“Think like a media company” is a common refrain in the content marketing industry. According to Lexie Lu of Design Roast, it applies as much to large brands as it does to lean startups.

Guest post for Content Land / by Lexie Lu

Apart from generating interest in the content they create, today’s media giants are increasingly becoming experts at selling themselves. This is a challenge for any business entity because it demands both the translation of knowledge and expertise into a valuable product or service and the translation of those valuable products or services into the perception of a valuable brand.

However, as millennials and established business leaders alike are finding out, promoting your brand (and not just its business services) is a necessary stage in every startup’s pathway to success.

But entrepreneurs and startups that utilize lean methodologies often face an even rockier road. As the very nature of the lean system depends on eliminating waste, and because some of the most traditional brand engagement strategies can feel superfluous or even entirely unnecessary depending on the stage of development, the concepts of “lean” and “branding” don’t always blend well.

This is where lean startups can learn from the mindset of modern media companies—from those scrappy publications just taking root to the major conglomerates we all know well.

Here are five of the most crucial lessons:

1. Leverage the voices on your team

Despite the fact that content marketing is not the only avenue to use when trying to generate both increased consumer interest and brand awareness, its importance cannot be denied. For good reason, the constant bombardment of traditional advertisements that were once the norm are beginning to subside.

Instead of print, radio and television ads, many lean startups are now focusing their marketing efforts on creating comprehensive, niche-based content marketing strategies and digital advertising campaigns.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to see media companies allocating 50 percent of their budgets to digital marketing efforts.

You might be thinking, So what? 50 percent of a lean startup’s budget can’t possibly compete in a digital advertisement contest against industry giants.

And you’re right. This is precisely why they must think like a media company.

It’s possible to maximize the effect of your digital campaigns without much wasted effort, especially in this age when performance metrics like turnover rates can be calculated in real time and applied to existing or future programs. But for lean startups this will mean stripping away antiquated notions of traditional advertising and asking your team to roll up their sleeves to write.

As has always been the case at media companies, the writers have the capacity to at once create the content and shape the brand. At a lean startup, creating this synergy will be easier said than done. And you’ll likely need some help along the way from someone who understands both journalism and content marketing. But there is perhaps no leaner way to build your product or service alongside your brand than to wrap some of your team’s creative talent into a disciplined content marketing strategy.

2. Choose your social platforms wisely

Sharing content on social is seen as the ultimate “free” way to try to generate business attention. But, even for lean startups, this can quickly become a drain on precious time. Media companies are strapped for time as well, but they pair this with an astute observation for where their audience resides.

Lean Startup Leader: In your quest to reach as many potential customers as possible, please don’t throw your content up on every social media platform. Be strategic. Recognize where your audience is, and where the content you’re creating will have the best chance to shine. If you’re writing longform content for a cloud-based service, should you really be spending your time on Pinterest? The answer to the question seems obvious, but it’s not one often lived out by startups or major businesses.

The quest to be everywhere typically goes nowhere. And the more focused your content distribution effort is on a select few social media channels, the easier it will be to respond to support requests and provide customer service on those same channels.

3. Go beyond mindset and into methodology

The process of building a business that revolves around lean methodology is anything but a straightforward process. But thinking like a media company means fully understanding the model you’re working in, including all the challenges you’re up against. Media companies are forced to pivot for survival all the time, and the best of them are able to do so because they know the ins and outs of their existing business methodology.

Too often, lean startups view themselves as lean and scrappy, yet fail to understand (let alone implement) established lean methodologies. As Steve Blank over at Harvard Business Review points out, the concept of the modern lean startup consists of three primary points:

First, lean startups tend to implement business plans based on the perceived value they are able to offer both their customers and themselves. This is in stark contrast to the previous process of researching target demographics, following recent market trends and attempting to forecast future activities. By using this approach, the most innovative of modern businesses are able to adjust their operations and even their goals on the fly and in direct response to changing market conditions.

Second, to get an accurate gauge on consumer response, organizations that implement lean strategies solicit direct customer feedback concerning their products, pricing points and shortcomings. Popular methods include email or online surveys, website polls and even phone-based consultation.

Finally, the third fundamental point of the lean startup, according to HBR, is the implementation of agile development. For more on agile, check out the Agile Manifesto to see how it might apply to your particular needs.

Working in tandem with the principles described above, new businesses are now able to implement the suggestions and advice of those who are actually using their products or services on a day-to-day basis.

4. Develop and nurture your company culture

Company culture refers to the shared morals, ethics and ethos of your team. As you can probably imagine, this can have a significant impact on the success of any company.

Spending some time on the development of an initial company culture—and yes this includes a focused mission statement like all media companies have—can go a long way in ensuring consistency in branding, management and customer service. While this is especially useful for companies and businesses in multiple locations or regions of operation, startup leaders shouldn’t ignore this. In fact, many experts and entrepreneurs agree that a strong company culture is paramount to long-term success in the 21st century.

For lean startups, many of these company culture ideals will come from the principles of lean manufacturing. Eliminating excess waste, increasing internal efficiencies and driving productivity are all at the core of any lean company’s culture. However, organizational leaders are free to instill their own sense of morals and standards on top of those presented in lean methodology. This is an often overlooked component that a) doesn’t strain the budget and b) can help get all employees at a lean startup fired up for what they’re working toward.

Whatever you do, make sure to remain consistent when highlighting the importance of culture within the workplace (no matter how small your workplace is). Hold individuals accountable for their actions and make sure to uphold the same standards for your leaders/founders as you do with your first hires and beyond. Doing so will result in a lean team that is far more dynamic, cohesive and dedicated—qualities crucial for any lean startup that wants to build something great and perhaps disrupt an entire industry.

5. Create a clear leadership structure

You’ll also want to establish and clarify any leadership roles within your new company. After all, the key figureheads of most media companies are quite well known to the general public. On the surface, this leaves no questions as to who to contact and who is in charge, but internally it allows for a clearly understood chain of command that often serves as the framework for all editorial processes.

This doesn’t mean you need to lead with an iron fist. In fact, it’s saying just the opposite. Don’t be afraid to work alongside your newfound teammates, include them in any decision-making processes and examine their individual strengths and weaknesses. This ensures the ability to assign them to the roles that best fit their skill level, demeanor and experience.

And don’t forget to communicate any new leadership roles, changes in responsibility or renovations to your existing roster in a timely fashion. The most effective and successful lean manager in the world will have a tough time getting started if their role isn’t clear both to them and their overall team.

Maintaining the Mindset of a Media Company

It can be difficult for a new entrepreneur to assume the kind of mindset that is shared by the leaders of today’s media companies, and it can be nearly impossible to maintain this attitude in the face of adversity.

But the lean startups that leverage the voices on their team, choose social platforms wisely, have a deep understanding of their business methodology, take seriously their company culture, and maintain a clear leadership structure are giving themselves the best chance to do something great—whether they’re intentionally thinking like a media company or not.


Lexie Lu is a freelance designer and blogger. She enjoys researching the latest trends and always has a cup of coffee in close proximity. She manages Design Roast.