Avenue Code: Tell us about your personal career path. How did you get to where you are today?
James Gregson: As someone who wasn't academically oriented, my career path was nontraditional. Thanks to some strong parental guidance, I attended Syracuse University and learned, at a basic level, what I didn’t want to do. I studied advertising design, but quickly switched to computer animation with a minor in painting. Hardly transferable skills, but my takeaway was that I was going to be more successful doing something I enjoyed.
I started my professional career by working in the PR agency world, in the early days of digital communications and bloggers. Right around the financial crisis of 2008, I decided to start my own consultancy. I did everything from designing websites to core social media support, eventually working for LEGO as a consultant, which led to a full-time job.
AC: Has your role at LEGO evolved?
JG: I was originally hired as a senior manager to operationalize the global to local social media setup. My core competency is creativity, which allowed me to ideate new solutions to diverse challenges related to operations, processes, workflows, etc. My role has since evolved and is now 100 percent creative. I lead the internal creative agency America’s team responsible for organic social content.
AC: What are you personally most passionate about in your career?
JG: I find joy and an outlet for my creativity in problem solving. Social media gives you the opportunity to be very close to the data, empowering you to identify insights and produce solutions that receive immediate feedback. Problem solving at an operational level is interesting, but it’s less reactive than social.
AC: How do you use data to drive marketing strategy at LEGO?
JG: Data on content performance is the key to successful creative optimization. Content must deliver at or above objectives. That’s the beauty of social — you can be very data and insight driven. Instinct may inform social strategy, but data defines right and wrong.
AC: Why do companies fail at social?
JG: We fail when we overcomplicate things and deviate from fundamentals like strong audience-first content. The best content isn't always the content that costs the most money to produce. Some of the brand’s top social content literally took minutes to create. One challenge is that social media has become so pervasive that everyone within the organization wants to use it to broadcast their message, but there needs to be a prioritization and return on investment assessment for every message. This is why it’s important to respect the expertise of social media teams that understand content performance.
AC: What new challenges and opportunities has COVID-19 created for LEGO’s marketing strategy and for retail marketing as a whole?
JG: We saw a huge increase in new adults buying LEGO products. While COVID-19 has devastated entire industries, two takeaways are clear. First, if you didn’t have a digital e-commerce platform before COVID-19, you’re probably struggling, no matter which industry you’re in. Second, the impact of COVID-19 on physical events is tremendously challenging for everyone. User habits have shifted dramatically, and marketers have to review and revise where and how they’re reaching their target audience.
AC: What are your thoughts on corporate involvement in social hot topics like climate change and Black Lives Matter?
JG: I’m lucky to work at a company that has a core value proposition of being purpose driven. Everything from our sustainability goals to campaigns like LEGO Replay reflects that LEGO is about more than selling products.
Purpose-driven marketing isn’t new, but what has evolved in 2020 is that if a company says it's going to do something, it has to follow through and deliver on those intentions. It must also get feedback from every demographic and psychographic within the business to ensure its intention doesn’t reflect a singular mindset. Conscious, purpose-driven marketing is table stakes now.
AC: What has been a highlight for you in the last few years? Was there a moment, either for you personally or for LEGO, that you knew you were on the right track?
JG: My highlight is having a career I love, because I know how difficult that is to achieve. As a child, I was a huge fan of LEGOs, so it’s incredible to be contributing to LEGO now by moving the brand into new areas.
Alfredo Moro is a business development specialist at Avenue Code, a software consultancy delivering end-to-end solutions.