Busting myths about confidence: What marketers need to know

Written by: Mindi Chahal
Published on: 12 Sep 2016

Confidence doesn’t come naturally to everyone but there are ways to boost it and control it that all marketers can learn. Ahead of their session at the Festival of Marketing, Virgin Red’s Helen Tupper and Sainsbury’s Sarah Ellis, share their tips and advice.

Busting myths

There are many reports looking at consumer confidence and how to build business confidence but what about marketers specifically? What skills do marketing professionals need to give them the tenacity do their jobs better and where does this confidence stem from?

The first myth that needs to be busted is the fact confidence is something that comes naturally. It is a skill that can be learned, according to Sarah Ellis, head of marketing strategy at Sainsbury’s.

“Often you look at people who seem confident and think it’s an innate ability or they are naturally confident [but] everybody I know that comes across as very confident has put a lot of work into what it means to them and [they] spend time thinking about it and practising it.”

Meanwhile, head of marketing at Virgin Red Helen Tupper suggests confidence is about control. She and Ellis will be sharing confidence-building advice during a session at the Festival of Marketing next month.

Take control of the ‘confidence gremlins’

The session, which takes place on the ‘Realising your potential‘ stage supported by Marketing Week on 5 October, will also help marketers identify their “confidence gremlins”, which can hold marketers back and get in the way of what they want to achieve.

Tupper says: “[The session] is about helping people to realise how much it is within their control. A lot of the things you are not confident about are self-beliefs and not necessarily what everyone else is thinking. Once you understand that you can take control of it.”

Ellis’s personal confidence gremlin is conflict. She prefers “everyone to get on brilliantly” but has been working on it for the past few years, having identified that it could be a hindrance as “disagreement can be a good thing [with] diversity of ideas and thoughts [getting] a better outcome.”

If you imagine these gremlins as a little voice in a marketer’s head, then Sherilyn Shackell, CEO of The Marketing Academy, advises them to “tell it to shut the fuck up”.

    “You should shift your focus on to the things that you’re really good at rather than obsessing about the things you’re not,”
    Sherilyn Shackell, CEO, The Marketing Academy

She says: “It’s a narrative that can be crucifying if you listen to it but it is your own voice. You should shift your focus on to the things that you’re really good at rather than obsessing about the things you’re not. You will be able to achieve so much more.”

One technique for focusing on the positive is to flip the daily ‘to do’ list on its head. Shackell explains: “If you have a list that says these are all the things I did brilliantly today, all of the things I’ve actually achieved, it will begin to shift the mind set.

“Ask the question, ‘have I been the best I could possibly be today?’ and, ‘what can I do even better tomorrow?’ – it can help build both what [marketers] achieve and their confidence in it.”

The important thing to remember is that confidence can be learned when something does not go to plan, says Tupper, whose defining confidence moments occur when “responding to failure”. She explains: “When something goes wrong, it seems so dramatic in the moment. By overcoming it, you often end up in a stronger place.”

Failures can feel “shocking” but the marketer believes confidence is achieved by working through the issue. She adds: “It’s a better skill set and a self belief to have.”

Confidence isn’t a case of introvert or extrovert

Personality type does not affect whether a marketer can be confident in their job, according to Ellis. She says: “It doesn’t link to introvert or extrovert personality types. I’m more of an introvert and Helen [Tupper] is more of an extrovert but we are both equally confident and it’s nothing to do with whether you talk the most or shout the loudest – it’s [having] confidence in yourself.”

Zoe Jones, marketing director at Digital Cinema Media, agrees there has been a lot written about introverts versus extroverts but believes “there’s a real balance of both” in marketing.

She says: “You don’t suddenly have to become a different person but you do have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Stay true to what makes you talented but keep pushing.”

For Jones, working in different disciplines within marketing, such as PR, has helped her discover different elements of the communications mix rather than “what might be seen as traditional marketing”. She says this knowledge “can help you think more broadly and develop that confidence”.

READ MORE: Do introverts make the best leaders?

When it comes to boosting confidence, knowledge is also key for Chris Patton, head of marketing at Fujitsu UK & Ireland. He advises marketers to be an expert, both in their markets and their company.

He says marketers “must keep learning” across every sector, since “markets are moving faster than they ever have before”. He adds: “It’s vital that marketers know their market inside out, including the current trends, direction and how tomorrow will be different from today.”

Jones mirrors this advice and tells marketers to keep “constantly curious, not just about marketing but the wider business itself”. She says it is about “trusting your instincts but never resting on what you knew a year ago”.

Confidence in the marketing department

For marketers, knowing that a job is done well can also come from the wider business acknowledging and understanding the part that marketing plays in an organisation. Things outside of their control therefore can affect a marketer’s confidence but there are ways of ensuring this issue is covered too.

“Having empathy is a critical skill for a lot of people now,” says Ellis, who explains that the ability to “float out of marketing” and into another part of the business will give people the “ability to understand the wider context” they are operating in.

Marketing is an area of business that many people have an opinion on, but rather than “worry about that” Ellis advises marketers to use any feedback as “an opportunity to engage those business areas in what you’re doing and why”.

    “My own confidence comes from [my ability to be a] good leader and get everyone moving in the same direction,”
    Greg Reed, CMO, HomeServe

Confidence in the marketing department from elsewhere in the business can stem from whether the team as a whole is confident. Greg Reed, CMO at emergency insurance and home repairs company HomeServe, says: “What I have learned over time is it has become less about me and more about the team and making sure they have the confidence to do what they need to do.”

He adds: “My own confidence comes from [my ability to be a] good leader and get everyone moving in the same direction. I understand how important it is for [the team] to understand what they are doing and the purpose of what they are doing.”

From an external point of view, however, Patton at Fujitsu believes “it’s important to welcome new ideas and embrace people that are passionate about marketing throughout the organisation”. It is also important “those people are onside and prepared to be vocal about the marketing team’s successes”, he adds.

Communication is the key here, as The Marketing Academy’s Shackell says marketers need to ensure they are speaking the “commercial language of the leaders” and “interpreting [marketing activity] as an impact on their function – linking the results to the objectives of the other functions in the business”.

Shackell also suggests marketers should offer to run internal workshops, contribute to internal newsletters and share their skill set with the rest of the business to raise their own profiles and the awareness of what marketing can contribute.


Sarah Ellis, Helen Tupper and Sherilyn Shackell will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing, which is running on 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.