Lean Content Definition Roundup

23 Experts Weigh In On What Makes Content Lean

22 Experts Weigh in - Heidi Cohen-Actionable Marketing GuideDoes your content meet the lean content definition?

Does your content contain excess words and fluff? Do you think: Why offer 500 words when I have 1,500?

Do you try to pack everything that you can into each paragraph? Fill it with additional relevant points? If so, you may confuse your readers and cause them to move on.

Are you afraid of promotion-free content? Are you always sell, sell, sell? Unintentionally, you may be turning your audience off causing them to filter out your messages.

Like many other aspects of our lives, we want our content to be free of excess. This includes words, information, promotion and fluff. Lean content can provide the content marketing equivalent of protein without a lot of extra fat.

23 Lean content definitions

Here are 23 lean content definitions provided by content marketing experts.

22 Experts Weigh in - Heidi Cohen-Actionable Marketing Guide

1. Scott P. Abel – The Content Wrangler, Inc.
Lean content is just enough, but no more. It’s based on the principle of minimalism. And, when married with “progressive disclosure” can provide a clear path to the information a prospect or customer desires.

Creating lean content is a skill topic-based authoring practitioners have been leveraging for years. But, it’s not enough to write lean chunks of content. That content has to be structured, semantically-rich, and optimized for omni-channel delivery, often automatically (with the help of systems designed for that purpose).

2. Bernie Borges – Find and Convert
Lean Content. Long form content has become…well…long. Blog posts in excess of 2,000 words have become more prevalent and popular. Content that is short, yet compelling can be very effective. Such lean content should align with a brand’s value proposition and the personas targeted by the content.

3. Hunter Boyle – aWeber
As a proponent of the lean startup process and agile methodologies, I like the idea of applying those concepts to content marketing. Using shorter content development cycles, with initial tests and refinements before full-blown dissemination, plus time-saving tactics such as curation and repurposing, makes a lot of sense, even if it’s not exactly a new approach.

4. Michael Brenner – SAP and B2B Marketing Insider
Lean Content” is content that is part of a continuous optimization cycle. Where the content is not the end goal. Ideas flow into content production which creates data that defines how well that topic, type of content and channel all performed. The insights then go back into the “loop” of continuous content development. So there is continuous improvement. New ideas are constantly tested. There are many different types of formats and channels and approaches. And the insights drive the whole machine. That is lean content.

5. Lisa Buyer, Author of Social PR Secrets
A big mistake public relations pros make is by doing the opposite of lean content; they are used to doing generic and overly sanitized fat and fluffy content and they never look back. I define lean content as meaningful content that is strategically culled and curated, it is journalistic in style, meaning it gets to the point. It is not always tested and approved, it is a bit daring and takes advantage of the real time beauty of social media and trending topics. It is so good it is worth repeating and recycled.

6. Ian Cleary – Razor Social
Lean content is about delivering content to your audience in the most efficient way and ensuring you get maximum distribution possible for relevant content.  For lean content you might curate content or create a post and present it in many ways across different platforms and ensure it gets maximum reach.  You maximize use of your resources with the minimum time to deliver the best content.

7. Heidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide
While it’s evolved as a means for creating low cost marketing information, at its core when done well, lean content provides effective high quality content without the extra filler. It laser-focuses on your target audience including your customer, influencers, and end users.

Through planning and content management, lean content re-imagines each major content creation effort to remove unnecessary and/or duplicate work. It utilizes the power of other people’s content in terms of content curation and user generated content.

Lean content is mobile-friendly and formatted for easy, fast reading through the use of visuals, outlining and bolding to dress it for success. It takes advantage of social media and community to support broad content distribution.

8. Andy Crestodina – Orbit Media, author of Content Chemistry.
“Lean” and “Agile” content are terms borrowed from the startup community. The philosophy is to move forward as soon as you have a minimum amount of your concept complete. The sooner you launch, the sooner you can get feedback, iterate and improve. They call this the MVP or “Minimum Viable Product”

This applies to content in at least one way: books. If you want to write a book, start publishing sections as blog posts. The feedback you get from your audience will help you improve it. As you roll out with this “lean” approach, you’ll gradually accumulate a larger body of work and build your audience at the same time. This is the so-called “lean startup” methodology.

