Lean Marketing. Buzzword or Solid Strategy?

October 1, 2020

 

One of the most frequent conversations I’m having right now with peers and clients alike is: How do we build marketing/BD plans for 2021 in a COVID-19, unpredictable environment on the tails of the most politically charged election in recent memory? Taking a lean marketing approach—coupled with investing in serious market research—just might be the answer.

Lean marketing is a minimalist, iterative marketing strategy that’s perfectly suited for a turbulent or unpredictable market. Similar, and often synonymous, to agile marketing, it’s a process focused on results of small, trial campaigns where marketers learn from the results and evolve the elements of the campaign accordingly. Simply put, lean marketing follows the model—plan, launch, test, adapt, learn—and then repeat the steps.

Most marketing references to lean marketing are based on the 2011 bestseller The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But the concept of reducing waste and getting lean likely originated in a 1988 article, The Triumph of the Lean Productive System by MIT student John Krafcik. The principles were originally employed in start-up companies by entrepreneurs. Today, lean thinking has found its way to marketing as a strategy to help reduce risk while encouraging experimentation and autonomy.

Ideally, a lean marketing plan employs tactics that build over time allowing frequent evaluations and iterations so firms can adapt and tweak strategies. This tweaking comes in handy as feedback is collected, clients respond, and markets shift. After a period of testing, energy (time) and budget (dollars) are focused activities that are the most effective and produce the greatest results. Recommendations for feedback loops include daily stand-up meetings, weekly KPI meetings, monthly strategy review. Also, employing a ROO (return on objective) rather than a primarily ROI (return on investment) approach may support adaptation required in lean marketing as ROI can be dependent on longer-term analysis.

The decision for firms to go lean can be a significant shift from the traditional marketing approach and requires a collective commitment to pursue and allow for incremental change. It’s imperative the marketing and firm leadership align on this approach and that marketing teams have the freedom and flexibility to direct and redirect quickly in real time to obtain the best results. In my experience, firms with multiple layers or rigid approval processes may likely struggle with a lean approach.

Key benefits of lean marketing plans include: 

  • Deploying a client-focused marketing approach
  • Improved speed/delivery to market (weeks vs. months between concept and delivery)
  • More productive teams
  • Delivery of better, more relevant end products
  • Prioritization of initiatives that meet client requirements
  • Realization of small wins every few weeks by breaking big, long-term deliverables into mini projects
  • Enhanced focus on what’s working, what’s completed, and what’s keeping the team from doing more (often reducing the ability for problems to hide)
  • Allows for quick corrections, rather than complete overhauls, if things change or people go off course

And, as an added benefit, 67% of CMOs report implementing a lean marketing process increases profits and revenues according to research conducted by CMG Partners.

When firms are ready to implement a lean marketing approach, consider the following points when building your plan:

  • Your Bottom Line Comes First. Every tactic in your plan should have an objective (ROO) that leads to a financial incentive in order to measure it.
  • Follow the Numbers. Data-driven marketing means rooting your decisions in hard numbers versus guessing, which are replaced by analysis and measurable outcomes. By keeping a close eye on analytics, you can see at a glance what’s working and what isn’t. And then shift appropriately.
  • Deliver faster.Break large, long-term deliverables into small tasks so that you can deliver—and analyze—results and progress every few weeks and iterate toward an optimal solution. Employ the “Build-Measure-Learn” cycle developed by Eric Ries.
  • Frequent status meetings. Use feedback loops to discuss what’s working, what’s complete, and what’s keeping your team from doing more.
  • Stay focused.Lean marketing encourages people to focus and work on single tasks. The theory is that multitasking is taboo because it lowers productivity levels and when people focus on one task at a time, results are completed faster.
  • Don’t absolutize your plan. Planning is key, but don’t get locked into rigid planning. Lean is all about flexibility. And, remember, the decision to pivot should be backed by data and not be impulsive.

The lean approach was designed by Ries as a method to deliver services under conditions of extreme uncertainty. In a time when there are more unknowns that knowns, firms that adopt this approach—and stay laser focused on the build-measure-learn model—may come out of this pandemic ahead of their competition and empowered with resilience to take on periods of uncertainty in the future.

 

Article written by SMPS President Doug Parker, FSMPS, CPSM, who is principal of Elevate Marketing Advisors. He can be reached at doug@elevatemarketingadvisors.com.

 

For more information about the Build Measure Learn cycle, please refer to Ries’ book, The Lean Startup.