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Lean Marketing – what we can learn from the Japanese about marketing!

lean marketing


  • What is Lean Marketing?
  • Why can marketing look like a production line?
  • How to use Lean Marketing in e-commerce?

Currently, the term “lean” is usually associated with two trends: Lean Manufacturing and Lean Startup.

The concept of lean, then in the context of production, was first heard in Japan in the 1950s, based on the so-called Toyota Production System. This well-known automotive company from Japan has introduced a method of producing car parts and optimizing this process to eliminate waste and produce top quality products with continuous improvement. They called it Lean Manufacturing.

We know Lean Startup mainly from Eric Ries’ bestseller book published in 2011 entitled The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Lean Startup is a method of creating business in an iterative, agile and time-optimal way, based on validated learning and continuous improvement.

So what is the mysterious Lean Marketing?

Lean Marketing means introducing elements inspired by Lean Startup and Lean Manufacturing to marketing activities.

I present 2 ways of using of these trends in marketing below. There’s something for everyone!

Lean Manufacturing

Kanban Board

Kanban is a method of process visualization, in which the most frequently used tool is the so-called Kanban Board.

Kanban itself is a relatively complex method, about which one could write a separate article or book. For the needs of this text, we will focus exclusively on the implementation of the Kanban Table for marketing activities.

The simplest Kanban Table consists of 3 columns:

  1. To Do
  2. Doing
  3. Done

what lean marketing is

Kanban board is most often used in production processes, as well as in the IT industry, in software development.

How can we use the production process visualised on Kanban Board in marketing?

It’s great to create posts for social media for “streamlining”. In the companies I work with, I very often see a problem with an ad-hoc approach to social media content. I suggest another solution.

Let’s use the Kanban Table to describe in detail the process of creating content, like this published on Facebook. 


Let me give you an example of the process we use in Project: People. A very simple, intuitive and free version of the tool for process visualization is Trello, which we use.

Our process consists of 6 stages (probably we could divide it into a few more, but in our case it wouldn’t bring any value. And when it comes to lean, that’s the key value). These are:

  1. To write – a collection of ideas on posting topics.
  2. To review – a team member who’s not the author of the post checks the text in terms of content and language, the so-called “double check”.
  3. To translate – we provide communication in 2 languages: Polish and English.
  4. To proofread – we work with a native speaker, who makes our translations constantly better.
  5. To post – here we “move” the post ready for posting by the person responsible.
  6. Posted – the post has been published, the process of its creation is closed..

what lean marketing is

We can use the same method, for example for writing articles on a blog or writing case study. Example steps to use in Kanban Board for content creation process:

  1. To write
  2. Writing
  3. Substantive and grammatical check.
  4. SEO compliance.
  5. Translation.
  6. Graphic design.
  7. To implement on the website.
  8. Publication.
  9. Published.
  10. Marketing.

The introduced content creation processes have many advantages. The most important are:

  • New employees in the company don’t act chaotically. They have a checklist that systematizes their work;
  • Sticking to the process definitely reduces the time of content creation (even by a few weeks, in case of complicated texts!);
  • The hours saved can be spent on other tasks!

Eliminating waste

Waste in production means, for example, unnecessary stocks of materials, overproduction of parts in a certain period of time or excessive transport of components between stations.

How can we avoid this kind of waste… in marketing?

We must remember that any content we produce, which has been used only once, is a waste.

As we agreed earlier, creating content requires both a time and financial cost.

If we’re already devoting our resources, why not optimize it?

Gary Vaynerchuk, an American serial entrepreneur and Influencer of Belarusian origin, has created an innovative content creation model based on multiple redistribution of already existing content on different platforms.

Gary Vee’s example is unique – he has a whole team of people helping him with the process, including the cameraman, who accompanies him all day. This doesn’t change the fact that his philosophy can be modified to satisfy our needs and implemented to… eliminate waste.


A great example of inspiration for Gary’s activity in Poland is Marcin Osman, a salesman, entrepreneur and publisher, co-owner of OSMPower publishing house, specializing in online book sales. Marcin was a guest of Robert Gryn’s podcast, CEO of Codewise technology company.

Apart from recording the episode of the podcast itself, he took a number of actions that would help to promote this content and repeatedly used the recorded video.

  • On the spot, he recorded a backstage recording of the podcast, which he published as a video on YouTube;
  • For the main episode he also recorded a short interview with Robert in which they both promoted one of the books published by OSMPower;
  • He promoted this content via posts on his private Facebook profile;
  • The graphics informing about the podcast were shared as an Instagram post;
  • On Insta Stories he communicated about a podcast recording in Codewise’s office;
  • He released a part of podcast on TikTok! It was a short fragment in the form of a short know-how, with subtitles.
what lean marketing is
Source: Marcin Osman’s TikTok https://www.tiktok.com

Only on this one example we can see Omnichannel and additional redistribution of content, for example in the form of a short know-how or Insta stories fragments. And that’s just one podcast!

what lean marketing is
Source: Marcin Osman’s Instagram

Lean Startup

Verified learning

Recommending actions without verifying the hypotheses is often just a guess. And when it comes to business, we don’t want to guess – unless we want to waste time, money, nerves, energy and enthusiasm.

