Sunday, January 15, 2012

LEGOs - are they delivering value to their customers with products catered to girls?

You may not know there is an organization petitioning The LEGO Group to stop creating LEGOs for girls.  The product line is called LEGO Friends and features LEGO's that come in girl-friendly colors such as pink and purple.  The kits also come with girl figurines.  The product line was developed after conducting market research for four years with boys and girls to see how they interact with LEGO products.

Tens of thousands of parents (mostly moms) are annoyed that the girl kits come mostly prefabricated, requiring less building of the structure and allowing more play time.

I don't understand the controversy.  The company's market research showed that boys enjoy building while girls primarily enjoy playing.  Hence the company created product lines that better addressed the needs of one of their market segments.   Sounds pretty straight forward right?

When I first heard about the outrage and the petition signing, my immediate reaction was also somewhat negative towards The LEGO Group.  I wondered why they would create a "dummied down" version of LEGOs for girls.  Different colors were fine with me, but pre-building "scenes" for the girls seemed a little insulting.  Then I did my own research.  I looked at The LEGO Group's corporate website to learn more about the company.

I learned the brand name LEGO was an abbreviation of two Danish words "leg godt," meaning "play well."  The company is family-owned and was founded in 1932 in Denmark.  The company has been passed on from father to son to grandson.  It is the 4th largest toy manufacturer in the world, with products sold in 130+ countries.  The LEGO Group's mission is to "inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow."

Their brand values include Creativity, Fun, Learning, Caring and Quality.
My favorite 3 sentences from their brand values are:
"Curiosity asks, Why?"
"Playfulness asks what if?"
"Free play is how children develop their imagination - the foundation for creativity."

I believe The LEGO Group is true to their brand values.  By spending four years conducting market research with their true customer - children - they were able to observe and learn how children interact with their product and listen to their comments about their needs, wants, frustrations, etc.  Note that the research was with the "user" of the product, not the "buyer" of the product.  That is key to fully understand the voice of your customer.  The 35,000+ petitioners who want to stop the selling of LEGOs for girls are not the actual users of the product.   The company is carrying out their mission and doing the right thing by listening to their customers.

The LEGO Group created their "Friends" product line not because they think girls are not smart enough to play with the traditional LEGO products.  Quite the contrary.  The LEGO Group continues to listen to their customers desires.  Over 4 years, the girls communicated what they would like to see in products created for them.  That's where the colors came into play. That's where the "scenarios" for the kits came into play such as the Cafe, the house, etc.  Even the use of larger figurines so it was easier to play with them like dolls.

So as a marketer, I had to ask myself these questions:
1.  Is The LEGO Group creating value for their customers?
2.  Are they building long term customer relationships?
3.  Are they listening and responding to their customers wants and needs?

The answer to all 3 questions is yes.  They are absolutely gathering feedback from their customer base (the end user), and incorporating that feedback into new products to satisfy the needs and wants of one of their market segments, girls. Is it all girls?  Obviously not, but clearly it is for the majority of girls since the product was launched in 2010 and the petitioning has been done in recent months.  The product has been on the market for nearly two years.  Why all the fuss?  Because moms are becoming outraged without finding out all the facts.  How can a product line that engages creativity, fun, learning, caring and quality be so offensive to parents?

Parents seem to forget they have a choice about what to buy.  Many choices actually.  They can choose to not buy the LEGO products for girls or continue to buy "generic" primary colored LEGOs.  Does it really matter that they have a choice?

At the end of the day it's all about The LEGO Group providing products in the marketplace that satisfy their customer's wants and needs.  They have been successfully delivering value to their customers for 80 years, and they continue to do the right things.  Having a choice has become the American way.  Remember in 1909, Henry Ford said "any customer can have a car painted in any color that he wants, as long as it is black."