Salespeople are incentivized to grow revenue. Finance folks are incentivized to understand cashflows. What are marketers incentivized to do?
One answer might be "drive traffic." A more sophisticated answer might be "drive qualified traffic." Another answer might be optimize LTV / CAC. These are good answers for marketing organizations, but that isn't what marketers, the individual agents, are driven to do.
Marketers are incentivized to grow their budgets and spend money.
Your marketers start with good motives
No marketer thinks, "How can I waste my time and my company's money this week? 😈"
All of us, marketers or not, think, "How can I best represent that I'm doing a good job to my boss? 🤔"
This is where the problem begins with marketers. For instance, what paid marketer would admit, "Well, our best channel is direct traffic. And I can really only effectively deploy X% of what you're giving me. You should cut my budget and invest it elsewhere."
Instead, the paid marketer will dig in and fight to explain why to keep their budget. They'll tell varying stories to justify why they should spend $1 to make $0.80. This is the natural human impulse: I did something. It must have been meaningful. This is the bias of overconfidence.
At the very top, consider the dilemma of the Chief Marketing Officer. Even if they are 99% certain that their budget is bloated, there is a 1% chance they are wrong. And if they're wrong, that could mean "ruin" for their career. Besides, that money can always be spent on something, right?
On the other hand, consider the entry level sales development rep (SDR). What SDR is going to sign-up to make 100 more phone calls to a segment they know is dead? The SDR has no incentive to tell a story such as, "The time spent not getting leads was well-spent. I'm going to do more of that."
And the tools marketers use are mostly deceiving
Marketers, like all of us, are overconfident. The tools they use further reinforce that they are doing a "good job."
I'm going to continue to pick on managers of paid spend. Why would a paid marketer change or question the default settings to their Google Analytics instance? It grants them 30 days (!!!) against which they can attribute any of the revenue from a paid visitor. This improves their channel's LTV / CAC and makes them look very good. Of course they aren't going to question it!
Of course, the real winner is Google. Their free tool has sold the marketing org on the idea that spending money on search ads is a wise investment.
The same problem carries through with any out-of-the-box settings on ad platform or marketing tool. They're designed to reinforce that marketers are doing a good job and should continue spending their money on these platforms. And marketers just go along with it.
Marketers Must Get Technical
Marketers face a two-pronged problem: 1) the overconfidence bias that they are doing a good job 2) the confirmation bias from their techstack that they are doing a great job. As a result, marketers must become numerate and technically competent.
Marketers should think in distributions, not averages. They should demand confidence intervals. They should intuit compounding returns.
If you think that's the role of a data analyst, and not a marketer, then wtf is the point of a marketer?
P.S. I have come to realize that Casey Winters has detailed much of this. You should definitely read his work. My hope is to help enunciate or chart a course of what technical excellence in marketing should look like.