What "Lean" Really Means

Ian Lurie
In digital marketing, this is what

In content marketing, this is what "lean" really means

In cycling, to handle a turn at high speed, you lean. As you enter the turn, you push down on the outside pedal, and you lean slightly more than seems prudent. You complete the turn. Then you sprint out of the corner, leaving your competition behind.

Marketers often equate “lean” with “lightweight” or “minimal.” It’s a system to which you aspire. I’m all about aspiration, but lean is a much more immediate action.

Lean is how you handle corners

Every undertaking has corners as you navigate your way to the finish. They’re not good or bad. They’re just there.

In a bicycle race, corners are a bend in the road, a switchback, or a curve on the track.

In content marketing, corners are the major steps: Production, polishing, publishing and promoting.

To use those corners to your advantage, you lean. You preserve kinetic energy and regain speed as quickly as possible.

One choice defines how you lean:

Produce content and publish. Or talk.

There are all sorts of reasons not to lean.

Pedaling a bicycle takes a lot of energy. You’re tired. You’re sweaty. It’s hard to lean. Those corners could be a nice chance to slow down and catch your breath. But that spends even more energy. You tire out. Don’t rest in the corners. Catch your breath on the descents.

Producing content takes a lot of energy. You have lots of reasons to slow down: Lack of resources and bureaucracy are the most common. They’re corners. Maybe you need to take a breather.

Don’t do it. It takes more energy than it saves.

Lack of resources? That probably means you have a small organization. Smaller teams are speedy. They’re better at cornering because they can lean fast and sprint to the next turn. Use your size to your advantage to quickly publish super-relevant, current information.

Crazy processes? Look ahead. Create a content pipeline. Set yourself up for the turns. Use processes to your advantage: They’re tools that can help you polish and produce at a high level if you plan for them.

Lean, building on your advantages. Or stare at the obstacles and never produce anything. Up to you.

Also: When you’re on two skinny tires, cornering is scary as hell. Sure, someone has to explain the basics. But talking about cornering doesn’t make you better at it. At some point, you have to lean and sprint, lean and sprint. You build confidence and skill.

When you’re sitting at a keyboard, content is scary as hell. Publishing is even scarier. You get zero response. You get awful, negative comments. At some point, though, you have to write and publish, write and publish. You learn to create winners.

Lean, or talk about leaning and never produce anything. Up to you.

To lean means making use of what you have, then and there, and improving as you go. Leaning takes advantage of the corners, exploiting your strengths.

Don’t wait for a perfect map

Knowing the corners ahead of time is great, but impossible. Conditions will change. In cycling, people drop water bottles right in front of you, or they crash, or it starts to rain. In marketing, products break, you get a good review or industry news means you need to act right now.

Remember, you’re mapping along the way.

“Lean” is a verb, not an adjective

In content marketing, lean is what you do, not how you do it. To lean:

  • Produce in a disciplined but streamlined manner
  • Polish, making every piece of content 10x
  • Publish when you’re ready, not when it’s perfect
  • Promote what you create

That’s it. Ponder if you like, but at some point, you have to lean.

Of course, it’s grand for me to write about leaning. If you want to get a few tips, try these resources, for starters:

Blatant self-promotion: How to Edit and Proofread

Larry Kim’s presentation about content promotion (awesome)

More self-promotion: 30 Little Things To Make Your Content Better

But you need to do it. Start producing. Improve along the way. Lean.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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