Over the last few weeks I’ve touched on some of the root causes of mar­keters’ overwhelming—paralyzing, even—trust issues. The next one up is a hur­dle that’s likely the most over­looked yet con­trol­lable source of dis­tress: you, the mar­keter, and your own self-doubt. I rou­tinely encounter sea­soned dig­i­tal mar­keters get­ting so caught up sec­ond guess­ing them­selves that they can’t move for­ward in gen­er­at­ing new hypothe­ses, ini­ti­at­ing mean­ing­ful test­ing, and rolling out best practice-driven optimization.

Scratch below the sur­face a bit and it becomes clear that this stems from a belief that everyone’s opti­miz­ing and expand­ing in a bigger/better/faster/more cre­ative way than you are. Go 5,000’ up, though, and the con­fi­dence lag isn’t just yours, it’s per­va­sive in orga­ni­za­tions big and small, for estab­lished mar­keters and new inno­va­tors. This year’s Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Opti­miza­tion Sur­vey high­lighted that every­one wants to be bet­ter, with triple-digit conversions—the ulti­mate prize—sitting just off in the dis­tance. We know that com­pa­nies with an inher­ent cul­ture of opti­miza­tion expe­ri­ence con­ver­sion rates 100 per­cent higher than those that don’t, on aver­age. But many mar­keters are chal­lenged because they don’t know where to begin and feel barred from tak­ing the nec­es­sary risks. They sim­ply don’t trust their tacit knowl­edge, staff, or other crit­i­cal resources to get the job done. It’s such a basic form of dis­tress, but it’s one that exac­er­bates the exist­ing trust issues while bring­ing the equa­tion full cir­cle, from human to machine, machine back to human.

But beyond the time spent second-guessing, these per­sonal trust issues can keep mar­keters from tak­ing the kinds of cal­cu­lated risks that drive mean­ing­ful busi­ness momen­tum and inno­va­tion. Even a ker­nel of a test idea or cam­paign and the hypoth­e­sis that ensues can be enough. Don’t trust that hypoth­e­sis? You don’t have to. Take a guess, then make informed spec­u­la­tions and trust the data—even if, for now, it’s look­ing a lit­tle dis­con­nected or mis­lead­ing. Push­ing that notion fur­ther, it’s essen­tial that mar­keters take risks. Dis­com­fort is nor­mal—more than half of mar­keters believe they have to take more risks, but only 30 per­cent con­sider them­selves risk tak­ers. And despite their aware­ness of this nec­es­sary change, 14 per­cent actu­ally know what’s needed, and how to make these shifts.

I’m not advo­cat­ing jump­ing out of a plane with­out a para­chute. This is more about smart, thought­ful, cal­cu­lated risks and insight­ful exper­i­men­ta­tion based on exist­ing data, tacit knowl­edge, and care­fully artic­u­lated key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors (KPIs). These risks are, more or less, safe. Think about it in terms of day-to-day test­ing ini­tia­tives. We always hold back a cer­tain amount of traf­fic as the con­trol and, ulti­mately, look at that con­trol ver­sus the “challenger”—in this case, what­ever it is we’re test­ing. If the test doesn’t pan out as we pre­dicted, at least we have our “base” that per­formed better.

Notice I didn’t say a test could “fail.” Why not? Although in some instances a period of test­ing and experimentation—the cal­cu­lated risk period—doesn’t pro­duce the antic­i­pated results, it’s still a suc­cess. You proved it didn’t work and, because some traf­fic was with­held, you still main­tained site engage­ment within that cut. And all of that is truly a win because it pro­duced action­able, mean­ing­ful, data-driven results that can be lever­aged to make smarter busi­ness deci­sions. “Fail­ure” is a lot to take on. No won­der we, as mar­keters, are left dou­bling back, ques­tion­ing and doubt­ing every step of the way.

Back to smart exper­i­men­ta­tion. All of this should be seen as well-managed risk tak­ing. Tak­ing that a step fur­ther, the more risks you take, the more returns you’ll have—no fail­ure, lots of reward … what’s to doubt? Our opti­miza­tion sur­vey noted that the top 20 per­cent of respondents—those truly opti­miza­tion­ally mature orga­ni­za­tions that are expe­ri­enc­ing the high­est con­ver­sion rates from their efforts—see tests as crit­i­cal decision-making tools that can be lever­aged to assess and eval­u­ate any­thing and every­thing and, more­over, are using mul­ti­ple meth­ods, plat­forms, and capa­bil­i­ties to get the job done. Stack that against the remain­ing 80 per­cent that tap into mul­ti­ple meth­ods less than half of the time, and it’s clear that this type of mean­ing­ful exper­i­men­ta­tion mat­ters. Get com­fort­able with this sort of risk tak­ing, and give your­self a run­way for exper­i­men­ta­tion. It always pays off (I’m will­ing to be that defin­i­tive) and, seem­ingly coun­ter­in­tu­itively, helps build trust because you’re play­ing with lower stakes to start. By the time you tee up a new ini­tia­tive, you’ve already invested in the risk and it’s less exper­i­men­ta­tion and more well-grounded imple­men­ta­tion that you can con­fi­dently get behind.

This need for risk taking—and mar­keters’ inher­ent aver­sion to it—is some­thing we see every day at Adobe. Accord­ing to Mark Zablan, who runs Adobe’s dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing busi­ness in EMEA, “mar­keters, as indi­vid­u­als, also need to undergo reinvention—and we’re find­ing that the indi­vid­ual rein­ven­tion is one of the hard­est. It takes a true com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion, risk tak­ing, and step­ping out­side one’s com­fort zone to kick off the mar­keters’ jour­ney.” It’s uncom­fort­able, sure, but we “have to get com­fort­able with being uncomfortable—with tak­ing risks and with strate­giz­ing with­out some­times fully under­stand­ing a sit­u­a­tion.” We all have trust issues, but we need to push through and test those new, some­times uncom­fort­able waters to gain the kind of mean­ing­ful exper­i­men­ta­tion that moves the nee­dle. Brands that embrace exper­i­men­ta­tion are, sim­ply, more suc­cess­ful than those that don’t. Which do you want to be?

As I said in an ear­lier post, mar­keters have trust issues—and why shouldn’t they? HubSpot’s Erik Devaney called 2014 “a year of self-doubt” for mar­keters. But it’s far from a new phe­nom­e­non. Healthy risk tak­ing and smart exper­i­men­ta­tion has long been a part of the jour­ney. Stop wor­ry­ing that every­one is doing more and doing it bet­ter, with more sophis­ti­cated resources and greater tacit knowl­edge, because they aren’t. Embrace change and lever­age knowl­edge to over­come the dis­trust and dis­tress. And if you’re already feel­ing good about some cal­cu­lated risk tak­ing—nearly half indi­cated you’re hop­ing to take more risks in the year ahead—jump in with the knowl­edge you’ve rooted your leap in mean­ing­ful data. Then, once you’re done, take a breath and trust your­self, your team, and your abil­ity to, at the very least, take a chance … so long as it’s a data-driven one.