Marketing is transforming. It’s becoming more and more important, more tech-oriented, unfolds in more and more fields and it is more integrated than ever with other departments.

Daily work in marketing is so diverse (pretty much why we love it) and dynamic, it depends on external parties – agencies, partners, consultants – that it is almost impossible for most teams to organize activities and campaigns within reasonable and predictable time frames.

Now, we know marketing needs a new styling, that matches its powerful personality – a way to increase efficiency and to turn expedite large projects into easy to monitor tasks.

Well, here it is.

The Lean Marketing Framework or When Marketing Met Lean

Let’s start with what Lean is. The Lean methodology has been transforming processes since the 1940s when it originated from the Toyota Production System (TPS). Making its way from manufacturing to software development, now it has been embraced by teams from various industries due to its proven success. Lean brings a fundamental change in the way companies build products and manage activities. It is about validating hypotheses and aims to reduce the waste activities (not bringing value to the customer) and increase efficiency.

Recently, Lean marketing has started to become popular and for a reason! Its process is primarily focused on iteration, testing, and measurement as they are the core tenants of the Lean methodology. It allows for flexibility, easy coordination with other departments, such as sales, PR or partnerships and gives incredible simplification of complex projects.

‘Transformation’ may sound like a tough and time-consuming activity for many. However, following the Kanban method and its principles, will guide your process to a healthy flow within a few days … however, it will require the discipline and desire for improvement of your team.

Now, you may think that the Lean marketing framework is the popular model Acquisition -> Activation -> Retention -> Referral and Revenue, which is partly true. However, what makes a marketing team lean is the way it works and the way it measures.

Lean marketing strategy is the solution to immeasurable results. We all know that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it and now we have the opportunity to make our process a tool allowing us to influence results due to empiric data and a scientific analysis. Guessing and estimating are replaced by data-driven analysis and measurable outcomes.

What Makes the Lean Marketing Framework Different from Traditional Marketing?

In traditional marketing, the final product is determined beforehand and teams can’t adjust and adapt throughout the creation process. In other words, the great marketing plan. 

Sometimes, marketing specialists start to repeat certain activities until the end of time without measuring success regularly. Customers’ interest is not a constant and they often disengage pushed away by not precisely targeted, personalized or creative messages.

Here lies the most valuable cornerstone of Lean – continuous improvement, testing and learning more, never taking a good trend for granted and always seeking perfection.

To put it in practice, Lean marketing relies on the following key points:

  • Focuses on realistic prioritization when creating marketing initiatives that meet customer requirements.
  • Deliver faster. Break large, long-term deliverables into small tasks; delivers small pieces every few weeks and iterates toward an optimal solution.
  • Sets the time between concept and delivery to weeks instead of months.
  • Frequent status meetings (feedback loops) to discuss what’s working, what’s done and what’s keeping your team from doing more.
  • If things change or people switch context, it is rapidly corrected, without a complete overhaul.
  • Stay focused. The Lean marketing strategy encourages people to be focused and work on single tasks. Multitasking is a taboo here because it only lowers productivity levels.

Elements of a Lean Marketing Strategy

Okay. We call it a strategy because switching to a Lean marketing process is a strategical move that will completely change the way your team works.

There are a few elements, typical for Lean marketing. Knowing them at the beginning will allow you to apply it more easily to the current flow of your process. Without any frustrating changes, Lean advises you to start with what you do now. Work with what you have and gradually build upon it.

  • Personas. Identify who you are trying to engage with. This eliminates the chances of participating in wasteful communications that are not targeted.
  • A marketing process that upholds analytics and iteration.
  • Measurement. Web or app analytics that can measure behaviors and interactions.
  • Testing and measurement tools. Marketing process automation, A/B testing and lifecycle tracking to test and validate communications, design, and ideas.
  • A refined approval process for publishing and launching. Lean marketing is always iterative. Build small ideas, take them to the market, measure results, learn, and repeat using the lessons learned.

How to Get Started with Lean Marketing?

The decision to go Lean has to be a collective commitment to pursue an incremental change. It has to be discussed and mutually agreed in to order to obtain the best results. The next step is to set regular feedback loops – daily stand-up meetings, weekly KPI meetings, and monthly strategy meetings. They need to be short with a clear agenda and followed by specific action items. With Lean, the change happens mostly as people’s mindsets are adjusted.

The easiest way to apply the Lean principles to your process is the Kanban method. Kanban pursues small incremental changes and is easy to overlay. It adds practical steps to follow and the tools to use. Visualizing all the work on a Kanban board allows you to see where the bottlenecks of your process are and follow how every task is progressing from Requested toward Done. You have the original physical whiteboard with cards and now, there are the online Kanban boards, which make it very easy to begin kanbanizing your workflow.

Kanbanize is one of the best Kanban software solutions that fully apply Kanban to your marketing initiatives. It expands every Kanban principle to make the most of it in terms of visualization, WIP limits application, task prioritization, roles distribution and flow analysis. The Portfolio lane gives you the opportunity to easily track large campaigns in time and follow each task’s progression. This could save a lot of time for management that is usually not involved in a certain project on a daily basis.

Marketing teams are always communicating and coordinating activities with other departments or external parties such as partners, agencies, etc. and most of the information is transferred via e-mail. Online Kanban boards allow you to integrate your e-mails and other systems to import and track all tasks at the same time. It is a good idea to ensure nothing is behind schedule by adding deadlines to cards and setting reminders through the Business rules engine.

Example of a Lean marketing board in Kanbanize

Example of a Lean marketing board in Kanbanize

Lean Marketing Success Metrics to Monitor

If you are not sure what indicators you should track, here are the top four lean metrics you need to measure to ensure success:

  1. Process Efficiency
    The ratio between the time a work item just sits there after being started and the time spent actively working on it after starting it.
  2. Cycle Time
    This is the time it takes your tasks to reach the done state.
  3. Throughput
    The number of work items that exit your system in a given time frame.
  4. WIP
    The number of work items that are considered in progress at a given or past time or time frame.

The tools you can use to monitor them include the favorite of many Lean practitioners cumulative flow diagram (or simply referred to as CFD). It offers a concise visualization of the three metrics of flow – cycle time, throughput, and WIP. The cumulative flow diagram can synthesize great amounts of information and present them in a readable way by just a glance.

Example cumulative flow diagram

Example cumulative flow diagram

Another extremely useful addition to your analytics arsenal are the predictive Monte Carlo simulations. They can estimate how many work items you could produce for a certain period or when a number of tasks will be done. Probability distributions are a realistic and statistically reliable way of describing uncertainty in variables of a risk analysis. They enable you to make data-driven decisions together with your team and your stakeholders. This allows for deadlines in marketing teams to actually be based on probability as opposed to wishful thinking.

Example Monte Carlo simulation

Example Monte Carlo simulation

What to Expect Within the First 3 Months?

  • Enhanced communication and no more ‘he said, she said’, as all the data is on the board.
  • No more information loss.
  • Remote team members are more included in the work process and take on more initiative and responsibility.
  • Encouraged knowledge-sharing for the sake of continuous improvement.
  • Substantially increased efficiency.

The Lean Marketing transformation has already started and results are proving that the trend will continue. If you are still wondering why and how to make the transition, make an informed decision by reading our free e-book Lean and Agile Marketing with Kanban and learn how to make the most of it. 

Editor’s note: The article was updated in February 2018. Originally published in July 2017.

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