Beating back marketer imposter syndrome

Published Dec 22 2023 Last updated Dec 22 2023 7 minute read
marketer imposter syndrome
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

Do you battle against feelings of self doubt when building your campaigns or analyzing data? Perhaps you feel as though you’ve accepted a role that you feel you are unqualified to hold, despite the qualifications on your resume. If so, you are far from alone. 

This persistent feeling, and the internalized fear that people will somehow find out that you’re not the expert your job title says you are, has a name: imposter syndrome. 

But what exactly is imposter syndrome, and critically, how can we overcome these fears of inadequacy? Today, we’ll break it all down for you. 


What is imposter syndrome? 

The term, coined back in 1978 by Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Clancy, originally only applied to high-performing women in the workplace. While the term may have existed for 45 years, it has only gained traction in recent years as new technologies have flooded the workplace – affecting people of all shapes and stripes in the workforce. 

It’s easy to illustrate this phenomenon with an example. Let’s imagine you are a young professional in the marketing industry. While you’ve progressed beyond entry-level roles, you are still in the early stages of your career — and the future is bright. You’ve worked for a few well-known companies and completed several high-profile projects. Then, you get the call you’ve been waiting for. A major global brand (insert your favorite brand like Apple, Nike, etc. here) in a mid-level leadership role. 

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and you jump and the chance to make a big impact. However, once you arrive at your new office, you look around and find that your team is full of high-performing ambitious professionals. You might start to question whether you may be in over your head a bit. Perhaps you embellished your contributions to a project a bit too much on your CV. You might ask yourself, “Do I really deserve to be leading a team at this stage in my career?”

You may also doubt your own abilities. Sure, you may have helped streamline data processes at your last firm, but can you really say you are fully comfortable handling and interpreting large swaths of data? 

That’s when it happens. Self doubt starts to take hold. You begin to question your own abilities, and you start to fear that your high-performing colleagues will discover you as a fraud with a nice looking resume. 

As data skills have become required in time, the modern workplace and AI upends traditional ways of working, marketers particularly struggle with the issue. According to Funnel’s own research, 35% of marketers say that they regularly experience imposter syndrome.

Additionally, our research found that women and younger workers are more likely to experience these complex feelings more often than their older and male counterparts. 

The fact is that these feelings can be hard to shake — but it’s not impossible. There are ways to overcome imposter syndrome and finally recognize yourself as the incredible contributor you are. 


How to overcome imposter syndrome

At its core, the feelings characterized as imposter syndrome are just that: feelings. These are merely self-imposed barriers, which means you can also remove those mental barriers with a few simple techniques. 

While we have compiled our top tips to beat imposter syndrome below, we would like to caveat that we are definitely not therapists or psychiatrists. These are simply tips that have worked for other members on our team. If you feel you need help, please do not hesitate to contact a professional. 

With that said, let’s unpack our top tips. 


Acknowledge and understand it

Your first step toward overcoming imposter syndrome is to understand that it is a shared human experience that often plagues high-performing individuals. Know that you are not alone in holding these feelings. 

Nearly any time a groundbreaking new technology is released (or taken away in the case of the cookie-pocalypse), the entire marketing industry freaks out. 

“How can we go on? My job has been rendered useless! I’m doomed, I don’t understand any of this!”

Each of these phrases were shouted into the void way back when social media became “a thing.” The habit of despair also carries through to the present day. Generative AI is causing marketers to question their very existence. Plus, the data skills required to succeed in the modern world are driving major feelings of self doubt for every marketer around the world. 

See? You’re in the same boat as the rest of us. Realizing that we are all on this journey together often helps to reduce anxiety in the short term. 


Celebrate your achievements

Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re not alone feeling these fears, it’s hugely important to celebrate your wins. No matter how small you may think your accomplishments may be, it’s worth it to celebrate yourself. 

On one hand, it gives you a little ego boost, but this increase in self-confidence can have lasting effects. By regularly recognizing your personal growth, you can start to track your own evolution. 

For instance, let’s imagine that your data skills need real improvements in order to succeed in your new leadership role. Maybe you take one week to get a little better at organizing your data. It may require some trial and error along with plenty of YouTube tutorials. At the end of the week, you may not have become a transformation master, but you can organize your data so that it reflects a single currency. 

That, right there, is reason to celebrate! You’ve made one step toward greater data maturity. 

