What Is Lean Marketing … Really?

Occasionally I feel the need to resurrect this question. As I have noted a few times in the past, the term Lean Marketing has become bastardized by consultants with their own agendas. Since we are consultants too, one could argue that we also have an agenda. We do. That is to keep the term “lean” from being bastardized for no value-add.

Marketing itself is a broadly defined, and therefore effectively undefined, term. Adding a new modifier and now broadly defined term “lean” just makes it even more vague.

The term “lean” has been around for decades and basically means removing “costs” that do not add value. Running lean does not mean running on a small budget. It means not doing things that don’t add value. Just because you try something that does not work does not imply waste, if you learned from it.

The first attempted change to lean when applied to marketing was to suggest small budgets. I wrote about this in 2009. The popularity of the book, Lean Start-Up, which has good concepts, but is more about agile than lean, further bastardized the term lean. As a result of that book, many have started referring to Lean Marketing as meaning the application of so-called Lean Start-Up principles to marketing. Again, lean is about removing waste, not doing it cheaply. Waste is waste. Mistakes made while learning are not waste unless they were preventable, or you don’t learn.

Lean thinking is a valuable tool in the application of business processes. Revenue side or fulfillment side. Agile and flexible organizations usually have a competitive advantage from the use of those skills and methods. They are not about lean; they are about methods.

In the end it’s about doing the right things right. Being fast and flexible has always been a competitive advantage, but as we note in our book, Value Acceleration, what was once a competitive advantage, soon becomes a competitive necessity. That is what’s happening today with agility and flexibility. They are becoming a competitive necessity.

Constraint Analysis, Lean Thinking, and Continuous Improvement are the three cornerstone process tools needed to compete effectively. Learn them, apply them, and win.


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