Lean Marketing – It Will Change Marketing Forever

by Jonathan Gebauer (@jogebauer)

Have you heard of “Lean Startup” or “Lean Innovation”? Well, then it is time to adapt the concept to lean marketing.

And a new generation of marketers is already doing it, changing the landscape of marketing forever. Lowering the costs and generating results that old school marketers can only dream about.

You can be one of them!

What Is the Concept Behind Lean Marketing Strategy?

The concept of “Lean” was described in detail first by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup”. It has since been used by many Startups to successfully build products that customers really want. Similar methods have been adapted by companies of any size and very often improve products and innovations – while lowering the price of development and research tremendously at the same time.

“Lean Startup” describes a process of creating an innovation within a continuous loop of action:

Build -> Measure -> Learn

  • To enter the loop you have to first identify a problem and then create the most simple solution you can think of. The “Minimum Viable Product” or MVP.
  • Once you have your MVP, you start measuring reactions and generating data. There is a lot of methodologies you can use, tools you can apply, etc. Not the point of this article.
  • Once you have your data, it is time to learn: What needs to be improved, does the product really solve the problem, why do customers not convert, … Your learning is the basis for the next step.
  • You start adapting again – you enter the “Build” phase of the loop again. And from there you constantly improve.

The point is to enter an agile development approach to the solution, where the startup can continuously improve and adapt – without becoming too expensive to handle or too complex to change.

There is a lot more to the process than just this step by step instructions. Eric Ries describes methodologies to measure and examine the data, questions to examine and ways to identify whether to pivot or go out of business.Have you heard of “Lean Startup” or “Lean Innovation”? Well, then it is time to adapt the concept to lean marketing.

Again, not the point for us today. Instead, let’s find out why this is important for marketing.

Marketing Is Expensive And Results Are Uncertain

Traditionally, marketing is like training a dragon: It’s expensive to get the right tools (you need to be fireproof), you need to get it right from the start (or you die), and you will never know whether you get it wrong until it is too late. In the old days, marketing was tied to expensive and slow advertising channels, Public Relations and a lot of untested assumptions about your own brand.

No more.

Marketing Is Accessible And Results Can Be Measured On The Fly

Today things have changed. Advertising can be started on a budget with tools like Google Adwords, Facebook Ads and numerous others coming at Pay-Per-Click pricing.

Advertising results can be examined on the fly – with measuring traffic and conversions on your site for instance.

Brand recognition itself can be examined and measured (for instance via examining Facebook fanpages and engagement).

The list goes on.

The Growth Hacking Approach

Growth hacking was the first approach to adapting marketing for the new age. Growth hackers adapted parts of the lean startup approach to marketing – by rapidly testing different marketing channels and measuring the results. It is no wonder that growth hackers often come from a product management or development background.

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A growth hacker rapidly tries out tools, messaging channels and methods, then measures the results and focuses on the methods that work, scaling them upwards.

This very often works well, but it is not yet a complete adaptation of the lean startup approach to marketing, because a lot of things are simply missing. Here are a few examples:

  • Overly focused on growth – brand creation and development goes missing
  • Often, growth hackers don’t work with hypothesis they would like to validate and simply try out messages and channels and tricks
  • Often focused on the technology part of the process and ignoring long-standing wisdoms of marketing
  • Can make companies highly dependent on one channel by not connecting them to a brand but to a growth approach

But, I don’t deny that growth hacking methods should be part of a new and lean marketing process and they are an integral part of what comes below:

The Lean Marketing Definition

Now it’s time to talk about a wider marketing approach. Let’s examine the loop above:

Build->Measure->Learn

How can this be adapted to marketing?

As a marketer you are presented with a “finished product” most of the time. So, what do you do, at least in the average project? You meet with the team, define your hypothesis about the product and it’s appeal, define the message and then the advertising approach and material. Most decisions will be based on untested assumptions and data from different projects that were marketing different products.

If the basic idea of “Lean Startup” is to come up with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), than the idea of Lean Marketing should be to come up with a Minimum Viable Approach (MVA). And this means that you need to come up with something to work with to enter the loop first. A set of three things:

  1. A defined subset of the overall target audience
  2. A message for this subset
  3. A distribution channel

The idea of a Minimum Viable Approach is to gather data on the go, but for data to be usable, you need to be as specific as possible. For instance, when you are selling men’s clothing, you will not be successful with targeting all men in the US. Instead you have to refine this until you have a highly targeted group, for instance: Men between 31 and 45, single, often dressed casually, with a higher income, etc.

Once you have that – come up with messages. And find a distribution channel where your audience is present.

This is key: Find a distribution channel that you can test easily. This can be Google Ads, Facebook Ads or a Fanpage, Twitter, … It is vital that you can test it fast and cheap and that you can measure.

Now you can start! Buy some traffic or generate some – and measure. Once you have enough data, test a different message. Compare the results. Learn and adapt. Change your message, repeat. Examine why a message didn’t work. Swap out messages.

But don’t just go trial and error! Know what you want to achieve with each message and then measure whether you achieved it.

You should also try different distribution channels – because audiences react differently in different situations. Sometimes Facebook works great, for other times, LinkedIn might be better.

