As voting opens for The WFA’s Global Marketer of the Year, The Drum meets finalist Julia Goldin, executive vice-president and the chief product and marketing officer at the Lego Group. She tells us how she is driving growth by exploring what ’purpose’ means for the organization.
Julia Goldin joined Lego in 2014 and today leads a team of 1,800 comprised of product development, marketing, research and insights, licensing and partnerships and, finally, Lego’s in-house creative agency. Prior to that she served senior marketing roles at Revlon and Coca-Cola.
A big driver of purpose at the organization, she is baking education, representation and sustainability into the company’s culture, as well as its products and comms. Most notably, in 2019 she launched the company’s first global brand campaign ‘Rebuild the World’, and more recently brought in Nike’s Alero Akuya to strengthen the team.
‘Rebuild the World’ landed a few months before the pandemic would take grip, at a time when the organization really leaned into the power of creativity and play to drive sales.
Kids and adults who were often home from school and work increasingly teamed up to enjoy Lego builds. As a result, the organization has been adapting its products to be more collaborative and enable family play.
Building new markets
In 2020, Lego’s consumer sales grew 21% compared with 2019, with revenue up 13%. It’s a dramatic increase for a beloved business that’s been at the forefront of toy sales for so long.
“We’ve really seen a change in behaviors over the last couple of years,” says Goldin. ”We’ve seen more families coming together and needing to have those moments of togetherness and we’ve really tapped into that.”
This has been reflected in the new products lines (modular builds with instructions that split up the projects) which include capital buildings, stadiums and the odd titan vehicle from the likes of Star Wars. “We’re really focused on ensuring that we’re providing these really wonderful opportunities for families.”
Finding and encouraging new behaviors and use cases is a vital part of the role and, over the last two years, that has included the use of Lego for mindfulness and relaxation as well as accessible product designs, such as braille bricks for visually impaired children, for example.
“Diversity is not just about gender. It’s also about showing care for people with different levels of ability to build and support them in our products.”
This includes divergent children and people with disabilities. “I think that’s one of the areas where we really have an opportunity to demonstrate that the world is open to all kinds of people. We will really lean into that.”
From a sustainability perspective, Lego has committed £290m over three years to projects that will help reduce its absolute carbon emissions 37% by 2032. It is facing up to the inescapable fact that the plastic bricks take up to 1,300 years to degrade on the ocean floor. It has promised to make all packaging sustainable by 2025 and all products sustainable by 2030. Some products are already made from degradable sugarcane.
Goldin says sustainability extends to its products as well as their production, such as kits for electric vehicles, for example. “We are really making sure that we are showing kids the kind of world that they’re living in as well as the one they want to build for the future.”
The brand puts play at the center of its operations, even in the boardroom, and it was important to Goldin to find continuity and maintain company culture while working remotely during the pandemic.
“I’m super proud of my team. Despite the fact we’ve not all been able to work together over the last couple of years, we have not missed a beat and managed to launch campaigns despite very challenging circumstances.”
Adaptability and agility are the two key attributes she puts this down to. “We really operate as a team”. Goldin stresses the importance of “connections”, building them with educational campfires and creative play, be that remote play dates for families or encouraging people to take time off to follow their passions. A hot incentive for agency partners also seems to be the Lego kits sent out for these play dates.
“It’s really important that our partners are valued and feel valued by us. So we invested in the relationships with them during this pandemic.”
Innovating for the future
Goldin urges digital marketers to “stay the course”, despite some of the disruptions ahead.
“It’s about innovation. It’s about how you find new ways to connect with your consumer through the products you develop, and I think sustainability and diversity and inclusivity are super important.”
Of the media innovations the Lego team has to play with, augmented reality is one really exciting Goldin – Lego has been displaying fully 3D sets in physical environments via mobile to bespoke lenses in social media apps.
As a company that speaks to children, she has some concerns about the targeting and privacy of these audiences via social media and is always keeping a close eye on brand safety and particularly hate speech on these platforms. ’Rebuild the World’ – the message Lego has worked so hard to craft – would lose any authenticity were it to feature next to such material.
The next step is in cultivating the owned and shared media it enjoys, having such a fundamentally shareable product and a strong community. “We have a massive digital ecosystem of eyeballs, a strong connection with our partners and our adult fans. They are generating social media and that gives us an opportunity to create very meaningful connections.”
The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and The Drum have partnered once again to find the Global Marketer of the Year. We’ll be running interviews with all finalists ahead of the vote closing on December 31. You can cast your vote to crown this year’s winner here.