Lean marketing

Lean Marketing: what marketing teams can learn from startups

New marketing channels, technologies and tools have given marketers more opportunities than ever before, but there are also more demands on your time. How do you know which areas to really focus on and which to leave until later?

The lean, or agile, methodology is a way of approaching work that has been helping teams get more done and create more value. Developed in 2008 by Eric Ries, the lean startup methodology has been helping new companies get off the ground quickly. So what lessons can marketing teams borrow from lean?

What is lean marketing?

Traditional marketing tends to involve a waterfall process where planning is followed by writing, designing, approving and launching. This approach is time-consuming, hard to change when started and discouraging of innovation and risk-taking. Too many marketers get stuck running different versions of the same old strategies; it’s just to risky and expensive to try anything news.

In contrast, lean marketing involves testing many different ideas and analysing the results to decide which to develop into full scale campaigns. It allows CMOs to modify their plans and tweak their marketing strategies easily depending on what’s working and what isn’t. In a sector that’s rapidly evolving, this approach is a low-risk and cost-effective way to embrace change.

Startups usually begin with an MVP (minimum viable product) which they use to test their product or service. They collect user feedback and metrics from sales tests to adjust their offering before they launch to market. This helps limit risks and ensures they spend their resources in the most effective way.

By applying the same concept, marketing teams can test and validate different strategies before they get launch a full campaign. Instead of fearing failure, teams are encouraged to innovate and try different ideas.

How to roll out lean marketing

Lean marketing is effective because it encourages your marketing team to develop and test new ideas. To do this, the individual team members need to be empowered to try out ideas on their own. As long as they keep on top of their normal workload, your employees should be able to run tests and collect data independently.

This may seem like additional work at first for your team members, but most marketers are enthusiastic about the chance to work on their own ideas. Employees who are given responsibility and ownership of their own initiatives are likely to be much more motivated and productive.

The only input a manager needs to have is in agreeing the ideas to test and the metrics that will be used to analyse the results. Lean marketing can also be combined with the sprint process to produce results in an extremely short space of time.

The benefits of lean

It’s faster

Marketing departments traditionally work on a campaign as a team; taking a concept and testing it before deciding whether to roll it out. With lean marketing, each member of the team can independently focus on their own idea before the team evaluates the results. Testing lots of strategies at once allows team to respond to change and innovate much faster than previously.

It’s more cost-effective

With lean marketing, you only devote resources towards those ideas that have been proven to work. Testing the different strategies should involve minimal costs, allowing you to try new ideas that may not work without fear of wasting substantial budget.

It helps you prioritise

There are so many different channels and strategies to be explored in modern marketing, it’s impossible to do it all. Lean marketing helps you use your team to explore different ways of marketing, but the focus is on measurables, so only those ideas that succeed will make the cut.

It encourages innovation

If your team spends a long time testing a campaign, only for it to fail, that can be a huge blow to morale. When you’re testing lots of different ideas simultaneously, it is perfectly acceptable if half or more don’t work out. Removing the fear of failure encourages your team to be creative and try out different things.


Large-scale marketing campaigns require a big investment of time and money, but by applying the lean methodology and testing ideas early and rejecting those that don’t work, CMOs can be more confident that their investment will pay off.


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