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

3 Branding Predictions for 2017

3 Branding Predictions for 2017

As with any article where someone gets all Nostradamus-y, “3 Branding Predictions for 2017” is an opinion piece. So neener.

Also, am I the only one who thinks “neener” should be a business term?

Mayniax Branding - Really terrible artist's rendering of Nostradamus with red glasses

Number 1, on the list of Branding Predictions for 2017

More Entrepreneurs Will Understand the Importance of Their “Why”s

If you haven’t yet, check out Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on starting with “why.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I think people are taking the “why” a lot more seriously. They’re starting to understand that, when it comes to things we actually care about – such as our favorite brands – our decisions are never based in logic, but rather emotion.

We make decisions emotionally whether we’re talking our personal lives or our business lives.

Let’s say you ask someone out, and they completely blow you off – not that that’s ever happened to yours truly *gulp*. The next time they see you, they’ll justify it, but what likely happened is their gut told them it was a bad idea, or you did something to irritate them, or you just weren’t that high on their list of priorities.

Now let’s put that knowledge to use in business. You meet with someone. The chat goes great and they promise they’ll run it by their people and let you know whether or not you got the deal in a few days. And you never hear from them. Again, what likely happened is their gut told them it was a bad idea, or you did something to irritate them, or you just weren’t that high on their list of priorities. And the next time you see them, they justify it.

Fortunately, an authentic “why” makes you relatable. With it in place – along with decent brand strategy – clients you want to work with will seek you out. People who want to work with you will seek you out.

Though I’m not sure how that’s gonna help ya on a Saturday night.

We see it as being the most important thing in branding, along with four other things you can read about here.

An authentic “why” makes us all relatable.

Number 2, on the list of Branding Predictions for 2017

Old School Brands Will Continue to Suck at Life

We’re already seeing it this year with Kmart, Sears, and Macy’s. In fact, the one thing Sears had going for it – Craftsman – was recently sold to Stanley Black & Decker. Macy’s doesn’t have anything behind it besides, “Hey, we sell middle-of-the-road clothes,” and Kmart hasn’t been relevant in years.

Fun fact: I used to work at Kmart. One day, a guy came in looking for a “…really good phone.” And I had no choice but to say, “And you came here?” This is why I’m a terrible employee.

The problem with old school brands is two-fold: First, they likely have old school thinking based fully on logic and spreadsheets, and second – even if they don’t – they’re too old to establish a believable “why.” Yup, there’s that friggin’ “why” again. Their only recourse is to try to instill a “why” to the public consciousness one bit at a time, so it doesn’t look fake. But they’ll try sales, and tricky accounting practices, and buyouts, until the brands have lost all of their power.


Unfortunately, bad brand strategy’s old news.

Number 3, on the list of Branding Predictions for 2017

“Branding” Will Continue to Be One of the Most Confusing Terms in Business

Let’s face it, even we branders have a tough time explaining what branding is in simple terms. Every time we think we have it nailed down, someone inevitably hits us with, “What does that mean?” Even when we, ourselves, finally distilled it down to “We build brands around entrepreneurs’ ‘why’s, stories, and competitors,” we’d still get, “What’s a brand?”

Personally, I think a brand is the soul of a business – it’s cause / mission – with some strategy and design thrown in for reinforcement. But that’s just me. Other people will define it differently. It’s not like a vet, or an accountant, or a grocery store – it’s a lot more fluid.

And that’s why one of our brand strategies for 2017 is to educate more entrepreneurs on what branding is.

That’s All Folks!

So, there’s our branding predictions for 2017! I hope you enjoyed the read, and I hope I can dig through my stuff to find my Kmart smock. Because that’d be funny. To me.

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!

Dave Murray

The New Rules of Branding

The New Rules of Branding

So what could possibly tempt yours truly, to write about something like “The New Rules of Branding” – besides the fact I’m a branding guy, of course? I’ll tell ya: it’s this graphic.

