What marketing can learn from Lean Startup

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Chances are your marketing function has changed a lot from what you signed on for. Stand firm, your function is going to change even more in the next 3-5 years!

According to recent research conducted by Marketo, three out of four marketers think significant change is coming to their professions due to the marketing technology revolution that has completely altered the marketing outlook.

The vision is that Marketing is moving away from brand-centric, outbound communications to customer-centric, touchpoint experiences engaging customers across multiple platforms and channels while each of those individuals is at a unique stage in his own, self-directed decision journey.

Simplicity, speed and learning

No longer marketing is about arts and crafts. Leading marketers are using research and real-time analytics to shed light on who buys what and how, and when marketing efforts in the customer’s decision journey are likely to yield the greatest return. That understanding is making it possible to identify more effectively the functional and emotional benefits that customers seek and the experiences and innovations they will value.

It is not just another argument for the adoption of big data or newest tools. The emerging new rules for marketing extend well beyond data, software, websites or social and user-generated content. It all is about organizational simplicity, speed and learning.


Contrary to the way marketing is organized to date, marketing in the digital era revolves around testing and experimentation and learning-by-doing in recognition of the fact that sustainable competitive advantage is a remnant of another time. In that respect, Marketing can learn a lot from the Lean Startup movement.

The technique of experimentation can be applied to websites, campaigns, content, products, pricing, channels, customer services -all of which contribute to a holistic set of touchpoints that form the customers’ opinion about the value of the offering. It reduces the waste of spending time on initiatives that aren’t going to work. And it fundamentally changes the way marketing is executed.

Learning to learn

Therefore, constant learning becomes a critical marketing skill. When you learn with and from customers and brand advocates, marketing and learning are the same. It’s all learning!

But, how can marketers develop that competence?

Most marketing departments carry the legacy of top-down hierarchy and complex, company-centric structures. Annual plans, budgets, employee appraisals, performance assessments –all these are key processes baked into existing marketing departments.

Marketing departments nowadays need operational agility and the management skills and organizational clout to bring people, expertise and ideas together at a higher clock speed.

Nestlé for example launched Digital Acceleration Teams. Other companies use internal social-media platforms to encourage the generation and sharing of ideas and insight. Also mentoring and learning journeys, and team-based training at work are conducive to changing patterns.

When evaluating activities and experiments, there needs to be a recurring question: What have we learned? What difference did it make to our business? Marketers need to answer it honestly and be willing to take corrective action based on the answer.

Being willing to stop an effort and pursue something else is the essence of marketing in the digital age. As Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed, I successfully found 10.000 ways that won’t work”.

The crux of it all is:

  1. In a digital economy, marketing is no longer a ‘batch’ process but a continuous one.
  2. Marketing is going to be a learning curve.
  3. We have to stop thinking of learning as separate from work. Marketing and training are therefore moving closer.
  4. Most marketing organizations are over-optimized for the past. New structures will arise over time that have at least one element in common: They are conducive to fast learning.

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