My self confidence is something that has been constantly challenged as a marketer and so I have decided to divert from my usual content on search marketing and social with a post that is more personal but hopefully also enlightening.
Marketing is a discipline where we can quickly go from being the champion of the office to the devil incarnate in a matter of hours. Even with all of the data we have at our finger tips today as digital marketers combined with all of our experience we all still often fail as much as we succeed, and personally I have had some pretty introspective days after big fails.
Both failure and winning have a major effect on my confidence levels but it’s got to the point where I try to play down the wins and roll over the losses in order to maintain a steadier course. I do not mean that I have trained myself to stubbornly ignore my mistakes; I spend a lot of time trying to understand why something did not work and what I can do to avoid making such a mistake again, I just mean that I try not to dwell on negative thoughts – take the learning and use it positively.
However – it has taken me many years and much stress to get to a more balanced emotional level and I am far from immune to increased heart rates when testing something new.
How I have failed in the past
I suppose the catalyst for this post was failing in a job a few years ago. I had been very successful in my previous few jobs, was very confident in my abilities, perhaps a bit cocky to boot so took a large step up in responsibility with the new role. As well as the step up in responsibility I was thrust into a very different business, both culturally and in it’s very nature. It was a very aggressive, fast paced small business that had an incredibly tight understanding of the trading figures and had very ambitious targets, which was at times very exciting and at other times a pure headache.
It was an environment where every week it would be claimed that a fundamental part of the business was broken and that we needed to find the offending issue and fix it; this had many positive outcomes as we all got to know the business and it’s levers inside out and all understood what each other was doing pretty well but it also led to a lot of time spent down rabbit holes looking for something that did not exist.
A few weeks into the job we had one of these crises and my response to it was not emotional; I just felt that we did not have as major an issue as the senior managers felt we did and my seemingly nonchalant attitude was not received well. I do care deeply about the work that i do and take it very personally but I felt that we were wasting time looking for a ghost.
This was the first of many disagreements, and I ended up staying in the job far too long and completely lost the confidence of my boss and the CEO. I argued with them and became increasingly defensive and alienated in the business – it was a horrible experience and I left with very little confidence in my own abilities as I was constantly questioning every decision I made and always felt that I needed to have an explanation ready.
The saving grace was that there were many of my strategies at the company that had worked so I could at least leave the company with an element of my former self in tact, but cockiness had fully departed – it was a very low period in my career.
After leaving the company I partly blamed myself but also blamed my boss and the CEO and I think that it is probably quite important for my confidence that I did not blame myself completely. Now when I look back I can see that I did fail in the job but where I failed was on my communication abilities and my battles were always fought on the detail of the job. If I had been less defensive and more confident in myself and my abilities then I could have made a success of the job.
Although I now realise that it was not a good cultural fit for me I am thankful for the learning experience as it taught me a lot about digital marketing and running a small business but also about relationships, expectations and choosing your battles (still struggle with that one).
Key learnings and what I do differently now
1) Marketing is not a discipline with clear and simple answers and the unexpected often happens. It is not like accountancy where there is a wrong and a right. There are ideas and there are human beings and as marketers we try to be creative in using the technology we have available to us to get the best results possible. Human behaviour is largely predictable but there are lots and lots of surprises out there.
2) Spend time understanding why failures happen – if you can find out why something did not work then it gives you the confidence that you know where to go in the future.
3) It is important to approach marketing logically and systematically – have checks in place to mitigate against mistakes.
4) It is important to approach marketing passionately but with realistic expectations – we need to be willing to pull the plug on a plan if the data proves it is not working. Everything that we do for a client I question whether I would do it if it was my personal money on the line.
5) Take time to think through important decisions/conversations beforehand. Be clear in your thoughts.
6) Be accepting of differing opinions and be strategic around how you approach them – choose your battles and also take your time to fight them well.
7) No good comes out of blame.