The best fintech marketing teams let fires burn

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Bryan McCarty Head of Product Marketing
3min read

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Every fintech marketing org, large and small, is surrounded by fires. But successful teams don’t try to fight each one. They let the nonessentials burn and focus on what matters. It sounds simple on the surface, but it’s a challenging principle to put into practice day in and day out.

I’ve been talking about the concept with my team at Hummingbird a lot lately. But this idea — of letting fires burn — isn’t new. Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn and investor at Greylock) and Selina Tobaccowala (serial entrepreneur, co-founder of Evite, and former president of SurveyMonkey) had an insightful conversation about the topic in a 2017 Masters of Scale podcast. Hoffman points out that when you have a fast-scaling company, there will be metaphorical fires that demand your attention. Slow-burning fires will also be in the background, making you feel threatened if not dealt with. But don’t worry, those fires are a mirage, pulling your attention away from what really matters.

The takeaway? You will miss critical business opportunities if you spend all your time fighting fires. Or battling the wrong ones. It’s counterintuitive, but when your energy goes into meaningful projects, the so-called fires wither away. In fact, your house doesn’t even burn down. It’s left standing stronger than ever and more resilient because you chose to put your energy into mission-critical efforts.

Going further back, we can look to Greg McKeow’s New York Times bestseller, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which crystallized this thinking for me even more. I remember the buzz when it first came out, but I recently read it. Admittedly, I was extremely late to reading this book, but luckily, the hype was real! I wish I had read it back in 2014 — it would have helped me navigate the often-chaotic startup challenges I continued to face. But I digress…

One of the key concepts from the book is about doing the right things:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

So, where should teams invest their energies?

As a startup fintech marketer, driving revenue is the only thing that matters.

Focus on revenue-impacting activities, forget everything else

As a fintech marketer, I find essentialism inspiring yet incredibly challenging. There always seems to be some sort of desperate need. And it’s natural to want to step in and quickly fulfill those requests. You want to be responsive, help your teammates, and be known as someone who can get stuff done!

The challenge is that marketing teams typically serve (and help fuel) the entire organization, so we’re often pressed with other departments' essentials. But just because a department says something is important, doesn’t really mean it’s essential, right?

  • A strategic meeting got scheduled, and now sales wants custom slides for the next conversation (there’s always a need for more slides, right? 🙄).

  • The upcoming company offsite requires a detailed shot list — culture videos, C-Suite testimonials, employee photography, b-roll, and more.

  • A big upcoming event has everyone internally weighing in with ideas, opinions, and expectations (although they have yet to run events before, and no one quite understands what is required for success).

This list could go on for days. The best teams shrug this off, asking one vital question: which project impacts the pipeline?

It could be the new slides. Or perhaps the event. Only you and your team will know. But the key is pushing off the rest and only focusing on what truly matters.

It sounds ridiculous, but as marketers, we have to remind ourselves that we’re in the business of driving revenue. I am as guilty as the next marketer for getting caught up in the glitz of publishing schedules, podcast appearances, collateral, owned media, and shiny new websites. But none of that matters if the business isn’t growing.

It’s worth repeating. As a startup fintech marketer, driving revenue is the only thing that matters.

Your brand awareness, thought leadership, attribution models, funnel stage development, keyword rankings… blah blah blah… can wait.

Drive revenue so you can live to see another day.

Letting fires burn isn’t just for marketing

In a recent LinkedIn post, Wade Arnold, CEO of Moov (friend and former boss), shared a more nuanced opinion. My posts tend to focus on reminders for marketing teams (and myself!), but Wade took it further. With a true product management mindset, he called out the crutch we lean on by temporarily setting efforts to the side. Instead of letting them burn out, we create never-ending lists of ideas and possibilities that we might revisit later, but if they’re allocated to the burn pile then we shouldn’t.

The point of saying "let it burn" is that it's done, over, gone, and never going to be dealt with again. As humans, we like to make "backlogs" or "parking lots" for these ideas. No, that means it has a chance of coming back to being important. If it is REALLY important it will come as a new task or opportunity. It won't get resurrected from the burn pile.

Wade’s comment helped me realize that letting fires burn isn’t just for marketing teams. It’s not just for product teams, either. It’s for everyone.

My unfiltered opinion

Letting fires burn needs to become the operating system for your startup. It’s a mindset that can be applied to every function. From sales to product to engineering and HR. When everyone understands the power of saying no — and diligently focusing on what matters — the results are profound.

Forget your ego. Ignore pet projects. Turn down those speaking engagements. Quit churning out content for the sake of your editorial calendar. Stop adding ideas to a growing parking lot. Let your social game go on hiatus.

If you focus on the efforts that will truly impact the bottom line, everything will be okay.

It’s time to let fires burn.

PS: Need some music to set your focus? Give this “burn it down and walk away” breakdown (on loop for about an hour) from one of my all-time favorite metal hardcore bands, Zao. And if you work in fintech and know this song, let’s connect and talk music! 🤘🔥🤓