Running all these tests, you should identify combinations of these that work well. In growth hacking, you would now try to scale these up.

In lean marketing, you will work on unifying them to an overall approach. Unify your message, build a brand from what you are doing.

You will add new segments of your target audience to the mix.

Instead of finding simple growth approaches, the idea of “Lean Marketing” is to end up with a unified marketing strategy based on real-time data. All these different tests you perform will become part of your general marketing strategy, step by step, dataset by dataset.

Given enough time and effort, this is the first time in history, which you have the chance of generating an integrated marketing strategy without the help of untested assumptions.

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Why Is This Important For YOU?

Lean Marketing for startups allows your marketing strategy to grow with you. Growth Hacking might take your startup a long way, but it also might take you to a dead end. It is great for a while, but then you often start from the beginning again.

A Lean Marketing Strategy on the other hand has the power to let you identify the message that let’s your product speak to the customer – which is any marketer’s dream.

And it doesn’t matter whether you are a small time blogger or a big corporation, this new way of marketing is open for all.

In today’s world, everyone is marketing something – even if it is just you.

There is one additional opportunity that I want to talk about: The integration between a lean innovation environment and a lean marketing environment.

What Does a Lean Marketing Strategy Allow in a Lean Innovation Environment

Lean Innovation and Lean Startup are ways of identifying opportunities for solutions of problems and constantly iterating them. Lean Marketing is a way of bringing solutions to customers – or bringing customers to solutions.

If you can execute on both at the same time, you can integrate your customers into your development process – at any time of the product lifecycle.

It would be above the scope of this article to talk about this in detail, but it is worth mentioning it.

Final Words About Lean Marketing Principles

Do you find Lean Marketing Principles as inspiring as I do? Or do you believe it to be a dream that won’t come true?

I want to hear what you think, so please talk to us in the comments!

This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

  • Anas A. Safa

    I only Can say it is a concept that I think about and want to know more about .. and it is interesting to see such thing .. because it really suites my way of thinking .. and in my own opinion .. it is a great method .. I will read the book hopefully ..

    Thank you for sharing this valuable :)

  • http://www.bouty.net Laurent Bouty

    Hi, thanks for this great article. I fully agree with you on the idea that we should go lean in general and specifically for Marketing. For me however, lean is just a methodology for doing thinks and I believe you can’t go lean without changing also the way you do Marketing. I personally use a new framework when I develop Marketing strategy that I called HEROES (http://www.bouty.net/2014/06/marketing-is-heroes/). It stands for Human, Experience, Revenue Streams, Omnichannel, Engagement and System. I think if you deliver those 6 attributes in a lean way, you will have a great brand.

    Cheers
    Laurent

  • http://www.pierrelechelle.com Pierre Lechelle

    Brillant article. Thanks for sharing.

    I just wanted to clarify a point about Growth Hacking:

    “Often, growth hacker don’t work with hypothesis they would like to validate and simply try out messages and channels and tricks”

    I disagree with this but understand your point. Many Growth Hackers would just try whatever is on their mind without thinking about the hypothesis.

    However, good Growth Hackers would formulate an hypothesis and follow a thorough process to run experiment. For us, the hypothesis is at the very foundation of the experiment and without it there is no possible experiment.

    More information on the subject on Brian Balfour’s blog: http://www.coelevate.com/essays/growth-process-first-tactics-second

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Thank you for the clarification – you are right of course.

      I simply don’t like the name “Growth Hacking” because in many circles it has become the equivalent of acting without a plan.

      But real growth hacking is very close to lean marketing.

      – Jonathan

  • School Can Be Fun

    Thank you for this inspiring article! I did these steps promoting my http://www.schoolcanbefun.org project and didn’t know it’s lean marketing. 😉 I’m more motivated now. I know I’m on the right way and that it is worth to continue in this way. It’s not easy to discover dead ends but I believe the bigger growth will come sooner or later. 😉

  • http://www.socialmediawave.com socialmediawave

    Great post. I agree with your stance on Lean Marketing. My concerns heightened when some of the comments were from corporate/ large industry perspectives vs. startups.
    Although “lean” has been around in large scale corporations (and I was in manufacturing when JiT was introduced) the application of Lean Marketing is a world apart in context of startups.
    I see the support of Lean Marketing methods in early stage customer development, product development and CX loops being tightly integrated.
    As startups move to growth stage, LM must be coupled directly to sales process and KPI’s.
    I look forward to more on this topic and supporting technologies which may arise as a result.

  • Joe Smith

    Eric does credit Lean Manufacturing in his book. Lean concept has been used in many areas of business not just in the last three years has it crossed the chasm. Lean Six Sigma for example,…..

  • http://www.successful-sahm.com Lynn

    Wow, very interesting. I’ve recently started a website, http://www.successful-sahm.com, with the goal of helping other stay-at-home moms learn and implement Lean at home. I can see I am going to need to learn more about Lean marketing! Thanks, great post.

  • Innovate Vancouver

    Great article. The lean process is certainly useful when the team, resources, and goals are aligned. The process of continual iteration can help even misaligned systems to work towards similar values. The organizational culture needed to support lean processes and continual iteration represents a significant goal for many.