Kevin Mercer, Ex-Director, Brand Strategy, The LEGO Group, discusses decentralised models of brand governance, the creator economy, and the upsides of an in-house agency model.
Read the whitepaper 'Local, global or glocal: Effective brand governance in the age of marketing transformation' here.
How much more complex has brand governance become recently, and why do you think that is?
I think there are a few factors at play. The first one is the number of touch points that we use has dramatically increased. For us at The LEGO Group, that covers basically everything from activation within LEGOLAND Parks to our social media and owned channels, and everything in-between.
Especially when we think about our audience of kids, the number of touchpoints they use has exploded. We have to be where they are, and understand how to show up. How does that platform align with the values and perspectives of The LEGO Group? There are so many questions that come up.
The second one is timing. How do you have governance that maintains flexibility and agility? We're moving to a content-driven world, where we’re responding in a much more topical way. So if you’re trying to come up with more reactive content, how do you make sure that it's on-brand creatively and that it says the sort of things a consumer would expect to hear from The LEGO Group?
The third is in deciding what topics you engage in and how. For example, if we want to do a piece of communications around Pride, that needs to go through certain checks and yet that has to happen in the absence of definitive guidelines. You're often trying to figure out where the guardrails are whilst you're creating within them.
Do you have a specific model for brand governance at The LEGO Group?
It’s a decentralised model. A lot of the decision-making happens in local markets. There’s a push that everyone should be a brand builder, and we’re trying to embed the behaviours and practices that can facilitate that. There are guidelines that have been developed for social media, channels, and brands. And then there are communications platform guidelines that exist out there in the world. But the rollout is about empowering people.
How does it all work in practice?
Everyone who joins reads the LEGO Idea paper, which is a distillation of the LEGO brand written by the Kirk Kristiansen family, our founders. There’s also a Brand Book, and we’re making progress on similar books for our key sub-brands.
What happens when things go wrong?
It's not often easy to know when things have gone wrong! At the end of the day, markets have a degree of autonomy to create the materials that they think are going to be locally relevant for their consumers and their shoppers. That’s the trade off – if you want everything perfect, you've got to centralise it and you've got to run it with an iron fist. If you want that flexibility and local flair, you have to trust the markets.
What trends do you think will affect global brand governance going forwards?
It’s all about Gen Z and how brands need to be more radical. You're starting to put a lot more power in the hands of creators and people who are playing with your brands in the same way that people play with our bricks.
This generation hasn't had, for example, 50 years of American Express telling them, “Don’t leave home without it.” With brands chopping and changing, they don't have the same sense of permanency.
Secondly, having an in-house agency model gives you a level of proximity that allows you to get some level of governance and consistency that is harder to replicate with an external organisation.