How to ‘Lean Startup’ Your Way to a Marketing Strategy

Most entrepreneurs have heard of the Lean Startup methodology… or at the very least, its buzzwords like “MVP” and “pivot.” The customer-centric philosophy helps startups continuously learn, improve, and eliminate waste in product development. And Lean Methodology isn’t just applicable to coding out a technology product — its core concept of “Build-Measure-Learn” can help you create a winning marketing strategy in less time, with less uncertainty, and with fewer Facebook Algorithm-induced headaches.

This is the essential feedback loop in Lean Startup methodology. This product “circle of life” helps entrepreneurs build an initial iteration of a product, see how it’s being received and used (or not), learn from that, and change it as needed. The whole idea is that you shouldn’t spend months (and a shit ton of money) building the “final” version of your product before you have data on how customers really use it. Keep it simple, learn-learn-learn, and grow from there.

This concept is also surprisingly helpful in developing your startup’s branding and marketing strategy — except, we’re gonna put this thing down, flip it, and reverse it.

Enter: Learn-Build-Measure
We get it. You’re pumped about your idea and you want to share it with the masses. But before you spend hours (let’s be real: days) setting up Every. Single. Social. Media. Account. and ruthlessly reaching out to all of the bloggers and magazine writers in your industry, you need to learn.

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you have to read a bunch of books or take any quizzes (unless it’s to find out which Hogwarts House you’d be in). You just need to understand your customers.

If you’ve implemented Lean Startup methods or Design Thinking, you’re probably familiar with customer discovery and customer interviews. You may have even conducted them to create your MVP. And — surprise! — customer interviews aren’t just for product development; they are incredibly helpful for creating your branding and marketing strategy.

Understanding your customer will help you decide where to focus your marketing efforts, from the types of images and copy you should create, to which social media channels will be most successful for your brand. It sounds like common sense, right? But how many of you joined Snapchat when it came out because you thought “everyone was using it….” only to discover that millions of teenagers (and DJ Khaled) weren’t interested in your organic prune juice company? Yeah. Stick with us here.

First, think about your ideal target audience. Who are your customers? Have you talked to them? (And, no, your mom doesn’t count unless the product really is for her).

Are you opening a local yoga studio? Launching a new team sports app? Starting an online farmer’s market? Whatever your “product” is, you probably envision a certain group of regular “users,” and you need to figure out what kind of content they’re already reading, what their interests are, and which social media platforms they’re using.

A simple (but effective) way to do this is to create a Google form or a Typeform survey with questions like:

  1. What are you looking for in a [yoga studio / team sports app / online market]?
  2. Which [studios/apps/markets] do you currently use?
  3. What do you like about them? What could be better?
  4. What social media channels do you use regularly?
  5. What kinds of posts do you enjoy seeing most from the accounts you follow?
  6. Do you read any blogs/magazines/books about [yoga/sports/healthy eating]?
  7. Some basic demographic information (age, gender, general location)

These types of questions will not only help you refine what you’re offering, they’ll give you tons of insight to build out your marketing strategy based on your customers’ habits and needs. Fancy that.

Now onto the “Build” phase.
High five! Now that you’ve learned what your customers are reading, following, and using, you can develop a more specific, tailored marketing strategy (seriously, stop throwing things at a wall to see what sticks — that’s just silly. And messy).

If the majority of your respondents say they use Instagram and Facebook — ding ding ding! You should be on those channels. You can’t be all things to all people, nor should you be…so if none of your target users are on Snapchat, LinkedIn, or Pinterest then stop driving yourself crazy trying to build a presence there “because it’s cool” or whatever.

If your respondents say they follow accounts for visual inspiration, focus on an image-heavy strategy. If they regularly read specific blogs, develop a PR and influencer strategy focused on those sites. An added bonus? Your survey responses will be full of keywords that you can then use as hashtags, in your SEO, or to develop blog titles.

If reading things like “influencer strategy” and “SEO” have your head spinning, don’t worry — there are TONS of tools and tricks to make the build phase easier. Lean Startup is all about simplifying processes and eliminating waste, and that’s just as important in your marketing.

  1. Create a content calendar. Based on your respondents’ answers, you might decide to write 2 blogs per month and post on Instagram and Facebook once a day. But you’ve got a lot of shit going on, so how are you gonna manage that? We use a tool called CoSchedule (there are free and paid plans), but even a simple Google spreadsheet can do wonders. Hubspot has lots of free templates.
  2. Set up reminders. Whether that’s in the form of a Google calendar or a Trello task, give yourself reminders to write blogs, find cool images, or aggregate other related content from tools like Feedly. Consistency is one of the most important parts of a good marketing strategy, so we don’t care if you have to resort to sticky notes — make it part of your schedule (or…#shamelessplug, delegate it to someone else).
  3. Automate. Again, there are tools at your fingertips to make marketing easy and painless. Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social are a few great ways to schedule Wordpress/Instagram/Twitter/Facebook posts in advance.

Does it work, work, work, work, work?
Now that you understand your customer, you’ve got a plan, and you’re starting to put stuff out there, it’s time to measure.

The Lean Startup feedback loop is just that — a feedback loop. Just as in product development, analyzing what’s working (or not working) is a key part in refining what you’re doing marketing-wise and making it more effective. And in order to learn from your efforts, you need to set up clearly defined goals and metrics.

Is your goal to build awareness about your new brand? Maybe you’ll measure that in likes and shares or in a certain number of media placements each month. Do you want to get more app downloads or more online sales? You’ll want to check your site analytics to learn about traffic, search, and conversions.

Be specific with this — track which types of posts are performing better or what types of keywords are driving people to buy that t-shirt on your site (did your Facebook slider get 3x as many likes as a text-based post? Did an advice column receive a ton more comments than an anecdotal blog? Did the way you phrased a call-to-action cause your web traffic to spike one morning?)

The insights you’ll glean from these metrics will reveal what types of marketing tactics are working and which ones you should ditch (or tweak).

Just like building a startup, creating a brand is an ongoing process. It requires constant learning, testing, and yes — pivoting to find out what works the best. With this kind of entrepreneurial mindset (and the right plan, tools, and tricks), you’ll more easily find your product-market fit.

Are you ready to grow your startup, but want a bit more guidance? Learn more about our monthly Scale and Automate packages. Here’s to making you famous.