There’s an increasing trend among financial brand marketing teams I work with: They report feeling stressed and overwhelmed thanks to the continued rise and focus on digital growth.
It’s an understandable reaction as marketing strategies have become exponentially more complex (some might say more confusing or even frustrating) thanks to digital.
Through ongoing research, we’ve found the primary reason most financial marketers report feeling stressed and overwhelmed is because they are stuck “doing” marketing.
Some are stuck doing marketing because they are “heads down” and so focused on the tactics of marketing they miss the opportunity to strategically plan for future growth. Others are stuck doing marketing because they are asked to do more with fewer resources.
When financial brand marketers and their teams get stuck “doing” marketing, they don’t have time to:
- Learn: Gain new insights about future growth opportunities.
- Strategize: Think about how what they’ve learned applies to their unique situation.
- Optimize: Review their progress to reflect on how they can do even better.
Trapped By Exponential Change
Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey share in their book, Immunity to Change, how the increase in complexity associated with the rise of technology has many of us working as if we are stuck in the “quicksand of change.”
The interesting thing to note about quicksand is the harder you fight and struggle, the more you get stuck. And that’s the case for many financial marketers right now because the complexity of marketing strategies has surpassed our ability to handle and cope with exponential changes.
This has nothing to do with how smart we are. It’s about being able to handle and adapt to changes. I hypothesize the adaptability of marketing teams is a true strategic competitive advantage.
There are many financial marketing leaders who are struggling to break free of the quicksand of change. One I know tries to get a jumpstart on the day by getting started at 5 a.m. But they are already losing ground because they are starting the day tired and mentally drained from the day before.
Another marketing executive is leading multiple projects and literally lives in a state of perpetual fear they will miss an “important email.” But let’s put things in perspective here. This person is not a surgeon on call 24/7 to save lives. They are a financial marketer who does have the potential to impact the lives of people in the communities they serve, but usually over an extended period of time.
What value is created by being on and accessible 24/7?
Multiple research studies have found we get only about five solid hours of work in before our brains fatigue. As cognitive fatigue sets in we become more prone to make mistakes. And so we try to fight even harder. As a result, we get stuck deeper in the quicksand feeling even more overwhelmed. It truly is a vicious cycle.
Financial marketers (and anyone for that matter) can break free from the quicksand. Five behavioral changes will enable this to happen.
1. Become Aware of the ‘Overwhelm’
Take a moment to stop, pause, and think as you ask yourself, “If I took just one or two things off my plate right now and could alleviate 80% of the stress I feel, what would they be?”
And while you might not be able to immediately shed yourself of whatever it is that is overwhelming and stressing you out, simply taking time to answer that question can help you identify the source of frustration.
“Better to delay and think things through than rush it out just because it is a ‘hard date’ on someone’s calendar.”
— James Robert Lay, Digital Growth Institute
Maybe the overwhelm is coming from a big project that you’re close to completing. Get it done ASAP. Or maybe you’re stressed about the sheer size of a new project. Break it down into bite-size chunks that are easier to swallow while having the courage to ask for additional resources to help you eat them.
Finally, don’t be afraid to renegotiate time and deadlines if you are able to because time is nothing more than a theoretical construct created by humans for our own purposes. Better to delay and think things through than rush it out just because it is a “hard date” on someone’s calendar.
2. Protect Your Time to Protect Yourself
Set boundaries on both your time and your workload by implementing a simple time-blocking system on your calendar by breaking your week into three types of days:
- Growth days. These are the days you get deep work done and eliminate all distractions. For example, shut down your email and log out of social media, turn off your phone and notifications, and close your door. Sometimes it helps to work offsite in an entirely new environment that eliminates all distractions and encourages deeper focus. You might also use Growth Days to learn and gain new insights.
- Bumper days. These are the days that “bump up” between Growth Days and Me Days — they are the days you use to get fully prepared for either your Growth Days or your Me Days as you work through emails, take meetings, and schedule calls. The problem for many financial marketers is that they spend 95% of their time stuck in such Bumper Days, “doing” a lot, but never getting the real work done that moves the needle towards growth.
- Me days. These days are just as important as Growth Days, except on Me Days, you have access to no work. This means no checking emails or even reading business books and industry trades. Me Days are designed to rest and recharge your mind, your most important asset and tool in today’s digital world. As a bonus, pair your Me Days up with a digital detox as you take a day or two to fully step away from social media of any kind.
I recommend locking in Me Days first because you must first put on your own oxygen mask and take care of yourself before you can take care of everyone else around you on your team.
3. Progress, Not Perfection
Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Focus on the first 80% of whatever you are working on and then “ship it,” so to speak. Then learn from it; optimize it. This approach will probably feel very uncomfortable at first as it is very different from how most bank and credit union marketers have operated before.
But rapid iteration is how you move forward and make progress in today’s digital economy.
It’s not easy to challenge perfectionism. Many of us have to fight this battle daily. But seeking perfection can lead us to work on things that falsely appear to be much bigger and far more important than they need to be.
“Learn to know when ‘good’ is ‘good enough’ by asking yourself: ‘What value will I create by spending additional time on this project?'”
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg famously once said, “Done is better than perfect.”
Learn to know when “good” is “good enough” by asking yourself, “What value will I create by spending additional time on this task or project?” Stop and be done with it if the answer is “very little.”
4. Give Up Some Control
Stop holding so tightly onto marketing activities or actions you know you need to outsource or delegate to others. What got us to where we are today might not get us to where we need to go. There is a whole world full of resources available for you to bridge capability or capacity gaps to ensure you are working within the areas of your own personal expertise to create exponential value.
When you give up control and let go of the past ways of doing things, your hands are free to grab onto better ways to accomplish goals and achieve growth.
- The Financial Marketer’s Guide to Earning a Seat in the Banking C-Suite
- Digital Shifts Forcing Banking CMOs To Make Big Changes
- Rethinking Innovation, Leadership and Marketing in Financial Services
5. Create New Realities for Yourself
If feeling overwhelmed is an ongoing battle for you, odds are you have some assumptions that are keeping you stuck in unproductive behaviors. Here are some actual examples I’ve come across:
- One financial marketing leader shared the limiting belief that if something fell through the cracks, they’d be viewed as a failure and would never be able to recover from it.
- Another leader said they feel that if they are not there to help others on their team then they won’t be needed, and their team will begin to question their value.
- Finally, another marketer told me they felt if they made the wrong decision, they’d fail along with the rest of their team.
Such views are quite common and understandable. Each of us tends to create our own realities through assumptions we’re making. These assumptions feel very real. In speaking with each of these marketing leaders about what was holding them back, each realized that their limiting beliefs were not 100% true and that it was, in fact, themselves that were keeping them stuck in old patterns that increased their sense of overwhelm.
By identifying and dismantling their own limiting beliefs they were able to stop “doing” marketing as they created space and time to start learning, thinking, and reviewing more.
As a result, each leader broadened their perception and created new realities, which decreased their anxiety as they gained an even greater sense of agency and control to maximize their institution’s future digital growth potential.