Growth is hard.

From those of us starting from zero…

To those with a flourishing audience.

From a startup in a co-working space or an enterprise marketing team in global HQ…

From the greenest novice to the battle-tested veteran… Growth is hard.

And that’s because marketing has forever changed.

What used to be a simple one-way broadcast has turned into a continuous, asynchronous, amalgamous, voluminous, raucous conversation.

The end of the Industrial Age has shifted power to the consumer. And as a result, marketers are overwhelmed daily with the challenge of just keeping up with their audience, much less growing it.

Luckily, Lean Innovation can help.

Lean innovation sits at the crossroads between the inspiration of design thinking and the rigor of lean startup. It’s been successfully used by thousands of startups and is at the forefront of the transformation of many large corporations.

By mapping these three essential Lean Innovation skills to the practice of growth marketing, marketing teams can move faster, act bolder, and jumpstart their growth.

1. Get In Front of Customers

Get in front of customers - lean innovation

The first step in putting Lean Innovation to work in your growth marketing is simple – get in front of your customers and start having meaningful conversations with them.

You need to hear it straight from the customer’s mouth.

This requires you to listen, not to talk. To learn, not sell. To understand, not be understood.

The answers always lie with your customers, not within the walls of your office.

Learning to see your growth efforts through the eyes of your customer is a critical skill every growth marketer should possess. Gaining direct insights from your audience gives you a huge advantage over your competition.

The most successful Lean Innovation practitioners, from startups to the enterprise, don’t just talk about being customer-centric; they live it. They go beyond personas, customer journey maps, and big-data-demographics and instead try to walk a mile in their customer’s shoes.

There is no more powerful tool in your marketing toolbox than a cup of coffee with a customer.

To gain empathy it takes both practice and courage. The most important step in your customer development is simply getting started.

Schedule a chat. Go to a meetup group. Head out on a “customer safari.” No matter how you do it, if you want to grow, you must be in direct contact with your customers to learn from them as much as you can.

2. Experiment

Experiment - Lean innovation

Bet small, win big…

The infamous landing page, Mechanical Turk, Judo-Imposter, Dry Wallet, crowdfunding, paper prototypes, mock-apps and the list goes on… It’s likely by now you may be familiar with at least one (if not all) of these shorthand expressions for experiments. Although the idea of experimentation is simple, putting it into practice is not.

Experimentation is both a skill and a mindset.

The engine of Lean Innovation is rapid experimentation. Many product teams have nailed the art of experimentation and are able to produce evidence from their experiments to guide their development forward. Products developed using rapid experimentation are markedly better than their counterparts.

But over on the marketing side of the house, many of us are still stuck thinking that A/B split testing subject lines and running focus groups are the extent of experimentation. Doh!

As technology continues to transform our world, new channels arrive daily in droves, old channels evolve, and customer expectations rise; the opportunity to put the skill of rapid experimentation to work in our marketing efforts has never been bigger.

Your job is to experiment!

Run a meetup to test your customer assumptions. Use a Dry Wallet experiment to test your go-to-market pricing structure Refine your social ads with prototypes in two-week sprints. Launch a series of crowdfunding experiments to test new product positioning.

Truly, there is no right way to experiment. The goal of any experiment is to learn as much as you possibly can as fast as you possibly can learn it. The key is to define the customer behavior you’re trying to illicit along with the key metrics that will tell you whether or not you’re efforts produce actionable data.

This is where the terms minimal and viable come into play. What is the very minimal tactic, creative, prototype, etc. you can put in front of a customer to produce a viable behavioral response? Are you trying to get a customer to click? Purchase? Act as a referral? Watch the video? Walk through the door? Share on Twitter? Why would they behave that way? Is this tactic working? Are people responding to it? Why?

When you’re able to combine an experiment-first mindset with the skill to execute purposeful experiments, you’ll begin to see the results.

3. Flip Evidence Into Action

Flip Evidence Into Action - Lean Innovation

Using Lean Innovation techniques, growth marketing teams can engage a small group of their existing customers in new ways to produce evidence to propel their growth.

The ability to turn evidence into action is key.

The result of great customer development and well-designed rapid experimentation is evidence. Evidence is the combination of the raw data you’ve generated plus the insights about why the customer behaved in the way they did.

Tying customer insights to data is vital to producing results in your growth marketing efforts. A Must Have Score, Viral Coefficient, Daily Net Change, or activity heatmap are almost useless without the insights about why the customer is exhibiting that behavior.

Your NPS score may be 72, but if you don’t know why those customers have become promoters, you won’t be able to turn that score into action.

The goal in applying Lean Innovation to your growth marketing is to build a case over time. Using multiple rounds of customer empathy and continuous rapid experiments will create the level of evidence you need to prove the ______ (tactic, marketing product, strategy, etc) should be used.

If you’ve proven it’s effective, execute. If you still don’t know, experiment.

Growth marketing teams successfully using Lean Innovation have chosen to prioritize building their team’s skills to move fast, iterate quickly and act boldly in their marketing efforts.

When you spend the majority of your marketing efforts behind a desk planning out quarterly strategies, you’re essentially taking a big bet that your strategy will be right. Instead, bet small. Use constant Lean Innovation to test the most critical assumptions in your growth marketing efforts to advance your progress.

Three Questions You Need to Answer

1. How are you using customer empathy to inform your growth?

2. Which “big bets” are you making that could benefit from the rigor of rapid experimentation?

3. What is the threshold for evidence you’ve set in your growth marketing efforts?

When you answer those questions you will be primed for massive growth…

So what do you think? Are these the tactics you use in your business? Is there a customer development strategy you use that’s been working recently?