Photo showing all the brands the top 10 food corporations in the world own

Every year or so, an updated version of this graphic winds its way through the interwebz. And man, do people get mad! They freak out about the mega-corporations, and how no company should have all that money. But I don’t get mad when I see this graphic, because I recognize it for what it is: the story of the old ways of branding done right!

We often talk about just how long it takes brands to really become successful, so let’s take a peek at what years these evil mega-corporations were founded:

Unilever: 1929
Nestle: 1905
Coca-Cola: 1892
Pepsico (Pepsi): 1898
Kellogg’s: 1906
General Mills: 1856
Mars: 1911
Mondelēz International (formerly snack and food brands of Kraft Foods): 1903
Associated British Foods plc: 1935
Danone: 1919

Whoa! Seven of the corporations are over 100 years-old and the punk kid is 81? Even I wasn’t expecting that!

When these corporations and brands began, the “over-communicated society” Ries and Trout talked about in “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” wasn’t so over-communicated. These corporations didn’t have to worry as much about branding because there weren’t nearly as many competitors out there. They just needed to find a way to get their products in front of people. And since there were so few competitors, the job of doing so to become first in the mind was a lot easier than it is today.

And they’ve been growing ever since.

Two of our branding bibles: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind and The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

Today, we have that over-communicated society. And because of that, it’s never been more important to develop a brand. And here’s the kicker: developing a gutsy brand gets more crucial to business, and entrepreneurial, success as society gets even more over-communicated.

Strategy: In With the Old

Jack Trout and Al Ries first came up with the idea of positioning in 1969, which is the same year man went to the moon. Coincidence? I think not! *ahem* He and Al Ries perfected the idea, making it so positioning / brand strategy was largely about differentiation. Of course, that meant you had to know your competition. And it still does. The thing is, today, there’s a whole lot more competition.

Strategy is absolutely necessary, because that’s how you get noticed. But let’s be perfectly Sinatra about this: today, it’s only part of the equation.

Getting All Scientific and Stuff

First, I’m no scientist. Not even a little. Whenever someone mentions Pluto, I tell them I’m a Looney Tunes guy. Whenever someone brings up geology, I think of AC/DC. And whenever someone talks about the brain, I wonder what we’re gonna do tomorrow night.

Fortunately, I like research.

Emotion or Logic?

According to Decision-making: Emotional vs Logical, “Together, emotions and logic pair to become a decision-making powerhouse. To capture both in consumers, brands must first create an emotional connection between consumer and product (“Just like mom used to make!”) before then highlighting the logical reasons to make that decision (‘Now with all-natural ingredients!’).”

To put it another way, if I were to buy a woman a drink, and her emotional reaction was that short dudes creep her out, I may end up with a liberal dose of libations on my face. Later on she may justify that by thinking, “I didn’t feel like talking,” or, “What? I don’t like whiskey.” She made the decision emotionally, but now she’s justifying it to herself logically.

But if I were to buy another woman a drink, her emotional response may be he’s not creepy – at least I hope it would be – so she’d accept and we’d chat. If it were a good chat, she may think about it later and say, “He’s short, but funny and passionate are good things.” She’s already decided I’m not the devil, but now she has to rationalize it to herself.

More on How Our Decisions Are Made:
The Myth of Rational Decision-making
Decisions are Emotional, not Logical: The Neuroscience Behind Decision-making
The Limbic System

Community: We Kinda Need it

For years, marketers have known the importance of emotion in advertising, but it’s largely been manipulative. “Buy one, get one half off!” “Drink beer and get bikini models!” Or, as is the case of every insurance company ever, “BUY THIS OR YOU’LL DIE!!!”

BUY THIS OR YOU'LL DIE!!! Note: Dave doesn't sell insurance

But with new scientific – yeah, I typed that – understanding, we’re learning that humans are wired to be social, and simply want to be part of a safe community. And, without scientific understanding, we’re pretty sure humans aren’t big fans of being manipulated.

