Applying Lean Methodology in Marketing and Communications

Principles in Process and Technology 

“Lean,” a concept with roots in the manufacturing industry, has become a bit of a buzzword in the business world. Start-ups, in particular, embrace this model, which seeks to maximize efficiency, minimize waste, and allow rapid changes according to customer feedback and preferences.

It’s time for the marketing and communications field to adopt the principles of lean thinking as well. The marcom industry needs to explore and embrace business processes and technologies and move toward a lean approach in order to remain competitive.

Goals and Principles of Lean Business

AIIM, an international organization dedicated to information management, identifies these goals for a lean business:

  • Standardize processes
  • Eliminate waste
  • Reduce variants in products/services
  • Deliver higher quality
  • Customer-focused processes

Advocates for lean business urge organizations to view these practices as more than simply a cost-reduction tactic. Rather, lean business is a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. The Lean Enterprise Institute describes it this way: “Lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers.”

 How Can MarCom Apply Lean Thinking?

Marketing and communications professionals may not view themselves as candidates for lean methodology. But, lean principles should already be shaping how they make decisions and execute programs. The rise of agile marketing represents a shift toward more dynamic processes that encourage collaboration, rapid response to market change, and the ability to make continuous incremental improvement.

Content as the “Product”

In marketing and communications, think of the “products” as your deliverables, your content, your campaigns, your correspondence – and your results.

Assess the processes and workflows that generate these deliverables. If you uncover any of the following characteristics, it’s a sign the department could benefit from applying lean principles:

  • Disjointed layers of approvals
  • Disorganized, “siloed” internal communication
  • Repetitive or redundant fulfillment
  • Deliverables that share common characteristics are handled ad-hoc and as one-offs
  • Legacy process designs and systems that no longer fit current needs
  • Manual management of data and lists
  • Time-consuming activities that don’t add business value

Departments for large organizations with many local affiliates have additional layers to scrutinize. Is sales enablement a struggle? Does corporate spend excess time and resources supporting local marketers, distributors or agents? What about dissemination of business assets?

Tech investments, when selected and carefully implemented, can play a pivotal role in a marketing and communications department’s quest to go lean. Cloud-based marketing resource management software slashes the amount of time wasted on tracking down content (think of the hours this could save each week). Some of the best customer communications management solutions instantly merge data with content, streamline customization, implement specific approvals workflows and provide immediate visibility into the entire production process to eliminate cumbersome manual reporting and analysis.

Marketing Programs as the “Product”

 Marketing needs to address a prospective customer’s needs, similar to the way products are developed to fill a need. Studies resoundingly show that personalized, data-driven marketing drives higher response. If programs chronically miss the mark, marketing is, in effect, generating waste and stunting growth. That’s the last thing we want.

Technology and data, coupled with lean process and agile methodology application, make this possible by uniting market feedback and customer preferences with tactical execution. With improved efficiency and insight into outcomes, marketing can be more productive. When there is an active, accessible feedback loop between marketing outreach and customer response, marketing can have a positive contributor to business growth.

Customer Communications Management as the “Product”

 Does your organization need to streamline customer communications? Are current processes utilizing manual data management, manipulation and input? Does production pass through many hands and with no automation?

Robust data and correspondence production practices help organizations be more customer-focused. Smart data application is essential to developing targeted, personalized communications that are proven to build brand trust and stronger customer relationships.

Mistakes in customer communications may not only alienate customers, but also pose compliance risks. Correspondence management tools can automate processes, increasing efficiency, compressing turnaround time and reducing errors.

 Tech Can Make All the Difference

Today’s technologies, coupled with lean processes, are the key to a more efficient business – and more successful marketing and communications.  A handful of options to investigate include:

  • Technologies that automate data capture
  • Tools designed to standardize and enforce business rules
  • Cloud-based content management
  • Tools that enable mass scale production of highly segmented communications
  • Real-time content creation and customization
  • Systems and data integration
  • Outcomes reporting and tracking capabilities

Lean Into Action

Lean, agile: The words themselves paint a picture of what needs to happen. Trim the excess that’s weighing down marcom processes. Commit to applying the right technology to elevate speed, accuracy and consistency. Implement systems that seamlessly connect execution with results, and allow for immediate insights into what’s working, and what’s not. With this approach, you can sprint – not crawl – toward producing high-value content that builds brand integrity, customer loyalty, and new business.