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8 min read

Navigating imposter syndrome in marketing

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This article originates from a presentation at the Revenue Marketing Summit in London, 2022. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

I'm Tom Livingstone, Head of Marketing at Talentful, and I want to share a personal story about imposter syndrome in the marketing industry.

It's a feeling that I shouldn't be here, constantly fearing that I'll be exposed as a fraud and lose my job. If this sounds familiar to you, you're not alone.

In fact, studies show that seven in 10 people experience imposter syndrome and my suspicion is that the numbers might be even higher in the marketing field.

Let's delve into the reasons behind this phenomenon by covering:

  • My personal journey with fighting imposter syndrome
  • Unveiling the roots of imposter syndrome
  • Empowering strategies to cultivate confidence
  • Tactical tips to overcome imposter syndrome

Fighting imposter syndrome: My personal journey

Kate Stanners, a prominent figure at Saatchi, describes imposter syndrome as that sickening feeling of being on the verge of being found out. This sensation often arises when we're entrusted with new responsibilities, leaving us questioning our abilities and wondering what we can possibly bring to the table.

So, why do I feel like I shouldn't be here? Let me provide a bit of background about myself. Over the course of my career, I've had the privilege of working at some reputable companies.

I started as a content writer and interned at Secret London, a media site that now boasts 1.6 million Facebook followers. Back when I joined, it had none. I had the freedom to write about whatever I pleased, and it was an incredibly enjoyable experience.

After that, I moved on to Badoo, the parent company of Bumble (which now effectively serves as the parent company of Badoo). During my time there, I held the position of UK Brand Lead.

Currently, I'm the Head of Marketing at Talentful. I joined the company when it was a UK startup, and we've since grown into a global scale-up operating in the UK, US, and Canada — truly a global reach.

Given my professional journey, one might assume I have every right to be here. However, imposter syndrome still affects me deeply. It's a topic that holds immense personal significance, and I wish someone had shared some of these insights with me earlier in my career. It could have saved me from a lot of unnecessary stress.

I hope that by sharing my story, I can offer guidance to those who are early in their careers and struggling with similar challenges. And perhaps, even managers and leaders can find a few valuable takeaways to support their teams.

Unveiling the roots of imposter syndrome in marketing

A quick Google search confirms the prevalence of imposter syndrome within the marketing field. Countless articles on the topic pop up. So, why is imposter syndrome so common in marketing? Here's my perspective.

Firstly, marketing is a broad domain that encompasses various disciplines, many of which rely heavily on soft skills that are challenging to measure.

Furthermore, much of our work is subjective in nature. Even if we can quantify certain aspects, differences in opinion can make it difficult to gauge our performance accurately.

One recurring feedback I've received throughout my career is, "You're too nice." It seems that marketers often face pressure to toughen up and be more assertive.

However, I believe that marketers are generally a kind-hearted bunch. This expectation of toughness can be encountered at some point along the way.

Another factor contributing to imposter syndrome in marketing is the lack of clear qualifications for our profession. Since marketing heavily relies on soft skills, traditional vocational qualifications may not always align with our field.

Many of us stumbled into marketing without specifically studying it, which can lead to doubts about our qualifications and expertise.

Additionally, marketing itself can seem like an abstract concept, making it challenging to pinpoint our true passions within the field. It's easy to lose sight of what initially drove us and where we want our careers to go.

The more we delve into the complexities and diverse facets of marketing, the easier it becomes to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about our direction.

Let me share a personal anecdote. A few years ago, while working on the Badoo marketing team, we were tasked with relaunching the Badoo brand with a new identity. During this time, my co-marketing manager and I had a session with Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble, to discuss our ideas and seek advice.

Well, Whitney tore apart all of our concepts, leaving us feeling utterly lost. However, in hindsight, her feedback was valuable and constructive.

Yet, on that day, I couldn't help but question my competence. It's a feeling that I'm sure many of us can relate to — moments of uncertainty and self-doubt.

Imposter syndrome is a common challenge that marketers face, but it's crucial to remember that we're not alone. By recognizing and discussing these feelings, we can support one another and navigate through them.

Empowering strategies to cultivate confidence

To counteract imposter syndrome, the key is to cultivate confidence in yourself. It's an ongoing journey that I'm still navigating, but I'm making progress day by day.

Let me share some strategies that have helped me build confidence and combat the effects of imposter syndrome over the years.

Be patient when building experience

Firstly, experience plays a crucial role. It's important to understand that confidence develops over time through continuous learning and honing your abilities. Patience is key. It's okay not to know everything right away, as expertise and self-assurance come with time.

Find your champion

Another important factor is finding your champion. These are the people who believe in your potential and are willing to invest in your career growth.

It's not necessarily about formally seeking out a mentor, but rather recognizing those who can support and guide you at different stages of your career.

If you're fortunate to have someone who champions your abilities, don't take it for granted. Being a champion for others can also make a significant difference in their journey.