According to Matthew Lieberman, in this interview with Scientific American, “At businesses worldwide, pay for performance is just about the only incentive used to motivate employees. However, praise and an environment free from social threats are also powerful motivators. Because social pain and pleasure haven’t been a part of our theory of ‘who we are’ we tend not to use these social motivators as much as we could.”

Before I keep typing – and possibly ice my fingers – Here are the “simple definitions” of community, from Merriam-Webster:

1. a group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood)
2. a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.
3. a group of nations

At this point, we know five things:

How old brands got so huge
Emotions play a huge role in decision-making
The definitions of “community”
We’re wired to be part of communities
I don’t like having whiskey thrown in my face

The “Why.” You Knew it Was Comin’

I type a lot about Simon Sinek’s golden circle, and the importance of the “why.” Sinek defines the “why” as being a cause, a purpose, or a belief – and he goes on to say, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” And, with what we know about emotions being key to decision-making, and all the examples he presents to prove his point, I have to think he’s right.

Mayniax Branding - Simon Sinek's Book: Start With Why

Now, here’s where we start to tie things together.

If we look at the second definition for “community,” we see it can mean a group of people who have the same interests. A lot of people are into the same causes. A lot of people have similar purpose. And a lot of people have similar beliefs about the world – our belief, for instance, is that the world is broken and only entrepreneurs can fix it.

In short, your “why” builds your community.

Richard Branson says, “The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.” Now, I’m not clairvoyant – I can’t even predict what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow – but with everything we know, I think he’s right. People will rally around causes, but they don’t really rally around money.

And ya know what my favorite part of the “why” is, especially when we’re talking entrepreneurs? The fact that it’s genuine. It’s authentic. This isn’t about marketing manipulation – it’s about telling the world who you are and what you believe. And that’s how your people – be they teammates or clients – will find you.

Let Me Tell Ya a Little Story…

Okay, I don’t really have a story, but I do know the importance of a story when it comes to your brand.

Branding is all about being top of mind. And the way you get to be at that oh-so-coveted spot is by getting remembered. Stories help make that happen.

“Facts get recorded. Stories get remembered.” -Lewis Schiff, Inc. Business Owner’s Council

That quote is from an Inc article entitled, “Your Story Is Your Marketing Strategy.” In it, the author implores you to “…think beyond the bullet points of your product.”

In “Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing,” a more scientific case is made for storytelling, based on how our brains actually work. And, spoiler alert, it also mentions how stories help us remember things.

My recommendation is to have a true story that backs up your “why,” which builds your community. See? I’m not just another guy with a face for radio. Or maybe I am and I’m just really good at research.

One more fantastic, and awesomely in-depth, story article:
The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing, Chapter Three, by Neil Patel

Get Focused

I wrote a post on focus called Focus: A Brand Strategy Assignment. In it, I detailed the importance of, and how to get, focused. So hey, check it out!

Focus on Building Locally

So far, dear entrepreneur, I’ve backed everything up with extensive research while drinking copious amounts of caffeine. But now, I’m gonna fire off an opinion, based on the state of the world today: start out by building locally.

Mayniax Branding - Our classic "focus" pic!

The fact is, most of us have me-too brands – there are already players in your field. For instance, Mayniax Branding certainly isn’t the first branding team out there. And unless you have the next wheel and a huge marketing budget, it’s gonna be tough to get your idea out into the world.

Instead, start locally and allow your brand to grow organically – because we like buzzwords – outside your local area. It’ll help you focus, which is kind of a big deal. Plus, it’s going to be a lot harder, and a lot more expensive, to get your message out to the whole world than it is your local area.

Grassroots / Local Articles:
Grassroots is the Heart of the Brand
50 Stealable Grassroots Marketing Campaigns

So, What Are the New Rules of Branding?

1. Build a strategy to get noticed
2. Build a “why” to create community
3. Tell a true story to get you remembered
4. Focus to also get remembered
5. Start locally

And avoid having whiskey poured on your face.

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!