The MVP concept also applies to content marketing in another way. Brian Clark of Copyblogger once asked readers to consider their Minimum Viable Audience.

9. Guillaume Decugis – Scoop.it
When we coined the term “Lean Content“, we were inspired by the Lean Startup movement that also originated here in San Francisco. Just like startups can have huge impact in spite of limited resources, we felt content marketing shouldn’t be just for big-budget companies like RedBull capable of drowning their audience in a deluge of content.

Lean Content is content marketing “for the rest of us:” content strategies with high impact, strong focus, no waste, and that you can implement with limited resources. In partnership with our friends from various content platforms and other content strategy influencers, we’ve put together a Lean Content framework to share these great concrete learnings.

10. Pawan Deshpande – Curata
Lean content borrows from other forms of lean thinking such as Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methodology for building a product. The premise here is that you iteratively create content that’s lightweight and minimal by testing a series of hypotheses pans their corresponding experiments.

Rather than exerting a lot of effort on content that makes strong (and often unfounded) assumptions about customer preferences, lean content focuses on publishing something as quickly as possible in the “leanest” possible manner.  Then based on that you can build on your successes (and failures) to iteratively build a better product by repurposing the output of your previous experiment.

11. Barry Feldman – author of The Plan to Grow Your Business with Effective Online Marketing, a free e-book
Lean Content Hypothesis. Produce. Distribute (test the content’s reception). Measure. Iterate. The lean approach means to help content marketers quickly understand what does and doesn’t resonate with an audience.

12. Barry GraubartConnotate
Lean Content: I think this is a misnomer and misuse of the “lean” terminology. Lean has been used in the technology space to define a process of frequent incremental releases. Rather than the 12-18 month waterfall methodology that resulted in bloated products that didn’t meet the needs of the market, a lean (or agile) approach keeps it small, with steady enhancements typically in 2-3 week sprints. As I understand it, “lean content marketing” has been used to describe the curation of content to feed various content and social channels.

I love the idea of curating content, then adding your own spin to make it relevant to your audience. I’ve been doing that on my Content Matters blog for a dozen years. It’s a great way for brands to build a following. I think the key is adding value. It’s not just aggregating a set of content, but rather finding interesting content and making it more relevant for your audience. That could be as simple as finding a great cooking video, then telling your niche gluten-free audience how to make 2 ingredient substitutions to let it fit their needs.

But, that’s not the right use of the term “lean” IMO. To me, Lean Content would be focusing on a given story, putting out content, then building that story over time, as you add new facts to it. It’s what Google tried to do with Living Stories, and what Vox Media has experimented with, to some extent, in tracking a single story over time. But, that’s not how the market is defining lean content, so I’ll have to live with that.

13. Ian Hutchinson – Vidyard
When I think of lean content, I think of it is actionable. It emphasizes write less and respect the audience’s time.

14. Nick Kellet – List.ly
Lean is all about doing more with less and not bloating your product offering. For content it’s the same thing.

Ask yourself “What’s the minimal viable content to communicate an idea?”

Think of it as a pilot for the main show. Hold back some ideas for subsequent content. Don’t be too eager to splurge all you know.

Lean content is content that needs feedback, so deliberately leave gaps. Let people help share and contribute to what your content can become. Lean is about iteration.

Lean content should invite people to validate the need.

If you don’t get validation it’s time to pivot or refine your idea.

Lean content is short, simple, fast to create and iterative

15. Arnie Kuenn Vertical Measures, author of Accelerate.
I define lean content as content created quickly and with limited resources, but still with a business goal in mind. It is more tactical and experimental, as performance metrics of smaller content investments can be used to influence future content decisions. I also think lean content is less about quality (as far as getting it “exactly right”) and more about quantity. Don’t get me wrong — lean content should still be valuable to your audience, but when you’re using substantially fewer resources, the quality won’t be the same as when you’re investing lots of time and money. Lean content could be a series of short blog posts instead of one long post, content curation rather than content creation or repurposing content you have already created.

16. Ahava Leibtag – Aha Media Group
Lean Content is a bit murky, but to me it’s the idea of following lean development principles when creating content, with an eye toward iteration and feedback at every phase.

