla marketing actions;
    • Books.
  6. The TV Series is produced by Lego itself, while external companies take care especially of the pre-launch marketing actions (Execution);
  7. Users have plenty of occasion for engaging with Yoda Chronicles, and are enticed to revamp their own fans’ nature, thanks in particular to guerrilla marketing actions, games and message board on the site (Experience);
  8. The games allow users to relive the adventures of Yoda and his Padawans, and the games incite players to discover secret codes to use on the site, guiding them into a web ecosystem that see also the possibility to buy the Lego Star Wars products and discuss them (interactions between all elements).

3,000,000+ bricks were needed for creating this 1:1 X-Wing Fighter. The buzz was of similar scale.
(Photo by 
Pascal on Flickr)

When it comes to Fandom, Lego simply allows fans the freedom of doing (almost) everything their imagination inspires them to create, and doesn’t try to control (at least in most cases) their creativity.

This attitude is key for letting consumers becoming prosumers—people who create new original content from brands’ products, helping grow the brands’ recognition and  

The “philosophical” reason is that products become part of the life of the buyer, and extension of his personality, which shares the same values of the brand. Letting the buyer freely share and produce content with its own products, then, is like creating a promotional force for the brand at zero cost.

Remember, fans look for pleasure… so we should concede them the liberty of finding pleasure with our products.

The liberty of building, then, is extremely consistent with the company’s Why, and denying the freedom of literally building content would be going against its own principle.

For this reason, too, Lego lets fans doing everything with its bricks and does not commit the mistake George Lucas, for instance, did not understand about the force of Star Wars fandom when he tried to block it.


Takeaways

When we design a strategy for a brand, even if it is “just” a search marketing strategy, we should always remember to ask the right questions, which can help us understand the general marketing landscape our action will be a part of (it will determine ours). 

Consistency is key in marketing. If it is not present, then the message fails to pass or our actions can even produce results opposite to those desired.

Creating a “Bible,” which not only takes into consideration all the possible connections our strategy has with other marketing channels, but also defines and describes the specs of every action and the brand storytelling consistency common to all them, will help us with the following:

  1. Maintaining control over the development of the campaign;
  2. Developing campaigns aligned to the general marketing campaign of the brand we work for;
  3. Getting inspiration for new actions and new campaigns; and
  4. Offering clear expectations to the client.

When creating this document, then, 
we must always answer these questions:

  1. What facet of the brand storytelling do we want to narrate?
  2. How are we going to narrate it?
  3. What is the genre we will use?
  4. If we use different elements for narrating a story, how do they relate to each other?
  5. What kind of engagement are we looking for?
  6. Will this engagement influence the evolution of the campaign and of the storytelling?
  7. How will we manage the engagement and what control we will let the users have over the story?
  8. How can we create synergy between online and offline engagement?
  9. What platform will we use (and not use)? And do any of them really add value to the users?
  10. Will we start targeting a massive audience or a small subset?
  11. Will the experience be free for everyone, or will we go for a freemium or invite-only model?

This last two points are very important, because a strategy should be thought of as a modular building, so that we can start developing it even if we do not have a big budget. Remember, a marketing strategy that previews the deep interaction with the fans can also have its start in something like Kickstarter, which means that it can even be paid for by very engaged fans.

Exercise:

Choose two brands, for instance 
Betabrand and Beardbrand, and analyze how their marketing is based on the dialectic between canon and fandom.

Experience

If we put users at the center of our marketing efforts, then we should create a marketing strategy that is not only able to answer our customers’ needs, but also able to make them feel our brand
is partly theirs.

For this reason engagement is so important, as was explained well by 
Rand Fishkin in his last Whiteboard Friday.

One mistake we do make, though, is considering engagement to be something related only to Social Media.

In fact, engagement is the consequence of a principle, which must be at the basis of every action realized by a brand in every aspect of its relationship with its audience:
creating positive experiences for its users.

If we understand this, then we see how all the best practices in every field of marketing have logical meaning, and how all of them have a common purpose: earning such trust and loyalty that when we receive a critique, it will always be a constructive one.

(note: Lego answered to Greenpeace announcing that it will not renew the contract with Shell)

Lego has understood this well, and almost everything I wrote above about Lego proves it.

