TripActions VP of Marketing Doug Pullman shares how marketers can create a culture of failure to scale faster.

If you want to scale fast, you’ve got to fail fast. And in an industry like fintech where speed is required to win, you also need to fail smart. But what if you work in a culture where failure is feared … or even worse, punished?

Whether it’s hiding your mistakes, not taking risks, or even blaming other departments, the actual fear of sharing a failed attempt with your team is what can actually stall your growth rather than the mistake itself.

On this episode of the Fintech Marketing Strategy Hour podcast, VP of Marketing for the travel & expense management company TripActions Doug Pullman emphasizes the need for a “culture of failure” in fintech.

We’re covering the highlights in this article so be sure to catch the full podcast episode for additional details on Pullman’s fintech marketing strategies and experiments. You’ll get to hear about TripActions’ combined expense and corporate card product called Liquid, which features ​​proactive policies that are programmatically built into smart cards so that expense management is completely automated. An easy button for corporate travel expenses? Sign us up!

What exactly is a culture of failure in fintech?

According to Pullman, it’s critical for leadership to create a culture that allows its teams to fail fast and learn fast. “And it’s important for fintech specifically because we’re moving so quickly,” said Pullman. “We have valuations and goals and ambitions and the space is growing so much.”

In the article How to Create a Company Culture that Encourages and Withstands Failure, IT firm Endava describes a culture of failure as a “company [that] is not afraid to talk about failures whenever the opportunity [arises]. From the CEO sharing the failures that eventually ended up shaping the organization today, to a management team and their direct reports being ready to talk openly about what isn’t working and come up with solutions together. It is only by continually empowering your people and creating an environment of psychological safety that is accepting of failure that this can become a real part of business culture.”

Mistakes vs. failures in fintech marketing

As VP of Marketing at TripActions, Pullman works closely with his product marketing, demand gen, design and brand teams to ensure everyone is aligned and mentored. With his emphasis on leadership setting the tone, he makes sure his team understands the distinction between failing and making a mistake. 

“Everyone will make a mistake,” said Pullman, “but you can operationalize that out with a checklist, for example, to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s not failing. It’s learning.”

Pullman goes on to explain that when you look at marketing as an experiment where you need to start with a hypothesis, it’s ok if your hypothesis is wrong as long as you take the steps to test it meaningfully. Failing and then learning is different from continuing to make careless mistakes.

Budget for experiments in your fintech marketing strategy

If you’re starting to embrace the concept of failing forward, the next step is to financially plan for mistakes directly in your fintech marketing strategy.  

One example Pullman shared on the podcast was in one of his previous roles. He explained that a “testing wizard” on his team would designate 10-20% of her paid digital budget every year (which equated to $1-2 million, mind you) to testing optimizations for experiments. 

“It was that 10-20% that impacted the 80% of what was working,” Pullman stated. “It was the first year that we saw positive ROI on a paid digital program for the company, 15 years later!” 

Pullman went on to explain that in the years following, this marketing leader continued to receive more budget and resources because she was able to prove how it would impact the company – all because she budgeted for experimentation and was open to failure.

3 tips for making confident fintech marketing mistakes

Failing isn’t easy. And telling your colleagues and boss about it? Even harder. So when it comes to experimentation in marketing optimization, fortune favors the brave.

Here are three tips Pullman shares on how to think about failure:

Don’t sweep it under the rug

If you try to spin or hide your mistake, you’re likely to get on leadership’s naughty list. 

Do this instead:Not only should you be forthcoming about the incorrect hypothesis, but you should also be forthcoming about the experiment itself. Detail out the plan for your test and make sure your team understands its purpose, expected outcome, and the fact that the actual outcome may not even come close to what you expected!

Don’t stall your fintech’s growth

Failing forward literally means that you grow *while* you make mistakes. Avoiding testing new things means you’re stuck doing the same thing, which will keep you stagnant rather than scaling. 

Do this instead:As Jim Collins proclaims in his classic business book Good to Great, “Productive change begins when you confront the brutal facts. Every good-to-great company … must have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” If you want to be great and grow beyond where your business is today, you need to be candid with leadership on what is not working. Keep it factual.

Don’t stall your personal career growth

“Marketers these days are getting stale in their jobs,” Pullman said on the podcast interview. “They keep doing the same things over and over. There’s nothing new. Learning, experimenting and trying new things – that’s new!”

Do this instead:Pullman explained that marketers are inquisitive by nature. So keep yourself and your team energized by testing out new strategies so you can continue to see new results. Employee engagement stays high when people are seeking out other experiments and areas of impact.

Wrapping it up

Consider your expectations when planning out an experiment in your fintech marketing strategy. Remember that we all fail, but there’s a right way and a wrong way. It’s not about being ok with careless errors. That’s where marketing ops comes in as you’re building out tests while tracking and recording results. 

It is about planning and culture. By having open and honest conversations with your teams about the marketing experiments you’ve budgeted for, you’re playing to win rather than playing to not lose. 

As a hyper-growth fintech company, TripActions follows market conditions. So they do change directions depending on what the economy is serving up that season. But Pullman explains that the upfront work leading up to any direction shift is never wasted. “You just have a head start when it comes back around again.”

To absorb more best practices, case studies, templates and conversations all dedicated to the art of successfully marketing fintech products, read through our blog and tune into the Fintech Marketing Strategy Hour podcast.

If you’re ready to talk through what’s working and not working in your fintech marketing strategy now, contact us here and we’ll follow up to book a quick call.

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