The originator of “lean thinking,” Japanese manufacturing legend Toyota Motor Corporation, developed an innovative business methodology that has significantly impacted the way many businesses operate today. Lean thinking provides a simple set of principles that can be applied not just as an overarching business ideology but to individual processes within your operation. Though many distinct parts of an organization could utilize lean thinking, your marketing plan can be particularly benefited by applying the following principles.
Elements of Lean Thinking
Before outlining the five facets encapsulated by lean thinking, it’s important to understand two underlying elements that support the framework. The first is the concept of “continuous improvement.” Predictably, this tenet states that lean thinking works best when a system in question is subjected to continual assessment and refinement.
The second element of the lean thinking framework is “respect for people.” For lean thinking to flourish, everyone within an ecosystem or process must see every other person involved in the chain as a person – an individual with value, dreams, hopes, fears, purpose, and ideas. It’s amazing how often a close inspection of business cultures or processes reveals a very different core assumption. When business processes do not include an emphasis on empathy and mutual trust, it’s very difficult to encourage every cog in the wheel to perform to their highest potential. This results in significantly limiting the success and potential of the process itself.
Built on those two fundamental principles, lean thinking’s five facets give structure to the framework and create practical steps for applying it. To apply lean thinking to your media and marketing plans, work your way through each of the following five steps.
Facet One: Value
To institute better processes, you must have a clear idea of what value you ultimately provide your customer. In this step, a business would analyze exactly what value its product or service creates for its customers. This requires thinking past immediate or apparent responses. For example, a housewares company doesn’t provide a vacuum cleaner, it provides a clean floor. And ultimately, it provides a home a customer can be proud of or where they can feel comfortable.
To apply lean marketing to your marketing plan, shift the emphasis from an external customer to your business operation. Thus, the object of this consideration changes to the business itself. For this first facet, answer the question: What is the core value your marketing department ultimately creates for your business at large? Analyze exactly what your marketing plan is meant to accomplish for your organization and what value it generates.
Facet Two: Value Stream
The second facet of this process scrutinizes “value stream,” or exactly what activities or processes create the value identified in the previous question. If you identify which activities are actually responsible for creating the value you need to create, chances are you’ll also identify processes or activities that aren’t necessary, or that don’t contribute to attaining that value.
This step involves assessing every process, large and small, that goes into your marketing operation. Which of those directly contribute to the value your marketing department provides for your organization? Any processes that are superfluous or could be truncated should be trimmed.
Facet Three: Flow
The next part of lean thinking focuses on streamlining the elements of your process, implementing the elimination of unnecessary activities and analyzing for opportunities to make processes more efficient. A helpful filter for accomplishing this is to identify barriers that hold processes up or necessitate circuitous routes to finishing tasks.
Once you’ve removed any unnecessary parts of your marketing processes, you can rework and reorganize the remaining elements and tasks. Focus on efficiency. Unnecessary approvals should be removed and duplicated work should be eliminated.
For example, if you use Facebook for direct selling, you can automate the first contact with your prospects using software such as CUCOMM. If you haven’t tried this channel yet, then you should because Facebook is the largest database of people, i.e. leads.
Facet Four: Pull
“Pull” refers to controlling production flows to produce products at rates as close to projected demand rates as possible. This means that product is created only at the rate it’s needed to eliminate holding surplus inventory.
This principle can be applied to your marketing plan by identifying what deliverables the marketing team creates that add value to the company and determining exactly when those need to be created, eliminating long preparation time and creating any unnecessary pieces.
Facet Five: Perfection
The final layer of the lean thinking process emphasizes the importance of constant improvement and reconsideration. Aim at perfection by recycling through these steps at regular intervals, improving on each iteration. Perfection isn’t a realistic outcome; however, neither is it a myth. It’s an approach that constantly looks for more that can be improved or built upon.
To incorporate this last step in optimizing your marketing plan, create instituted processes and rhythms to improve your marketing system’s operations. This could be a standing monthly or quarterly meeting to assess the impact of recent changes and reanalyze for weak points that could be improved. It could take the form of appointing a marketing team member to be responsible for continuing this process in the background and delivering action steps or recommendations to the team at regular intervals. It could be a yearly debrief or retreat with the whole team to undertake the whole process together. There is no wrong way to implement this step for your marketing plan. As long as whatever you come up with works for your organization and your personnel can follow through, it can take any form that fits your unique setup.
Applying the lean thinking framework to your marketing plan takes a degree of intentionality. It takes buy-in from your team and an amount of work on top of normal activities. But investing these resources in streamlining your marketing plan’s efficiency could pay dividends in the forms of increased production, better team output, improved logistics, stronger team member relations, and reduced costs.