Collaborating with Customer Communities: Lessons from the Lego Group

Topics: Lego, Lego Mindstorms, Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Pages: 10 (4622 words) Published: October 28, 2014
SPRING 2012

V O L . 5 3 N O. 3

Yun Mi Antorini, Albert M. Muñiz, Jr.
and Tormod Askildsen

Collaborating With
Customer Communities:

Lessons From the
Lego Group

REPRINT NUMBER 53316

i n n o vat i o n

Collaborating With
Customer Communities:

Lessons From
the Lego Group

The leading
question

How can
companies
collaborate
effectively
with their
customers?
Findings

Companies need to


By tapping into the knowledge and enthusiasm of thousands of longtime users of its products, Lego has been able to enhance its product offerings — without increasing long-term fixed costs. By Yun Mi Antorini, Albert M. Muñiz, Jr. and Tormod Askildsen

open lines of communication through
programs that users
of the products see
as valid.
Collaboration with


customers is most
effective when
companies provide
several platforms
for interaction.
Since the company


Customer-oriented companies pride themselves on their
ability to understand the experiences and insights of the marketplace and then integrate the best ideas into future products.1 But what would it be like if you found that you had hundreds if not thousands of knowledgeable users of your products ready and eager to spend nights and weekends acting as extensions of your research and development department? For the Lego Group, a maker of children’s creative

construction toys based in Billund,
Denmark, this close bond with
the user community — not
just children but a large coterie of adults who have been
using its products for years —
is not a pipe dream but a reality.
Lego users have a long tradition of innovation and sharing their innovations with one another — activities that the Internet has made much easier. As Lego managers became more
aware of innovations by the company’s adult fans, the managers realized that at least some of the adult fans’ ideas would be interesting to the company’s core target market of children. In 2005, Lego created the Ambassador Program to provide a fast and direct way for the company and its fans to get into contact with one another. The program has provided considerable value to both sides.

• For the Lego Group, the program has offered exposure to
new ideas, new technologies and new business partnerships. Management saw that not everything needed to be developed internally. Indeed, the company has found ways to expand into new market courtesy of BrickArtist.com

A12-MI1-003 Antorini.indd 73

and users may have
different interests,
companies need to
develop clear guidelines for considering
user input.

Adult Lego users
have pioneered
many creative
uses of Lego bricks.
This sculpture,
for example, was
created by artist
Nathan Sawaya.

SPRING 2012 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW 73

3/6/12 10:35 AM

I n n o vat i o n

areas without having to sustain long-term fixed costs.
• For the adult fans, collaborations have allowed
them to influence Lego’s business decisions and encourage the company to develop products targeting teens and adults. In some cases, Lego has decided to back
businesses that produce products related to its own.
Through trial and error, Lego has developed a
solid understanding of what it takes to build and
maintain profitable and mutually beneficial collaborations with users. In what follows, we will examine the emergence of Lego’s user communities, how management’s involvement with user groups has evolved and the core principles that

Lego has formulated for successful interaction with
its user groups. (See “About the Research.”)

The Emergence of Lego
User Communities
For decades, Lego’s colorful plastic bricks were developed for and used by children who played alone or with a few playmates. As the children grew up, they
generally outgrew their interest in Lego products.
However, beginning in the late 1990s, two things happened: (1) the company introduced a series of new products that appealed to older users, such as Lego
Star Wars...

References: no. 3 (April 2007): 81-84.
4. Jake McKee, “Behind the Curtains - Lego Factory
AFOL Project Team,” November 16, 2004, www.lugnet
Sharing Among End-users,” Research Policy 32, no.1
(2003): 157-78.
Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2012.
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