Winning and the High Price of Fighting the Wrong Opponent

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

One of the most iconic sports quotes is the statement above. Frequently attributed to Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay Packers football coach, there is ample documentation that suggests Lombardi didn’t utter the line first. It was his own success that made it stick to his legacy. Nonetheless, Lombardi has become the forbearer of a generation of competitors who believe every game has only two outcomes – victory or defeat. While Lombardi might be reluctant to see Charlie Sheen and his “winning” tiger blood as a direct descendant, we are more and more a society driven by triumph.

As a sports fanatic, I am the last person to cast judgment on the notion of winning. However, more and more in the marketing space, we seem confused about who our competitors are and for what we are competing. On a daily basis, you can open a trade email and see a competitive summary of spending moving from one channel to another. Digital types triumphantly proclaim the onslaught of media moving out of traditional channels and into their coffers for allocation. All the while, traditional media looks at the reach and impact of digital and wonders what, exactly, all the fuss is about. In this exchange, the investment allocation itself is the determinant of victory when, in fact, it should be the combination of media that delivers the greatest value that is declared winner.

But the problem isn’t just about the competition between channels. Now the competition is for distinguished positioning at events and in the media. Winners and losers are declared at events like CES and SXSW, events that were born out of the spirit of innovation and growth, where adoption by the mainstream of any technology is a win for all technologies. Mike Lazerow of Buddy Media summed it up well in a tweet in response to an Ad Age column following SXSW. He wondered why winners had to be declared, and proposed that the industry and all those who gathered and networked be considered beneficiaries of the experience.

As an industry, it is essential to keep in mind what is important for sustained success. We aspire to win the hearts and minds of consumers through authentic stories and relevant connections. We make conscientious decisions on a daily basis about where we can make that happen. In those decisions, we must choose the placements and pricing that are most beneficial to our mission. Those are the fights that really matter. Our business “wins,” when we integrate our thinking and elevate our approach, are what we will be judged on long after.

Our fight is a collective fight. One against poor decisions made through partial data sets and industry blind spots. If winning is the only successful outcome, then perhaps another Lombardi quote, this one with less contention around its originator, may be more appropriate for us. “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”

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