One of the most frequent clients’ problems I encounter is the unawareness of their customers, namely their target group.We had a similar problem while working on a social media strategy for one of the Polish companies from the “beauty” segment.


At the kick-off workshop we asked 3 decision-makers in the company who their client is. After exploring the issue, it turned out that each person has a different image of the company’s client.

We can visualize the customer’s personnel on the Diffusion of Innovations Curve (Rogers’ Curve). For this brand, knowledge about the persona was dispersed among as many as 3 types of customers: Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority. We had to verify who the real customers of this brand are.

what lean marketing is

We have analyzed this issue using double validation. We have used both quantitative (through an online survey for the customers of the company’s online shop) and qualitative (in-depth interviews with brand customers).

The research helped us to identify who the company’s customers really are. Moreover, we’ve obtained a lot of valuable information on:

  • Purchasing factors;
  • Communication channels;
  • The age and place of residence of customers;
  • Brand distinguishing features;
  • New products to be launched.

Eventually, it turned out that the company’s customers are people from the Early Majority segment of the Rogers Curve, which drastically changed the company’s communication, previously directed mainly to Innovators.

How does this change look in practice? 3 examples:

  • We don’t present products with models, but with more real people, like company owners or thematic influencers;
  • We don’t work with luxury warehouses. Instead, we interact with clients directly on Facebook group;
  • We don’t use Instagram as a photographic product portfolio. Instead, we share photos of our clients, respond to comments and show the backstage of our daily work.

Verified learning, especially related to the audience, is crucial. Validation and the improvements introduced in consequence can fundamentally change the business, for example – as happened with the above mentioned company – by increasing the organic reach in social media several times or eventually by selling in an online store.

MVP (Minimum Viable Product) 

The MVP concept, which is the easiest way to create a service/product that brings the greatest possible value to the customer, is mainly used in software development, like mobile applications.

The idea behind MVP can also be implemented in marketing activities. What can MVP really be in marketing?

  • Live stream on Facebook (or Instagram or Youtube) instead of a webinar.

    Webinars are quite difficult to organize: 

    • We need the right software  (for example WebinarJam, GoToWebinar or ClickWebinar), which usually isn’t for free;
    • We often encounter limitations in the number of participants;
    • Signing up, login, etc. are required.

The wall of entry into the world of webinars is just really high. Through Live stream, we can easily, cheaply and quickly check whether the subject we want to present is attractive for our audience.
If someone doesn’t take part in the Live transmission, they probably won’t subscribe to the webinar either.

Webinars are great for promoting the brand and communicate with the target group. However, they can be tested in some other way, allowing us to later invite our potential customers to join them, without any problems.

  • With a small meet-up instead of an industry conference.

    Organizing a large, conference for several hundred people is a great thing – we gather a large number of people in one place, we can show our knowledge during a presentation or talk directly to interested people.

However, such events also have the other, weaker side – they are very expensive, often take several months to organize, and are logistically and personally demanding. What if there is zero interest?

We can test it, by organizing a small meet-up at first. This requires significantly less resources and we will be able to check if there’s a group of people interested in the subject. Should there be a lot of interest, we will be able to think about the conference.

  • Newsletter to validate the idea of setting up an online course.

    Online courses are becoming an increasingly popular form of education. If they’re well done, they represent condensed knowledge, provided in a simple and accessible way.

    Unfortunately, just like with webinars, the entrance wall to the world of online courses is very high. We need a professional camera, microphone, video and audio editing skills… The costs can be very high, is it worth risking? We should definitely test it in a simple and cheap way!

Many authors start the validation of an idea for a course using a dedicated newsletter through which they share their knowledge in a specific area. This allows them to check the interest in a specific subject, set themselves KPI’s – for example the number of registered people on the list, exceeding of which will show that the course in a given subject deserves to be designed.

Email marketing tools are relatively cheap, email communication is well-known (and is undergoing a kind of renaissance), and the messages themselves can be the basis for a later course scenario. Cheap, quick and sure!

For me, the lean approach to marketing is synonymous with optimization and improvement. Each marketing activity should meet specific goals that lead to business development (at various dimensions).

I encourage you to implement at first one of the elements mentioned above. Each of them will bring business value. Let’s effectively build brands without wasting resources: time, money, people, getting inspiration from the world of startups and production!

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Grzegorz Górzyński
Creates and helps clients develop their marketing and business strategies.

He has gained experience in NGOs, corporations, startups, SMEs and agencies, thanks to which he looks at business holistically. He has worked with Facebook Inc. on the Global Developer Circles project.

He has trained several hundred people in marketing, social media and validation of business ideas. He stood on the stage of, among others, Social Media Week Warsaw, BOSS Festival, PR Camp.

He loves Lean Startup approach, travel and good food.

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