About 50 years ago, two friends started noticing a trend. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes were accomplished professional women – both psychologists based in Atlanta, Georgia. And both have worked with equally impressive women in their clinical lives. But through these interactions, whether it was a one-on-one consultation or a group session, Clance and Imes continued to see the same thing.
Although their patients held senior positions with impressive educational and professional qualifications, many questioned whether they were worthy of their role and success.
“Obviously I’m in this position because my abilities have been overrated,” a female department head at a prestigious university told the two psychologists. ‘I was convinced I would be found out to be a sham when I sat for my PhD exam,’ said another, before recounting her shock when told her paper was among the best the examiner had ever seen. have ever seen.
“Despite their degrees earned, academic honors, high standardized test scores, praise and professional recognition from colleagues and respected authorities,” Clance and Imes concluded in their paper, published in a leading psychotherapy journal in the fall of 1978, “These women do not experience an internal sense of success. They see themselves as ‘impostors’.
The women assumed that they had been lucky or that they had benefited from an oversight. They believed they did not deserve their status and were convinced that at some point they would eventually be exposed as fraudsters. The pressure and anxiety of feeling like this meant that many women looked forward to the relief of being discovered. All the while, their actual performance and impact has remained completely legit and, in many cases, stellar.
The impostor syndrome was born. For several decades it remained a tiny psychological concept. But gradually, especially after the turn of the century, the popularity and application of the term became commonplace. While it was originally associated with women, more recent research has shown it to be equally common in male subjects. While women tend to experience the syndrome in terms of the ability to perform, it manifests more in men in the fear of failure. But either way, the impact on trust can be huge.
We have always been the third wheel of business, as all a company really needs to be in business is a product and a sale.
And this is especially true in marketing. I am struck by how quickly the concept of impostor syndrome has taken hold in our profession. I have to review over 5,000 exit surveys from marketers who complete my mini MBA in Marketing every year. The impostor syndrome often comes up in the verbatims. Perhaps 10% of the total sample describe suffering from it and give the course credit for helping to clear it up. We don’t ask about it in the survey, but hundreds of marketers address it anyway. Hundreds of experienced, award-winning and successful marketers.
And it makes me wonder why our profession is so vulnerable to impostor syndrome. I’m sure other industries have their fair share, but there’s something about marketing that seems to be making the syndrome more and more common.
Position of marketing
We have to start with the discipline of marketing itself. We have always been the third wheel of business, as all a company really needs to be in business is a product and a sale. As a result, marketing has no place at the table unless it defends itself.
Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela made this specific point when he was interviewed in Marketing Week in May. He observed that in order to make marketing more effective at Microsoft, he first had to aggressively promote the role of marketing. “You have to get over the impostor syndrome,” Capossela noted, “and say, ‘No, marketing is right next to sales. It’s a par with sales, engineering, finance. is not second to them.
Capossela was referring to the discipline of marketing as an impostor, not to marketers personally. But I believe that the tenuous position of marketing in many companies undermines many marketers and their confidence. When was the last time you met a CFO who doubted herself?
Then you have to add training, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, around 50% of marketers don’t have any proper marketing education. And most don’t think that’s a barrier to marketing. Indeed, encouraged by Philistines like Gary Vee and Neil Patel to distrust and undervalue formal learning systems, many modern marketers pride themselves on their complete lack of education in the field. They consider it a badge of honor that their skills have not been diminished by the old and outdated thinking of the books.
While this leads to some wonderfully acerbic discussions on social media, it must also cause significant impostor syndrome among those without the proper marketing training. You can learn a lot from YouTube and LinkedIn, but not enough to convince the toughest judge of all – yourself – that you really know your marketing onions.
Focus on the fundamentals
And then there’s the mercurial nature of our discipline that has to be dealt with. We are constantly told that marketing is different today than it once was. This marketing has changed more in the last five years than in the previous 50. We are a profession that deeply sucks the cigarette of change and exhales big clouds of harmful bullshit to mask what marketing is still about.
A year in the trenches, exposed to the bullshit of most marketing conferences and the garbage often talked about in the marketing press, is often enough to make even the most vocal marketer doubt their worth. Whatever concepts you might think are important – from search to loyalty to funnels to differentiation and pricing – a bozo is always standing behind the scenes, ready to explain why none of those concepts matter anymore. importance and should be replaced with a nefarious term borrowed from growth hacking. , or an app called thwacko that was invented by a 12-year-old kid in their basement on Tuesday. Perhaps most marketers don’t feel like an impostor at first, but end up that way after being told, for the thousandth time, that they had to accept the new program?
Combine the precarious place that marketing occupies in most businesses with the endemic lack of training in our profession, then shake it all to the bottom with over-the-top predictions of change and revolution, and you have the perfect recipe for the syndrome of the impostor among too many marketers.
So how do you defend yourself as a marketer? The literature on impostor syndrome is helpful, and psychologists recommend a number of techniques for managing the condition.
First, recognize that you are not alone. Especially in marketing. If I had to put a number on it, I would estimate that 30-40% of marketers have struggled with impostor syndrome in their roles. This enormity has double value. First of all, it shows that your feelings are very common. It’s not just you. Second, it also suggests that there are plenty of other marketers you can talk to about your experiences with who will know exactly what you’re going through. Admitting to feeling like an impostor might be the easiest way to dispel much of his negativity. Especially when someone you know confirms having had exactly the same feelings.
It’s at this point that I probably need to share a story about my own feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in a marketing situation. Alas, I must be honest and confess that I have never experienced anything like this. I’m too much of an asshole. But the reasons for my absence of impostor syndrome might also help you.
I really don’t have an inflated sense of self-worth and ability when it comes to marketing. But what I do have is a very clear insight into the deplorable and shitty state of marketing in many companies. Many of you who are currently struggling with impostor syndrome are working on the assumption that marketing elsewhere is done by extraordinarily talented people. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth.
2022 Salary Survey: marketing asserts its strategic power
You can cure your impostor syndrome with an injection of personal confidence and self-esteem, but, in marketing at least, you can also fix it by realizing how bad most marketers are and how many money they get paid to be so bad. The bar is so low that I challenge anyone to look around and maintain their sense of inadequacy. Of course, there are insanely good marketers out there. But there’s also a huge army of overrated plonkers, and you’re probably significantly better than most of them. I’m not saying you’re great, I’m saying everyone else is way worse.
This is a selfish point, but also get proper training under your belt. There are a number of advanced and reputable marketing programs that can boost your marketing performance and skills, but also help destroy your impostor syndrome once and for all.
I find marketing education generally delivers a triple whammy to anyone suffering from the syndrome. First, they can hang out with classmates with similar experiences. Second, they learn hot new things that make them feel more useful because they are more useful. But third, and most important, they often learn that the stuff they thought they knew has a fancy name and a few extra arguments for it, but is basically exactly what they thought it was. That moment of confirmation that “I know that” is a killer for impostor syndrome.
Finally, be kinder to yourself. One of my many issues with the idea of “marketing science” is that it suggests you should get out your slide rule and protractor, and find the perfect answer to every marketing challenge. We are working in a very imprecise area. So take it easy with yourself. And remember that by just doing basic marketing, you can add tremendous value. I’m pretty sure most plumbers don’t have impostor syndrome because at the end of the day, they do the basics right and clock in at 5 p.m.
Marketing is not rocket science. Damn, that’s not even science. Do your best. Work hard. And don’t be so hard on yourself.