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Learning to Become a Lean Inbound Marketing Agency

By John McTigueJul 25, 2012

lean marketing is the kuno wayWe are currently working with several lean manufacturing companies, and we are inspired to learn about how they became "lean" in order to transform our own business practices. You don't often hear about "lean marketing agencies." In fact, the traditional Mad Men type of marketing agency was built around excess and glamor, not efficiency and process. But this is 2012, and we all have reason to rethink our strategies. So we are transforming ourselves...

The Essence of Lean

The term "lean manufacturing" is rooted in the Toyota Production System developed after World War II to drive automobile manufacturing success through continuous improvement. The basic idea is that everyone in the organization works together to find ways to streamline processes and find new solutions on a continuing basis. They do this by working in teams to identify, analyze and develop solutions for specific small-scale problems. This process is called kaizen, which is japanese for continuous improvement. In practice, they often hold 1-5 day workshops, also called kaizens, to accomplish the mission. The building blocks of this process are called PDCA:

  • Plan - Identify the problem and determine its root cause. Problems are brought to light by involvement of everyone in the company making suggestions or reporting issues. The purpose of the kaizen is to develop one or more solutions and a plan for implementation and testing.
  • Do - Execute the plan to solve the problem.
  • Check - measure and analyze results.
  • Adjust - Make improvements to the plan and associated processes. Continue this process indefinitely. No process is ever perfect, but as a result of continually improving all of the company's processes, both the company and its employees will benefit.

Distinctions From Western Lean Practices

If you have looked into improving corporate efficiency and quality, you may have also run into the terms Six Sigma and Quality Management, or Total Quality Management (TQM). These are all strategies designed to substantially reduce manufacturing defects and variability in output in order to increase customer satisfaction and profitability. Six Sigma uses a statistical approach to identifying problems. It also stresses continuous improvement and measuring results, but the big difference between these Western approaches and the "Toyota Way" is how they are implemented.

Six Sigma and TQM take a top-down approach, and employees may or may not be involved in the development of solutions. The Toyota approach emphasizes participation by everyone in the process. Managers may lead the kaizens, but they don't dictate outcomes. The purpose of kaizen is two-fold: Engender better operations and enhance the workplace and job experience for every employee at the same time. Big difference. Finally, the Toyota Way is all about striving for excellence, not adhering to a predefined statistical goal. No process is ever 100% optimized—there's always room for improvement. Huge difference!

How Can This Be Applied to Marketing?

A marketing company is no different from a manufacturing company in several important ways:

  1. There are (or should be) defined processes for every project, campaign or daily activity.
  2. Without defined processes, people may be creating, but are they accomplishing anything?
  3. Any process can be improved, from designing a website or writing a blog to executing a lead nurturing campaign.
  4. Marketing companies depend on attracting and retaining excellent clients and employees. If a company continuously strives for and achieves excellence, they have a leg-up on the competition.  

Some Examples of Fat Marketing Processes That Could Use Kaizen

  • Design, copywriting and revisions of websites, collateral and content
  • Planning and execution of digital marketing campaigns
  • Identification, analysis and review of KPI's with clients
  • Onboarding of new employees and ongoing continuing education
  • Internal and external communication of new ideas, projects and plans

So, if your marketing agency is constantly holding kaizens and studying internal or external processes, how do you manage to get anything done?

That's the whole point. There is so much excess and waste in our processes, if these can be streamlined and optimized, we will have plenty of time to continuously improve. Add to that the idea that every employee is involved in the process of improving, and you have created an environment that is satisfying and nurturing for everyone. That's why we're going lean. Stay tuned for more as we learn and grow.

Photo credit: EdShal





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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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