Being a quality guy for most of my career at Intel and Orbital Sciences means I’m familiar with a lot of the quality management lingo. The word lean in quality circles has to do with eliminating waste to improve efficiency and effectiveness. In that context, we have Lean Six Sigma and lean manufacturing. However the idea of lean has a different meaning when talking about business startups. It’s less about the tools and tactics used in taking a quality approach to running a startup business. Having listened to The Lean Startup for the third time, I realize there are some valuable nuggets that can be applied to business marketing for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here is my take on how you can apply the Lean Startup principles to marketing. First, let us review the five principles of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere

It’s not just the people in Silicon Valley who are entrepreneurs. They can be in organizations or not. An entrepreneur can be anyone who has a great idea and wants to make a business out of it.

2. Entrepreneurship is management science

This is contrary to conventional thinking since entrepreneurs are considered to be more like cowboys who shoot from the hip. Eric’s position is that you have to utilize good quality management practices such as the Toyota Production System to excel.

3. Validated learning

As John C Maxwell would say experience is not the best teacher—evaluated experience is. The key for a successful start-up is to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible with a little expenditure of resources as possible.

4. Build-measure-learn

In order to get validated learning, entrepreneurs need to design experiments that validate their assumptions. Testing the “Leap of Faith” assumptions on the product/service value proposition and market growth should be the highest priority.

5. Innovation accounting

It’s not about how much sales and revenue growth you have during start-up. It’s about how much time, money and resources it’s costing you to learn what you need to become successful.

It’s not about the money

As you can see the principles of lean startup is not primarily being concerned with being cheap.  It has very little to do with money and a lot to do with how much you are learning. Specifically to marketing, it’s not about how to keep your marketing expenses low, but how quickly are you learning about what your customers really want and are willing to buy.

Thinking differently

I have been guilty of running marketing campaigns that did not get the desired response from my audience. I’m sure many of you have as well. How would I approach marketing thinking like a lean startup? Well first I would design my marketing campaign like an experiment. What is my hypothesis that I need to test? What needs to be done to prove my hypothesis is right or wrong? If it proves to be wrong what can I do to find out why?

Evaluating the marketing results is what drives the necessary changes. Do we need to talk to customers and find out why they didn’t like the product? Can we determine who really likes our products? Do we need to do some more A/B testing?

Pivot or Persevere

The point is that evaluating the results of a campaign helps us to determine if we need to pivot or persevere with what we are doing? We are learning more and more about our ideal customers and about our value proposition so that we can make the necessary changes to improve our marketing and ultimately sales. By now it should be apparent that it is less about how much we are spending on marketing and more about how fast are we learning about our customers and our products.

So does Lean Startup marketing make sense for your business? Tell us what you think!