17. Toby Murdock – Kapost
Lean content is, essentially, smart content marketing. It’s getting the most out of the content you create and through strategic planning, using fewer resources to produce that content.

There shouldn’t be any “random acts of content.” If you don’t know how an asset will drive your business objectives, then it’s just content fat. Cut it. Then, once you have a valuable content asset, repurpose it. At Kapost, we call this the content pillar approach. The concept is that you take a significant asset (like an eBook), then break it into multiple blog posts, videos, webinars, presentations, social updates, etc. That supporting content then fuels all of your marketing channels, including social, marketing automation, blog, etc.

18. Murray Newlands, co-author of Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals
Lean content is creating the minimal viable expression of an idea to communicate a message and testing it to see if people are interested. If you are considering writing a post, it could be as short as a tweet. If you are making a documentary it could be a 3-minute short.

19. Phil Paranicas – ThomasNet
Imagine a pot full of salt water. Now boil off all of the water, leaving only the salt crystals – that’s your lean content. Since lean strategies are typically employed when resources are limited, your content generation and promotion strategies must be highly efficient. Here’s a story to help illustrate. I recently had the honor of representing ThomasNet at the Business Marketing Association’s Global Conference on the main stage. But with one minor caveat: deliver an hour’s worth of material in just 14 minutes. My plan was to start with a previous presentation and hack it down. Simple enough, right? Turns out, it was impossible to cut anything at first – like being asked to select my favorite kid for “bring your kid to work day”. I was suddenly so overwhelmed I even considered backing out. I walked away for a moment then realized that I needed to completely change my approach. Instead, I started with a fresh doc and simply asked – what are the key takeaways for the audience? What would be most helpful and actionable? What quick anecdotes can I use to illustrate the points? Within minutes, the outline was done. The presentation featured strong visuals coupled with relatable client experiences and focused on being helpful, original and above all, human. Exactly the attributes of a winning lean content strategy!

20. Dayna Rothman – Marketo, author of Lead Generation for Dummies (Release: March 2014)
When I think about lean content, I think about how to do more with less. It’s taking content and squeezing the most value possible out of each piece through repurposing and reusing. Lean content also makes the best use of your resources—whether you have a content manager, writers, external designers, etc. At Marketo, we are a very small content team, so we use the concept of lead content creation to make sure we are getting the most out of each piece. For instance, for one of our Definitive Guides, which can range up to 160 or so pages, we create about 20 ebooks, 10 cheatsheets, an activity book, 5-6 blog posts, 1-3 webinars, 1 video, 1-2 infographics or slide decks, and more. These are all from the same content, so we are reusing what we already created. That way we are really stretching the value of each piece without having to do additional writing.

21. Neal Schaffer, Author of Maximize Your Social
Content that is simple, concise, and packs a powerful punch. Less is more – and can be more effective.

22. Angie Schottmuller – Three Deep Marketing
I think of “lean content” as a simple, value-added concept that can be created and consumed in a short duration of time.

23. Russell Sparkman – FusionSpark Media

Proponents of a Lean Content approach draw inspiration from Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,“ who says it “isn’t about being cheap [but is about] being less wasteful and still doing things that are big.” In other words, it’s looking at content through the “less is more” zeitgeist, placing emphasis on deep audience insights as the precursor to producing fewer, higher quality content assets.  What’s the greatest skill of a “lean content” marketer? Empathy. What’s the greatest attribute of a “lean content” brand? A sense of purpose. Empathy combined with purpose is the path to fewer, higher quality content assets that garner higher click rates, open rates, share rates and other content engagement KPIs.

While another key component of Lean Content is Content Curation, it’s important to remember that without creation there can be no curation. Are you doing everything you can to be sure that your content is the content being curated by others?

The bottom line is that you need to provide your target audience with the 5 basic content marketing formats: product information, customer FAQs, product related how-to’s, styling support and customer ratings and reviews.

Your goal should be to deliver this information in the most streamlined way possible to maximize content effectiveness and minimize extra content efforts.

Understand that this doesn’t mean that you can skimp on information or quality.

What’s your definition of lean content? Please add your perspective in the comments section below.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen



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