But there are two areas in which this research of the positive experience is fundamental:
  1. Customer care
  2. Products

Customer care

Lego, even though it also uses its social media profiles for instantly attending to customer care issues, prefers to maintain this facet offline, paying extreme attention to the quality of the service offered. 

In some cases, it decides to go further and personalize the experience such a way that a simple customer care answer can become a pure marketing action, as in the case of this letter sent to a kid by a customer care representative, who responds to a problem the child had with the Sensei Wu minifigure:

It is not a surprise that a letter like this saw a viral response on social media last year.

Products

Sometimes we forget that products are marketing. Moreover, sometimes we forget that creating a product that can result in a winning marketing action doesn’t necessarily need a huge budget.

A good example of this is a very simple idea Lego had for this holiday season: the 
Minifigure Family.

Minifigure Family is based on a simple idea: It offers users the possibility to share on their social media profiles a virtual Happy Holidays postcard, where users and their family are portrayed as Lego figures.

A simple product, a simple idea and a great success on social media (here’s 
Twitter data by Topsy).

But if we want to find a product that us SEOs know well, and that the most intelligent brands, and Lego is one of them are starting to offer to its prosumers, that is data under the form of 
APIs.

Moreover, APIs now for us SEOs are starting to have a new interesting consequence: structured data and better Semantic SEO.

In fact the best APIs (and unfortunately this is not the case of Lego’s ones yet, a better example is 
Marvel’s API) can be available also via JSON, and JSON LD is also a way to inject structured data into a website. Hence, APIs can be a bridge to semantically optimize every website using them, and so making the brand, which owns them, more visible.

Drillability

If experience leads to engagement, and engagement leads to spreadability, then we must add that experience and all its consequences can be achieved also thanks to drillability, or the creation of really targeted content/products, which is able to combine two different passions our audience has in a simoultaneous experience.

In the case of Lego this is achieved mainly through franchising and co-marketing actions with other brands, as is in the case of Lego Star Wars, Lego Minecraft, Lego Marvel, Lego DC Comics, etc.

Having found other passions of its fanbase, Lego was able to expand its audience into new markets.

In cases more like the ones we deal with everyday, this may lead to opportunities for writing a regular column in a website our audience visits, hiring an influencer to write for our company blog, or any other “co-marketing” opportunity.

Takeaways

Marketing has changed. All marketing—not just SEO.

Users now are the main protagonists of every action, and sometimes they even are the ones creating the actions that market the brands.

For this reason everything – from the website performance to the product description, from the content we create and the support we offer – must be focused on offering positive experiences to our audience, so to earn trust and loyalty, and having it becoming our main commercial force.

Lego does it, Mattel does not… and the results are here to demonstrate it:

Conclusion

In the past weeks I have been asked several times what my previews about SEO and marketing are for 2015.

Sincerely, I do not have an answer to those questions.

What I know, though, is that more and more,
every marketing channel influences every other, and therefore, SEO must be absolutely aware that it is part of something bigger.

It is increasingly clear to me that
the boundary once existing between online and offline no longer exists. We should not talk about multi-device, we should talk about OnOff as the only existing reality.

Google itself is urging us to think this way, since we’ve been many months now with Google Universal Analytics and, recently, with Adwords’ In-Store Conversions.

What I do know is that
the best brands have become publishers, and Google is well aware of this evolution and rewards it.


Everything is content
, I hope we will understand it once for all.

What I see is that there is no more space for extemporary actions, and that
with no strategy behind it even the more resounding success will quickly be forgotten and will not help achieving the goals that we have set.

What my intuition tells me is that we are in a transition phase, in a time when we have to decide what we want to be and really understand what our competitive advantages are. Those are the ways we can actually help businesses and assume a well-defined role in their marketing.

If we do not decide and understand, then we will become nerds at the service of the big media agencies, or working in their shadow.

This is why I hope that, more and more, the strategic component of our work will be considered the foundation of every campaign that we SEOs realize. 

That’s why I wanted to describe to all of you what Lego can teach us about marketing: because it responds to a finely defined strategy, which has helped Lego go from near bankruptcy to dominating the toy industry.


Fewer tips and tricks, less looking for short cuts, and more aspiring to think big
: this is what I urge to all of us to do, because the greatest successes have always been the dream someone once had and decided to make real. 
Only if we do so, 2015 will be awesome (and Google-proof).

Let’s build
.

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December 29, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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