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Few understand the challenges marketing leaders face. The pains of being a marketing leader can keep us from enjoying the rewards of our efforts and successes, and perhaps even keep us from our family and friends.

Unfortunately, our bosses don't want to hear about it. Neither do our peers and associates. Our spouses and best friends may be sympathetic, but they don't completely understand. Only other marketing leaders understand the pressures we face.

The Formidable Four: Why Marketing Leaders Are Overwhelmed

Instead of raising your anxiety level, let's lower it by talking about the herd of elephants in the room—the pains and challenges I call the Formidable Four:

  • We experience a daily overload of data, decisions, and tasks.
  • The demands put on us from leadership and sales partners are unreasonable, yet everyone is relying on us to come through in spectacular fashion.
  • Frustration boils when we are surrounded by those who think they are marketers and offer constant unsolicited feedback.
  • We fear we must prove ourselves over and over to avoid becoming a statistic in the high turnover rate of marketing leaders.

1. Overload of Data, Decisions, and Tasks

Marketing leaders deal with a voluminous amount of data. The number of marketing choices available is staggering, and it grows with every emerging trend and platform.

Such decisions are vital to the success of the organization but fraught with uncertainty. Less of our work is creative, yet it still requires a degree of nurturing and time. We notice ourselves whipsawing between executing tactical detail, implementing new systems, and fighting fires.

The natural human response to those conditions is a creeping sense of overwhelm.

2. Demands of Deadlines and Expectations

Our company's leadership wants strategy, tactics, proof of ROI, flawless handling of brand crises, and attainment of revenue goals. The sales leaders want top-quality leads, beautiful creative and collateral, and fulfillment of last-minute requests for tomorrow's presentation. Our staff needs direction, training, arbitration, and cheerleading.

Or, we may be a marketing department of one, and everything is on us. In that case, we need to supply ourselves with all of that.

Everyone relies on us and needs things yesterday, so we become the central hub of demands in the organization. Handling the ripple effects of everyone else's decisions becomes our primary responsibility.

3. Frustration With Partners

Pivoting is our most-used skill because of constantly changing leadership priorities.

We implement and execute with inadequate systems and tech. Our requests for necessary upgrades get prioritized below requests from Sales and Operations. We are second-guessed by all constituencies and, at times, scapegoated by Finance over expense versus ROI and by Sales over any slump. And that's just a typical week before a crisis arises.

Everyone around us who thinks they are a marketer offers well-intentioned "creative" input. That places us in the uncomfortable position of having to take those people's ideas under advisement, or tactfully explaining why it won't work before justifying an outright rejection of their input.

Our colleagues usually mean well, but those relationships create cascades of complications that can bring our workplace frustrations to a boil.

4. Fear of Having to Prove Ourselves

The voices in our heads speak of the need to surpass previous successes with each campaign. There is a personal pressure to prove ourselves over and over. We do the best we can with limited time and resources, but it still doesn't square with our high standards and the need for certainty. And, the truth is, sometimes we are just guessing about important things that could return to haunt us.

We wonder about the toll on our family, friends, and health. We don't know how long we can keep up the pace.

The Personal and Professional Cost of Overwhelm

The net result of those four stressors is the erosion of the rewards and enjoyment that our role used to have.

The art and science of marketing isn't for the faint of heart. It is a gauntlet we willingly choose to run. We dare to take on the challenge of moving the marketplace because it's fun, fulfilling, and creative, bringing with it a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It's why we got into marketing in the first place.

But the Formidable Four override those satisfactions and eventually ripple throughout all aspects of our lives, ultimately affecting professional and personal relationships, and even health.

Like you, I've experienced the stressors. And I have witnessed many marketing leaders who have faced them—some successfully and some not.

In my Marketing roundtables, I'm surprised to find how often our discussions gravitate toward the Formidable Four. My members are all great marketers who love to talk tactics, but they find even greater value in problem-solving their organizational demands, frustrations, overwhelm, and fears with a peer group that gets them. They're looking for solutions to the unique pains that accompany their misunderstood and often lonely position.

The identification of all those stressors, as well as the suggestions below, are a distillation of experiences from my roundtable members. From my position as facilitator, curator, and scribe, here are solutions that have brought solace to many marketing leaders.

Three Things You Can Do to Get More Control and Satisfaction

1. Determine what you can actually control

We're often held accountable for things completely outside our control. That's OK—it's the case for all people in leadership positions. But a misunderstanding and disagreement about the scope of direct control will elevate stress beyond reason.

For your own clarity and sanity, define precisely what you do and do not control, and communicate that to your leadership team.

You 100% control...

  • Budget spending
  • Timing of marketing campaigns and tactics
  • Vendor and marketing team selection

You can influence but not fully control...

  • Your marketing team
  • Your leadership team
  • Your vendors

You 0% control...

  • Changing leadership priorities
  • Sales team CRM input and last-minute requests
  • Emergence of a crisis

Your ability to clarify those categories helps you regain control, restore confidence, and establish peace of mind. Keep your energy on what you control and can actually influence.

2. Define and establish your marketing principles

All professional marketers I've met have a set of principles. Few, however, clearly document their approach. But documenting it would allow them to be needlessly pulled astray by others who don't understand their process.

Because you already know your principles, documenting them doesn't have to be complicated. Principles can take the form of simple statements:

  • Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.
  • Don't push people to where you want them to be. Meet them where they are.
  • The best marketing doesn't feel like marketing.
  • Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.

Write down your marketing principles. Talk about them. Teach them. Doing so will give you a shared language with both your leadership and marketing teams, as well as build context for your insights.

It also empowers both you and your partners to collaborate and understand each other better. You will no longer have to explain what's wrong with offhand marketing suggestions, and you can reject a bad idea without sounding defensive.

Your principles provide a clear set of guardrails for managing expectations and input.

3. Run with a pack

Don't go it alone.

Our role, the body of marketing knowledge and data, and the marketplace are too complex for even the best and most brilliant leader to go it alone. Find an environment where you can learn from others who have your best interests in mind. Find a place where you can get certainty about things you've been guessing at as a consequence of limited resources, time, and energy.

Running with a pack also brings in voices outside your own head—educated, sympathetic, experienced voices. Whenever second-guessing and self-doubt arise, reality checks are the antidote to despair.

* * *

Determining what we control, defining our marketing principles, and running with a pack are three keys to overcoming overwhelm. Taking steps to combat the Formidable Four can return the deep sense of satisfaction that goes with moving the marketplace through the art and science we practice as marketing leaders.

More Resources on Marketing Leadership

Growing Pains and Marketing at Scale: Five Key Lessons From B2B Marketing Leaders

Great Leaders Don't Buff Out Their Dents! 'You Lead' Author Minter Dial on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Seven Traits of an Effective Marketing Leader

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The Pain of Marketing Leaders: Why We're Overwhelmed and What We Can Do About It

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image of Drew Dinkelacker

Drew Dinkelacker leads MarketingAccelerator, delivering CMO resources to marketing and business leaders. He is an author, podcaster, and facilitator of marketing-focused roundtables.

LinkedIn: Drew Dinkelacker