Friday, May 18, 2007

The Stuff Americans Are Made Of . . .

There are a few highly competent (and highly paid) direct marketing copywriters in America today. Clayton Makepeace is one of them. Recently, he opened his free online newsletter to editorial input from others.

One of the new editorial contributors, John Newtson, gave me much to think about last Saturday with his The Stuff Americans Are Made Of: The Seven Cultural Forces Defining American Behavior.

I've shared Newtson's first story with several people, and their responses, I think, have been instructive.
The Story of the American Lego Kid
and what it says about the nature of your prospect

The Danish toy company Lego realized American kids buy far fewer sets of their toys than their German counterparts.

And that means the lifetime customer value of their American customers was drastically lower than the lifetime value of their German customers.

So Lego decided to chase down this mystery and figure out what the fundamental difference was between these customer groups. To do that they hired a big hoo-yah market researcher firm to figure out what the heck is going on over here in the Land of the Free.

And to their surprise they found there is a fundamental difference in the way American and German kids play with Lego’s – and that difference was at the heart of their marketing problem.

First they put the kids in interrogation rooms. . . .

OK, maybe not interrogation rooms but behind one-way glass so they could watch them play with Legos undisturbed. And here’s what happened:

The German kid opens the box of Legos and the first thing he does is look at the instructions. Then he very methodically, with constant reference to the drawings, builds the first project in the instructions.

Then he takes it apart and builds the second project. And so on until he’s finished building each design in the instructions. Then he does something an American kid would never do – he puts it away because he’s done with it.

Now the American kid tears into his box of Legos and the first thing he does is toss the instructions over his shoulder. And jumps immediately into building something of his own creation. And almost NEVER actually builds a single design from the instructions.

And the toy-maker realizes German children buy more because once they’ve built each of the designs in the instructions – they are done with the toy and ready for a new set.

While the American child constantly reinvents the toy – so the toy is only limited by his creativity – instead of the designs given in the instructions.
I told this story to Sarita and she said, "Makes perfect sense!

"Remember when cousin _____ visited from Germany and we were making [a certain craft]? I was shocked as I watched her put it together. She kept looking at the design in the box. And she copied it perfectly. And then she showed it to me for approval. . . . I was very unimpressed. I thought, 'Why don't you apply a little imagination?'"

Someone else, when I told the story, made a mock reference to the attempted defense that several Nazis used at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. "We were just following orders!"

More fascinating insights at The Stuff Americans Are Made Of: The Seven Cultural Forces Defining American Behavior.
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