Dave Murray

LEGO: The Rise and Fall. And Rise

LEGO: The Rise and Fall. And Rise

As gutsy branders and brand strategists, we go a bit nuts when we see a large corporation making serious brand strategy mistakes. The reason being we know it leads to, at best, stagnant revenue, and at worst, fired employees. And, to us, that kind of ignorance is inexcusable.

This blog entry, however, isn’t about that at all. It’s about the rebound of that little brick we all had as kids, and a few of us have stepped on as adults. This blog’s about the fall, and rise, of the world’s favorite building brick: LEGO. So if you wanna know how to be all Phoenix-like, read on as we regale you with this tale of non-woe entitled LEGO: The Rise and Fall. And Rise.

The Rise

The more I read about LEGO, the more fascinated I become with its history. LEGO was started by a carpenter during the 1930s, who was low on money because of the depression. He and his wife had four sons, and when his wife died, he knew he had to find a way to take care of them. It’s a remarkable story, born out of unspeakable tragedy. The carpenter’s name was Ole Kirk Christiansen, and his family retains control of LEGO to this day.

The Fall

In the 1990s, LEGO had fallen on tough times, prompting Ole’s grandson, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, to bring in a “turnaround expert” to right the LEGO ship. This “expert” immediately started looking for ways to cut costs, innovate, and create brand diversification.

Cutting costs is fine. Innovating’s a good idea, as long as one innovates in their wheelhouse. But brand diversification? As branding and brand strategy consultants, the idea of that is a scary one. It’s a lot like Michael Myers – it won’t die no matter how many holes we put in it!

Read The Dangers of Bad Brand Strategy

The results were predictable. LEGO began losing a ton of money because they expanded their lines to include things that had little to do with building. Things like Jack Stone, who was a G.I. Joe wannabe, and Galidor, who was a buildable action figure. They tied that line into all kinds of media, such as cartoons and even Happy Meal toys. Galidor was an enormous flop.

And Rise

Fortunately, in 2004, a real expert was brought in. He took the reins and began re-focusing the LEGO brand to being, well, the LEGO brand! LEGO had lost sight of the one thing that propelled it to success in the first place: the basic LEGO building brick. This new expert, Jørgen Knudstorp, knew it, and brought back the brick in a big way. They cut divisions that didn’t make sense for LEGO to have, made sure all their media tie-ins had “building” as the focus, and drastically cut down on the types of brick shapes being produced.

Dave Murray, Mayniax Branding - Dave's first castle was a LEGO one!

Focus Is Only a Big Deal for Real Brands

Another move we were especially proud to see, as brand strategists, was setting limits on – and re-focusing – their designers. The designers used to innovate too much because they’d be told things like, “Come up with something really cool that kids will like!” and “We need you to come up with new bricks for these specialty sets!” To re-focus the designers, they were told things more like, “Create a really cool police car, using these specific bricks.” Some designers didn’t like that, but the brand was re-focused, in part, because of it. A quote from David Robertson, who wrote Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry, sums this up perfectly. “…what to take away from LEGO is that it’s not enough just to boost innovation. As you boost the amount of creativity and innovation, you’ve also got to boost the amount of focus and control.”

Dave Murray, Mayniax Branding - The Big Guy still plays with LEGOs!

You may be wondering why I’ve spent all this time talking about LEGO. Well, if you’ve been reading the stuff we post all over our website and social media accounts, you’ll see that focus and staying in your wheelhouse is paramount to a quality brand. And just how quality is the LEGO brand?

Read Focus: A Brand Strategy Assignment

How LEGO Stacks up to its Competition

Hasbro is LEGO’s number two competitor, and they produce a whole lot of toys you’ve heard of: My Little Pony, Transformers, Star Wars, that creepy little Furby (I added “that creepy little,” because it’s true), Monopoly, Battleship, etc.

Mattel is LEGO’s number one competitor. They produce a whole lot of toys you’ve heard of, too: Barbie, Hot Wheels, Disney Princesses, Polly Pocket, and Fisher Price, etc.

So, how quality is the LEGO brand? This year (2014) LEGO passed Mattel to become the number one toy-maker in the world. And how did they do it? Well, I pretty much just told you: one little brick at a time.

You’re welcome for your eyeroll.

The Lesson

Diversification can be done well, but only by building separate brands. What almost bankrupted LEGO, in essence, was a poor diversification strategy. In the minds of customers, LEGO is those little bricks. Rather than trying to allow their other brands to succeed on their own, LEGO put their logo all over products that had nothing to do with those little bricks, which caused a lot of confusion. And confusion’s bad.

As for Hasbro and Mattel, my gut feeling is they need to re-focus each brand under their umbrellas. And definitely take their logos off the individual brands’ packaging.

