What keeps marketers up at night: the crisis of confidence plaguing our profession

A new study has exposed a crisis of confidence among marketers, finding that marketing professionals have significant doubts about their skills, effectiveness and ability to measure the impact of their campaigns.

The findings are from a survey of US marketing professionals commissioned by Adobe and being presented at Advertising Week in New York this week, titled ‘Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night?’

The survey has revealed a striking lack of confidence in digital ability. Less than half (48%) of professionals who consider themselves primarily digital marketers feel highly proficient in digital marketing. A majority of digital marketers haven’t received any formal training in digital marketing (82% report learning on the job).

Marketers also express low confidence in how their companies’ marketing programs are performing. Only 40% think their company’s marketing is effective. When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of digital campaigns specifically, 9% strongly agreed with the statement that they ‘know their digital marketing is working’. Yet, 68% of respondents feel more pressured to show return on investment on their marketing spend.

“Marketers are facing a dilemma: they aren’t sure what’s working, they’re feeling under-equipped to meet the challenges of digital, and they’re having a tough time keeping up with the pace of change in the industry. What’s worse, no one hands you a playbook on how to make it all work,” says Ann Lewnes, chief marketing officer, Adobe.

David Edelman, global co-leader at McKinsey Digital says that while in some cases marketers understand what they should do, they lack the confidence they will succeed: “They’re anxious about understanding ahead of time what makes for good creative and smart digital strategies, managing complexity, and measuring real impact. Plus, so much of marketing today is a moving target,” he says.

“But you have to get in there and play and learn. The challenge is getting comfortable with risks. Set aside a portion of budget – 10-20% – and really try new things.”

Highlighting the feeling of change in the discipline, 76% of respondents think marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50.

The survey also found a correlation between self-reported business performance and digital marketing proficiency. Respondents were asked to rate their company’s business performance as either ‘high’, ‘average’ or ‘low’ performing. The data revealed that high-performing companies are twice as likely to rate their company as highly proficient in digital marketing (50%) than average to lower-performing companies (25%).

Asked about their greatest professional concerns, marketers cited reaching their customers as the biggest challenge (82%), followed closely by the uncertainty of knowing whether their campaigns are working (79%), proving campaign effectiveness (77%) and demonstrating marketing return on investment (75%).


About the study: Commissioned by Adobe and produced by Edelman Berland, the study was conducted as an online survey among a total of 1000 US marketers. Data was collected between 26 August and 11 September 2013 by ResearchNow. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level for the total sample is +/- 3.1%. Data was also broken out by the following sub-groups: Marketing Staff (n=499), Marketing Decision Makers (n=436), Digital Marketers (n=263), and Marketing Generalists (n=754).

  • john varcoe

    One obvious error is the assumption that society accepts marketing actually is a profession!

    Professions are generally defined by the following five criteria:

    – A full time specialized vocation
    – A capacity to measure expressed through forensic attributes
    – Barriers to entry based on training, qualifications and experience
    – State-ordained accreditation
    – Disinterest (or the capacity to view a problem or issue with detachment and then pronounce on it in such a way that is not seen to accrue advantage to the professional providing it).

    So, where does this leave marketing, as we now know it? Well, there are relatively low barriers to entry, and no one can be barred from practicing marketing. The measurement methods we use are often of questionable validity (and that includes digital), most other business professionals do not respect our forensic skills, and we typically lack the trust of those other professionals and of the wider community.

    Marketing is seen by most business professionals to consist of a growing number of conventional wisdoms that we use to try and create an aura of professionalism and mystique. Is marketing’s rush headfirst into social media, with little if any evidence of an ROI in most cases, just one more nail in the coffin?