Discovering New Ideas by Reaching out to Customers

Business is all about giving the customer what they want, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what that is. Some brands get to know their fans by giving them a platform that directly asks for their input, providing companies with much-needed ideas while customers feel included in the development process. For example, in 2008 Lego launched its initiative Lego Ideas where builders submit original designs to be evaluated among a wider community of enthusiasts. If an idea receives more than 10,000 votes, then the Danish toymaker will consider it for production. “We have 10,000 people who told us they want this product,” said Monica Pedersen, marketing director for Lego Ideas. “That’s very special, because we don’t go out and test every single Lego product with 10,000 people.”

Lego also solicits the community for designs on particular subjects, such as a contest held in 2022 to design the company’s set for the 50th anniversary of the game Dungeons & Dragons. The winner of the competition not only won bragging rights but also a percentage of the sales from their design, adding an extra incentive to work with the company. Of course, any money that Lego spends through the Ideas platform is a small price to pay for the vital data it receives in return. Toymaker Mattel similarly depends on a website called Mattel Creations where customers can tinker with designs for brands like Barbie, Hot Wheels, and others. “The wealth of information, which we generate from our fans, is priceless,” said Mattel executive Sanjay Luthra.

The card game Magic: The Gathering also generates tons of consumer data from its platform Secret Lair, where creators can design and buy cards with added visual elements. The website is “a pipeline of awareness that we just never had,” said Mark Heggen, vice president at Magic’s parent company Wizards of the Coast. “We have a little lens into reality, so we can understand how people are behaving, what’s exciting to them, if they’re coming back or if they’re lapsing.” For amateur inventors, meanwhile, they get to act like insiders as they work with company designers to make their ideas into reality. “It was very special to see as a Lego builder how they approach it,” said Lucas Bolt, who won the Dungeons & Dragons contest, of his experience with Lego testers. “It was a whole team of designers, which was really cool that they spent so much time designing something that I came up with.”


  1. Why do companies like Lego and Mattel reach out to their customers for business ideas? What are the benefits of this approach?
  2. Do you think companies outside of the toy and entertainment industries should reach out to customers like Lego and Mattel do? Why or why not? 

Source: Isaac Aronow, “Got an Idea for a Toy? Toymakers Want to Hear From You,” The New York Times, May 5, 2024.