Real Talk: Digital & Brand Marketing with James Gregson, Creative Director, LEGO Group

James Gregson is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and he happens to be one of the creative minds behind one of the world’s most beloved brands. A few months ago, we chatted about building and protecting great brands. Check out my favorite Q&A’s from my conversation with the Creative Director for LEGO Group.

If you were to build a brand from scratch, where would you start?

I’d start by optimizing the customer experience. In my opinion, that’s where brands are built.

I always look at Chewy as a great example of digital brand building and storytelling because their customer experience is completely driven by digital. Chewy has no physical stores; their customer touch points are all digital, so that customer experience has to be incredibly valuable in order to grow and retain its customers. Chewy understands that very well.  

Everything from customer service to social media interactions to the UX–all of those pieces work together to create one cohesive, brand-building customer experience.

I think when people say ‘brand’, they don’t immediately associate it with customer service. But they should! 

If I was going to build a brand from scratch, that’s where I’d start.

How do you bring digital campaigns to life for such an iconic brand as LEGO?

LEGO is a 90-year-old brand that many, many smart people long before me, spent decades building. Our brand, while innovative and playful, has a great level of attention that goes into managing and maintaining the brand and how it shows up. 

And rightly so, because there’s no shortage of examples where all it takes is one tweet to bring that brand tower tumbling to the ground.

So, there’s an intentional amount of time and effort that goes into how LEGO approaches new campaigns or reacts to cultural moments. Our brand is grounded in its purpose of inspiring builders of tomorrow. So when we question if and how the brand shows up, we do it through that lens. That’s really our North Star. 

How important is it for LEGO to be a part of what’s trending? Are you a fan of trend-hopping?  

That’s a strategy that seems to never die. But man, I wish it would. Even for brands with high levels of awareness like us, I think it can lead to a lot of wasted energy and resources to do it and do it well. You know, going through the loops of approvals, etc. Especially given the evolution of how short-lived some of these social media trends are with the impact of TikTok.

Now, I may be a lonely island in that opinion. But I think it’s because that’s where social found its value 10 or 15 years ago. It’s almost like muscle memory and people can’t let go because that’s the thing they know. But to me, it just feels very unoriginal these days.

But we do it—we just did it.

“They’re a 10 but they like playing with LEGO bricks OR they’re a 10 because they like playing with LEGO bricks?”

It was cute and playful. I like that trend as a whole. And frankly, our best social media post ever was a reactive post. But with each post, I have to ask, “Why is LEGO saying this? Why are we reacting to this? And, most importantly, what impact is this having on the LEGO brand?”

I just get the feeling we are talking to ourselves a lot with this reactive approach. Unless, of course, reactive social is an integral part of your brand’s engagement strategy, which it is for the entire fast food category.

As someone whose career began in social, what are your thoughts on how the social media career path is evolving?

There’s a great Forbes article about how the next generation of CMOs will have worked in social. I mean, to me–and yes, I am biased–it just makes sense. 

To be good at social media, you may not be an expert at analytics, copy, creative, etc., but you have to have a hand in and an opinion on every single one of them. There’s no other job that I know of, maybe the Creative Director is one of the closest, where you need to have a perspective on that range of skills.

Within my more traditional creative direction role, I have a strategist, a copywriter, and an art director. Right? Those are three different things, three different skills. And, in theory, those areas of expertise that collaborate to create something, and then a Creative Director is responsible for providing feedback. 

Whereas, when we’re working in social, for the most part, the teams are far more streamlined, the budgets are certainly smaller, and therefore, for better or worse, social media teams are usually responsible for…everything.

And then there is the ever-critical data and analytics piece–there’s not one person in social who doesn’t understand analytics or how to analyze paid social data. So you quickly become an expert in performance marketing—translating data into actionable insights. Very important, translatable skills. 

I think all those pieces do position us to be in those marketing leadership positions because we’ve touched so many different areas of marketing. 

From what I have seen on LinkedIn, there are now, more than ever, many senior-level social jobs at major brands. I did a LinkedIn post about it recently–there was Bumble, Google, Amazon, etc. all looking for people to fill senior-level social roles. Before this era, I feel like social media was sometimes treated like the ugly stepchild of the marketing world. 

A job that many leaders once thought a team of one could manage, is now being seen as a highly efficient and effective way to reach people, create community, and build a connection with audiences. And I’m here for it. 

Me too, friend. Me too. 

It was such a joy to chat with James and I look forward to seeing more of the educational, fun, innovative campaigns we’ve come to know and love the LEGO Group for! Follow James Gregson on Twitter: @jlwgreg

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