And Hasbro should definitely kill that creepy little Furby.

Stay gutsy, gang!

The world is broken, and we believe only entrepreneurs can fix it. But they’ll never get that chance if no one cares about their brands. So, with a little bit o’ nuttiness, a little bit o’ research, and a lotta bit o’ guts, it’s our job to make people care.

Wanna set up a happy fun time chat with Ann Arbor’s favorite branding team? Then click here, fill out the form, and we’ll get back to ya!

Harvard Business School

Dave Murray

Missions, Values, and Visions, Oh My!

Missions, Values, and Visions, Oh My!

In Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, he talked about the head fake, saying, “Most of what we learn, we learn indirectly.” See if you can spot, from his Ann Arbor classroom, the head fake in Professor Dave’s lecture, “Missions, Values, and Visions, Oh My!”

Mayniax Branding - Randy Pausch Quote: "Most of what we learn, we learn indirectly (or by 'head fake')."

Referring to myself in the third person isn’t a sign of narcissism, is it? Whoa, turns out it’s not! And cookies for dinner are kinda tasty.



The mission of your brand is based heavily on the “why” of it. I write a ton about the “why,” so here’s a link to the latest blog post about it: The New Rules of Branding

Our “why” is always about entrepreneurs because we believe they’re the keys to the world’s happiness. So our mission is all about entrepreneurs and what we do to help them: The world is broken, and we believe entrepreneurs are the only ones who can fix it. But they’ll never get that chance if no one cares about their brands. So, with a little bit o’ nuttiness, a little bit o’ research, and a lotta bit o’ guts, it’s our job to make people care.

Our So you can see, our mission is based around our “why.” Find your brand’s “why,” and your mission becomes easy.


Values are your brand’s way of letting the world know what’s important to it! A lot of times, it’s not even about business.

Our brand’s values are pretty straight-forward.

1. We’re about health – We want to foster a culture where people are able to take care of themselves so they’ll be around for the people who need them.
2. We’re about a team with a common cause – Our qualifications for our team will always be if we like you, if you can do the job, and if you believe in the mission, you’re in! Unless you’re like, four or something. I think they have laws against that.
3. We’re about benevolent entrepreneurs – If you’re passionate and have a strong “why” about what you do, we’ll help you. If you’re just in it for the money, or you simply know how to do whatever, go somewhere else.
4. We’re about consistency. We’re branders. Everyone should be treated exceptionally well, and every process should be followed, otherwise we’re not very good branders.
5. We’re not about bigotry. If anyone shows any hate toward someone because of something they have no control over, they’re out. Period.

So, what’s important to your brand? What does it stand for? Remember that values not only communicate what’s important to your brand – they also give people additional reasons to want to meet with you. But here’s the thing: like your mission, they must be 100% authentic. Don’t fake any of it, because people will sniff you out.


What’s the overall vision for your brand? When all is said and done, what should your brand achieve? Ours is simple: we want Mayniax Branding to contribute to leave a measurable impact on the world’s happiness. That means Mayniax Branding will likely go on for a good long time, because unless Google comes up with a happiness algorithm, that’s gonna be tough to measure!

What mark will your brand leave on the world?

Oh My!

Brands grow from within. It’s up to you to make sure your people – and that includes clients – are on board with the brand’s mission, the brand’s values, and the brand’s vision, or they’re just words that mean nothing. And then you’ll be just like every other entrepreneur out there, working 80 hours per week for the rest of your life wondering where you went wrong.

Did Ya Catch the Head Fake?

I typed a lot about the brand, but absolutely nothing about products or services. That’s because they’re practically inconsequential to the mission, values, and vision of a brand. But that’s not the head fake.

The brand is you! Your “why,” your mission, your values, and your vision for the world are the backbone of your brand! What your brand does is just a tool to help make those things – the things that are truly important to you – happen.

That’s why we build brands around who our entrepreneurs actually are. And that’s why I have such a tough time with the concept of “personal branding” – it seems to imply making you, and consequently your brand, into something you’re not. And speaking of my frustration with “personal branding”

In Closing

Remember that your brand is ultimately you. And you’ll find the right people – teammates and clients – to work with if you’re just true to yourself. Because honestly, when your parents first looked you in the eyes and said, “Be yourself,” they taught you everything you needed to know about personal branding.

And possibly why you occasionally – since you’re may be all about health – enjoy cookies for dinner.

Stay gutsy, gang!

The world is broken, and we believe only entrepreneurs can fix it. But they’ll never get that chance if no one cares about their brands. So, with a little bit o’ nuttiness, a little bit o’ research, and a lotta bit o’ guts, it’s our job to make people care.

Wanna set up a happy fun time chat with Ann Arbor’s favorite branding team? Then click here, fill out the form, and we’ll get back to ya!