Why great B2B marketers must (sometimes) fail

I’ve spent countless hours debating just who is the greatest sportsperson of all time.

There’s an impressive list of candidates: Muhammed Ali, Martina Navratilova, Lance Armstrong, Pele, Eric Liddel, Nadia Comaneci, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Rod Laver

But, of course, there’s no right answer. Navratilova’s dismount from the asymmetric bars is unlikely to be any better than Comaneci’s running backhand. And you can’t compare across relentless eras of technical and scientific advance.

So why bother? We do it to relive the moments, feel the inspiration and discuss the essence of greatness.

And what makes them great? Are they separated from the also-rans by an iron will-to-win? I doubt it. I believe they are great because they go one stride further – they are prepared to fail and that’s why they (usually) succeed.

There are two example that illustrate the point better than I ever could.

The first comes from “The Great One” himself, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss with 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take”. The risk, you see, is not shooting.

But nothing beats Michael Jordan‘s message as a positive view of failure.

When B2B marketers put risk above reward the quality suffers. I am certain that most B2B marketers would rather avoid a public failure than shoot for success. It’s not enough; we are in the results business: hired to do stuff.

There’s a paradox here. If risk-averse marketing is boring and delivers nothing then surely, surely the greatest threat to a marketer is risk-aversion. You may fail, from time to time, but think of the reward when you hit the moment, inspire your market and find the essence of great marketing.

The simple fact is that if you don’t shoot, don’t ever take a risk, like the sports people who don’t make the shortlist, you’ll always be an also-ran.


Nice post! I love that Jordan commercial!

I once saw that the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy have a sweet piece of art in their office which says: fail harder. Ever since I copied that onto my wall, it encourages me to take risks.

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