Find what motivates you

Discovering your passion is also vital. If you didn't grow up dreaming of being a marketer (like myself), it's essential to distill down what truly excites you. It could be multiple aspects, and they don't have to be strictly work-related.

Often, we get caught up in questioning whether we enjoy specific marketing areas, such as social media or account-based marketing.

Instead, focus on identifying what motivates and energizes you. For me, it's creativity, which involves elements of copywriting, valuing interpersonal connections, and nurturing company culture.

Managers can benefit from sitting down with team members to uncover their higher-level motivations beyond day-to-day tasks and help unlock their full potential.

Acknowledge your weaknesses

Acknowledging weaknesses is a vital step, even though it may feel uncomfortable when battling imposter syndrome. Hiding weaknesses only exposes us in more significant ways.

Subtle manifestations can include saying yes to everything to prove our capabilities, avoiding seeking help because it's perceived as weakness, or deflecting ownership of mistakes.

These traits hinder career progress, so it's important to recognize them and work on overcoming them. If you come across someone struggling with these traits, consider reaching out to offer support and remind them that it's okay to ask for help.

Embrace that you’re different from everyone else

Lastly, it's worth emphasizing that confidence should stem from your own convictions and direction.

In my career, I spent a lot of time trying to mold myself into the marketer I believed others wanted me to be. I relied on self-help resources, podcasts, and books, hoping they would transform me into a successful marketer.

However, confidence truly comes from embracing your unique self and not relying solely on what worked for others. While these resources are valuable for discovering new marketing techniques and trends, confidence is ultimately built by being authentic and true to yourself.

As the saying goes, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." Instead of solely relying on external sources, trust in your own abilities and direction.

Remember, building confidence is a gradual process. By implementing these strategies and consistently working on self-belief, we can combat imposter syndrome and thrive in our marketing careers.

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Tactical tips to overcome imposter syndrome

Now, let's delve into some tactical tips that you can apply to counter imposter syndrome.

Be creative, yet data-driven

When it comes to creative thinking, relying on sporadic moments of inspiration isn't a reliable or scalable approach. Rather than obsessing over trying to come up with a groundbreaking idea out of thin air to prove your creativity, it's more effective to strategically arm your creative thinking with logical reasoning.

This involves understanding why your ideas have the potential to generate real results or revenue.

There are numerous measurable activities you can combine with your creative ideas, such as social media ads with instant results, tracking performance, or measuring brand uplift.

Each company may have its own metrics to evaluate success. By aligning your creative endeavors with measurable outcomes, you can bolster confidence in your abilities and demonstrate the impact of your ideas.

Build out your portfolio

Building a portfolio of your work is always a valuable practice. Not only does it enhance your position when seeking new job opportunities, but it also serves as a reminder of your accomplishments and growth throughout your career.

Creating a repository of your ideas can also be a great way to reflect on your achievements and boost confidence. It's a tangible representation of the progress you've made.

Kindness is a strength - but so is conviction

Now, let's address the misconception that being nice is a weakness. In fact, being nice is a strength. Team players who lift others up are invaluable in any business.

However, sometimes being overly polite or accommodating can stem from a lack of conviction in your own actions. It may make you appear apologetic or hesitant when approaching colleagues or making requests.

To overcome this, it's essential to find conviction in what you're doing. When you have confidence and conviction, it positively influences your interactions with others. Instead of focusing on how to be more direct, shift the perspective and recognize that good manners and kindness are assets.

If you receive feedback about being "too nice," concentrate on building confidence in yourself and your actions.

However, if the culture within a workplace consistently fails to appreciate and respect your kindness, it may be worth questioning whether it's the right environment for you. Remember, it's only a job, and there are better cultures out there where you can thrive.

Recognize your built-up skills

Now, let's address the concern of feeling unqualified. While there are courses you can take to enhance your skills, it's important to acknowledge the expertise you've developed over the years. Marketing is a rapidly evolving field, with tools and platforms constantly changing.

However, the marketing instincts and skills you've honed through practical experience remain valuable. Just because you didn't formally study marketing doesn't mean you aren't a reliable authority within your organization. Recognize the skills and instincts you've built through your work.

Find your passion

Lastly, let's revisit the topic of finding your passion. While external resources shouldn't dictate your career path, they can be helpful for initial research. Use them to gain insights into different aspects of marketing.

However, it's crucial to try different things to truly learn what you're good at. Don't be afraid to apply yourself to areas you hadn't previously considered.

Final thoughts

Your career is a long journey, allowing you ample time to explore and experiment. Failure is a natural part of growth. I've personally transitioned from blog writing to growth marketing, brand building, B2B marketing, and account-based marketing.

Each endeavor has taught me valuable lessons and allowed me to develop transferable skills. Even if a particular experience doesn't align with your initial aspirations, it can still hold value. Embrace the idea of trying different things and embrace the growth that comes with it.

Written by:

Tom Livingstone

Tom Livingstone

Head Of Marketing at Talentful

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Navigating imposter syndrome in marketing