‘Lean’: Cutting Waste vs. Creating Customer Value

Geoff - 2 nd September 2015

One of the few benefits of catching a 6am train to London on Monday mornings is getting to hear ‘Wake Up to Money’ on Radio 5 Live.  

On my journey this week I heard the story that Fiat Chrysler had just received the largest fine ever as a result of product recall. Incredibly it surpassed the previous difficulties of Honda and Toyota; both have had huge troubles in the past.  

This is a double problem. Not only do these issues cost significant amounts of money, they are extremely damaging to the brand.

I imagine that running a global manufacturing organisation is not an easy task and I wouldn’t dream of passing comment on how these issues could have been avoided, but what it did trigger is the thought that each one of these mighty organisations probably runs a ‘Lean’ programme.

What is Lean?

The main principles of Lean are to maximise customer value and minimise wastage at the same time. Essentially, it means creating more value with fewer resources.

If your organisation has not embraced Lean principles yet, then stand by, because chances are it will do shortly.

But it’s not just car manufacturers. While Toyota have been global leaders in Lean, you will find the approach has been used across manufacturing, financial services and even within hospitals and government departments.

Of course Lean is generally a good thing – looking at end-to-end processes, focusing on waste of all kinds and eliminating the waste systematically makes good sense.

No-one likes waste. It adds costs for the business and the customer. So in theory, everyone wins.

But the danger is that, without due care and attention, the brand can get lost in the process. The brand articulates your point of difference, the thing you aim to stand for and against which you compare yourself to others.

Applying brand alignment principles there will be ‘brand critical’ processes where your point of differentiation is delivered. Eliminating waste from these processes is indeed laudable, but not to the extent where the point of difference is lost.

Don’t Let ‘Lean’ Principles Erode Your Brand’s Point of Difference

At Virgin Media, service agents are allowed to deliver ‘random acts of kindnesses’ – unscheduled gestures that can enhance the brands reputation and fuel word of mouth.

It could be argued that in most cases, customers didn’t ask for these gestures as they weren’t part of the ‘customer requirements’ – so they could actually be defined as waste.

But to eliminate these acts could be detrimental to the brand, eroding points of difference that customers love.

This is not a rant against Lean; it’s more of a plea to marketers to embrace. They must also make sure cost savings don’t lead to reputation erosion.

Lean is a superb process in making sure brand ‘basics’ are delivered brilliantly and cost-effectively.

I feel that some of these savings could be invested into more ‘magic moments’ that enhance the brand's reputation, helping create more brand advocates.

That feels like a double win.


Geoff is a director of Brand Vista and is an integral part of the original team. He brings not only marketing skills but also those of business improvement and change management. With his eclectic background of marketing and business improvement, Geoff is ideally placed to help brands get the very most out of a Brand Alignment project.
Find out more about Geoff