The old pair of sneakers that saved Lego

If there is a catchphrase in the corporate world lately, that is definitely Big Data, which can be defined as the storage of huge amounts of data from every possible source and its use for determining repetitive patterns. Personally, I believe that the correct term should be A lot of Data because we are not talking about how big every piece of data is but the massive amount of data we are handling.

For this reason, Martin Lindstrom, author of the international bestseller, Buyology, in his latest book Small Data says that “Big Data is data and data favors analysis over emotion” and also states that it is difficult for him to imagine data capturing many of the emotional qualities that we -humans- most value, such as: beautiful, friendly, sexy, awesome, cute, etc., and this is because if data itself could only express the purest emotional decisions humans make, then accountants, and not poets, would be the cultural prototype for great lovers in history.

Saatchi and Saatchi CEO, Kevin Roberts, indicates: ”great brands have two advantages: (1) they evoke respect for their technological performance, durability, and effectiveness; and (2) they evoke love because… we love them”. This could be the case of brands like Disney, Lego or Apple. They are both respected and loved and this exactly at what Big Data is not proficient at: measuring certain aspects, such as love.

And here is where the interesting story develops: it was the the first half of the decade of the 1990s and Lego’s sales were declining which had executives of the company worried about studies that indicated a trend in which children were beginning to migrate to another type of games that more easily provided them with instant gratification. In response to these trends showed by those reports, the company executives were considering making Lego game sets easier to complete, in other words: dumbing the toys down. At that time, Lego started to move on towards different business lines -theme parks, children’s clothing lines, video games, books, TV programs, etc- and, at the same time, thinking of manufacturing bigger bricks for the ease of use of its toys by children. All of this because the future seemed to be doomed: future generations would lose interest in LEGO.

But, in an unexpected turning point, everything changed as a result of a visit Lego marketers paid to the home of an 11 year old boy in Germany by early 2004. That same day, Lego executives realized that everything they though they knew through studies and reports was completely wrong.

This boy was not only a Lego enthusiast but also an assiduous skateboarder that when asked which one of his possessions he was most proud of, did not hesitate to signal to a pair of Adidas sneakers with ridges and nooks along one side. He explained proudly to them that they were kind of a trophy, gold medal or masterpiece. In fact, those frayed sneakers were the evidence to his friends that he was one of the best skateboarders in the city, because one side of the sneaker was worn down right when the grip tape of the skateboard scratches it. It all fitted perfectly.

At that very instant, it all made sense for the Lego marketers. They realized that children acquire social status among their peers through the mastery of a skill, no matter what skill that is. The same occurs when this kid receives a Lego game set for his birthday, which causes he wakes up at 4 am and stays until midnight to try to build it no matter how long it takes. The satisfaction lies in the fact of having something tangible to show his mastery, in this case it could be a finished Lego model or even a pair of worn down sneakers.

Until that moment, all the decisions that Lego made were based on Big Data, but that small insight caused that Lego did the opposite to what the reports and studied suggested. They made their toys even more difficult to assemble and more thematic -Star Wars, Minecraft, etc.- to attract more children. Almost ten years later, Lego released a super successful movie and surpassed Mattel to become the world’s largest toy maker.

All of this is the opposite of Big Data, according to Martin Lindstrom it is called Small Data, and it means treating humans not as a number but as humans. You can buy the book from Amazon in the following link:

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You can also watch a shot video for an interview to Martin Lindstrom about his book

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