Over time, these skills begin to build on each other. And in a couple years, you will be light years beyond where you are today. No one is born an expert, they take intentional steps to get there. In Star Wars speak, the Padawan becomes the Jedi and later becomes the master.  


Never stop learning

As we’ve covered before, the path toward greater data maturity is a long one. It requires small, incremental steps every day. 

Much like all areas of life, those who dedicate themselves to lifelong learning are almost always the most successful. Such is the case in the marketing industry. Our chosen field is a constantly evolving one. 

For those marketers who are particularly worried about AI coming for their jobs, we’d like to pose a question: How can you make the machines work for you rather than the inverse? 

New generative AI tools hold the promise to automate tons of processes across nearly every industry. So, how can you level up or niche your skill set to an area that these technologies can’t hope to touch? 

By constantly evaluating your own skillset and aiming to grow, you create what’s called a “growth mindset.” We’ll unpack this idea in a bit, but for now, think of it as a way to shift your perspective from a defensive place to a proactive one. 


Build a support system

While it is possible to overcome mental blocks by yourself, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a few allies in your corner. Whether it’s colleagues, a mentor, past professors, friends, or all of the above, it can be incredibly valuable to rely on a support system to get you through tough times. 

As human beings, we are often highly critical of ourselves. At the same time, we often show a strong bias to our own opinions.

It’s why marketing professor and podcast host Scott Galloway recommends building a “kitchen cabinet.” 

Built around the idea of a president’s cabinet of advisors for each area of their administration, we can each build our own home-grown cabinet of trusted advisors. These individuals can help us to recognize and celebrate our success and steer us in the right direction when we begin to falter. 

In the case of imposter syndrome, this group of trusted voices can help you to recognize that you are indeed worthy of the role you hold. 

They can also help you gain clarity on what areas deserve a more critical lens. 


Question with confidence

We get it. Data can be intimidating — particularly in a world where marketing data is relied upon to steer a business. Yet, while we often talk about data as irrefutable, that may not always be the case. 

The more we humans work with and handle data, the greater the opportunity for human error and bias to manifest. So, while you may not be the world’s foremost expert on marketing data insights, don’t hesitate to question the results that may be surfaced. 

Though humans may carry innate biases, we also have something even the most advanced AI does not: intuition. You may not be able to tell exactly why, but when something doesn’t quite “smell right,” you can feel it. 

It’s this moment that you should lean into these suspicions. Question why and how the insights from a dashboard were found. Are they the real results of past performance, or merely wishful thinking? 

As you begin to question the underlying data, and start to dig into it, you will quickly find that you’re not quite the imposter you thought you were. 


How data can act as a cure

This leads us to the crux of the imposter syndrome issue. Data can be both your enemy and ally — depending on how you look at it. 

At first glance, large data sets can be intimidating. If your marketing team is running multiple ad campaigns across various ad platforms, it can be quite difficult to pull everything together, let alone analyze and interpret your performance. 

However, data can also be your strongest ally in beating back imposter syndrome. It just takes a bit of work to get yourself somewhat comfortable working with it. By properly collecting, organizing, and sharing your marketing data with the appropriate stakeholders, the entire organization will see you as the invaluable resource that you are. And who knows, you may even convince yourself, too. 

The good news is that gaining these skills won’t necessarily take a four-year degree either. With a tool like Funnel, you can automate and implement all of these processes in a matter of clicks. 


Further reading recommendations

As we mentioned, these are merely suggestions for beating imposter syndrome that have helped our team in the past. If you feel that you need professional help, seek it out! 

And if you’d like to further explore ways to overcome imposter syndrome, we’d like to suggest two books. 

Our first recommendation is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. We referenced this concept earlier, too. The book illustrates ways in which you can reframe the challenges you may face every day. By following the advice contained within, you can begin to move away from feeling like a victim and instead gain control of your life journey — both personally and professionally. 

Our second recommendation is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. This book delves into the concept of neuro-plasticity. It delivers a series of stories from doctors and patients that show how the brain can, in a sense, rewire itself to achieve incredible outcomes. 


Parting wisdom

Despite what anyone may tell you, imposter syndrome is a very real thing that can act as a very real drag on your professional self image. It can take hold of your thoughts so powerfully that you may consider something as drastic as a career change. However, if you dedicate yourself to a life of continuous curiosity and learning, supported by a team of trusted advisors, and without the fear to conquer your marketing data, you can overcome imposter syndrome in no time.


Disclaimer: The featured image for this article was created using generative AI.

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