What a box of Legos can teach us about the power of built-in branding

I recently found myself sifting through a huge box of Lego pieces. We’re talking one of those giant plastic totes filled with thousands of pieces in every shape, color and size.

My intention was to sort them broadly by color first, and eventually re-home most of the pieces into their original sets to pass along to nieces and nephews. (Tell me you’re an empty-nester without telling me you’re an empty-nester.)

As I started sorting, I soon realized the massive collection included a large number of non-Lego-brand pieces, which I also needed to separate from the rest. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to notice what most Lego aficionados undoubtedly already know: there are many ways to tell a Lego from a lookalike.

Sifting through the bricks a handful at a time, it was easy to quickly identify which was which. And I thought, that’s when you know you’ve created an enduring brand.

Lego vs. Lookalike: 3 ways to tell

Visual Branding

Standard bricks include a tiny Lego logo on each stud for clear, consistent brand recognition. But even without squinting at every piece, there were other ways to tell them apart.

Tactile Experience

There’s a specific weight and surface texture that makes a Lego brick look, feel and function like a Lego. The high-quality material (ABS plastic) and precision manufacturing ensure they fit together snugly and stay connected, yet can be pulled apart when the time comes.

Consistency Over Time

Pieces are compatible with each other regardless of production year, and across sets and over time, the standard colors are remarkably consistent. Bricks produced decades apart look virtually indistinguishable from each other, yet are easy to visually separate from the off-brand components.

What We Can Learn

As marketers, there’s a lot we can do to build a compelling story around a brand or product. And, of course, there are additional elements that go beyond the product to create a killer customer experience. But when users can readily and consistently separate your product from the competition—you’ve got something special.

What opportunities does your brand have to make your products instantly recognizable in the market? Here are some more examples to get you thinking:

Color is a common methodology. It could be a signature color for the entire product—think Owens Corning PINK insulation or the white AirPods from Apple. The same goes for a distinctive visual detail, like the yellow stitching on Doc Marten shoes, the red soles of Louboutin heels or the red tab on a pair of Levi’s jeans.

Maybe it’s a signature sound. Alka Seltzer (Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz) and Rice Krispies (Snap, Crackle, Pop) turned their products’ sounds into classic catchphrases, while tech-centric brands like Microsoft, Netflix, PlayStation and Dolby have recognizable audio “stingers” as a central component of their brand identity.

Coca-Cola bottles, Hershey’s kisses and Wendy’s hamburger patties all have their own simple but instantly recognizable shape. Many hotel brands and retailers have a signature fragrance that enhances the in-person ambience. And Hallmark gives customers gold seals to signal that the person choosing the card cared enough to “send the very best.”

Whatever you choose, remember that any brand signifier is just one part of the picture. It only works if your signature feature is attached to something worth remembering—whether that means dependable quality, an exceptional customer experience, luxurious indulgence or rebelling against the status quo.

When you give customers something worth coming back for—and a simple way to identify your product amid the sea of sameness—they’ll be less likely to settle for lookalikes and more willing to make sure they’re getting the genuine article.

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