Lean Thinking Applied to Digital Marketing Agencies: Article #2

Lean Thinking

This is a continuation from a previous article

The principle of flow indicates eliminating specialized departments and batches of work done therein. In the context of a digital agency, that might be SEO, SEM, CRO, design, and UX teams who don't work together as a unified "department" or team. Creating SEO-friendly designs is definitely an important concept. Creating PPC SEM campaigns that convert (CRO) is important as well. So, any silos of specialization can actually impede flow and thus attainment of lean operations at a digital agency.

Another flow concept is ignoring the boundaries between companies, departments, and individual roles in order to remove all impediments to the continuous flow of the specific product or service. In the digital agency context, this can equate with putting a client's copywriting team into your project management portal, Slack channel, and other team-integrating tools so that you can do your conversion rate optimization (CRO) work without going through another party to get access to them and Get Work Done. 

Pull is a principle that surrounding the delivery of what the customer wants, when they want it. This translates into right-sizing our tools and processes so we don't need to produce massive websites, overly-complex solutions, or bloated CRO work for those who do not need it at this time. Of course, as a client grows, we want to grow with them. But, we want to respect the journey and be able to deliver right-sized solutions along the way, from the very inception of the relationship.

Lastly, we have perfection as perhaps the ultimate principle. It is akin to the concept of "optimization", which we value highly at Origin Eight. In lean thinking, the improvement process never ends – you must always strive to offer a better product through continuous incremental improvement or "kaizen", while at the same time reducing waste. In order to maximize efficacy of kaizen, we must have transparency across the entire value stream (from the client to an agency's internal team) to discover opportunities for improvement. In a sense, "transparency" equates to "data", which we require for any type of CRO or optimization work we do – "best practices" and "big ideas" are not enough in an ecosystem with readily-available data and analytics.

As a data-driven agency doing optimization work, we aim to practice what we preach, as it will only make us better. The last concept from perfection is that settling for merely being better than one's current competition will not suffice in the long-run – eventually someone will come along and beat us. Perfection may not exist, but optimization is the closest we can get, and we believe it's what's going to continue driving us for years to come.


Lean Thinking Applied to Digital Marketing Agencies: Article #1

Lean Thinking Applied to Digital Marketing Agencies: Article #1

The core idea behind lean thinking is maximizing customer value while minimizing waste, or creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It comes from the manufacturing industry in the early 20th century, stemming from Toyota's innovations (who borrowed from Ford's first attempts), but is now applied to many industries worldwide. Check out lean.org for more information.  

The key starting point here is value. In the context of digital marketing, what does "value" mean to each customer? It varies greatly. To extend this metaphor, the digital agency is the "producer", and the client is the "consumer." As an agency focused on lean thinking, the first step with any new prospect or customer is a conscious attempt at precisely defining value in terms of specific products or services with specific capabilities offered at specific pricing structures, stemming from specific conversations with individuals. 

Producers tend to continue producing what they are already making, and consumers tend to ask for products they are already getting. Consumers understand "SEO", and know that's a good thing, but it's only a small part of the digital marketing ecosystem. What happens if that SEO traffic lands on a website that is not optimized for conversions, i.e. a website that is optimized to convert visitors into customers, or, more generally, to take any valuable action on the website? If the website is not optimized, or, even worse, if it simply is not built or designed to play a valuable role in the organization's sales process, all the SEO traffic in the world is not going to bring value. Thus, we as digital marketing agencies must precisely define value for each client as a first step in becoming lean.

Another lean concept is waste reduction. One area of waste that we see are agencies that offer a small slice of the digital marketing pie, such as "SEO", or "web design" without full-picture services. Each agency may eliminate waste internally as part of their process, but that does not mean they are eliminating waste for the client. We've seen clients with ten different vendors all doing a small slice of the digital marketing, and nobody is able to get anything done or have vision and guidance over the entire picture, because there is no thought leader, no process leader, no lead waste minimizer and advocate for the client. We've arrived at new clients who have just fired all vendors, and the entire marketing team, and just started over. 

We've also worked with clients as the sole web and digital marketing agency who have a relationship with another highly-specialized agency, say in SEO, who have created waste by interfering with the web design and development process, even offering to own part of the process. When ownership of something as complex as a website redesign is split into multiple parties, waste abounds. A thorough content strategy, user experience design, information architecture and design, among other strategic phases, really should be owned by a single agency, otherwise fragmentation and waste are almost always introduced into the equation. 

To be continued. Lean concepts of "flow", "pull" and "perfection" will be covered in a future article.