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How to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

A few days ago, it was championship weekend in the NFL. The Chiefs dominated the Ravens, and the Lions gave away a 17-0 lead to wind up losing 34-31. 

(If you’re reading this far into the future, it doesn’t matter, there’s an evergreen lesson in here.) 

How did the Lions have one of the biggest meltdowns in the history of the NFL? 

Well, they committed a mistake I see many business owners and marketers make so figured I’d bring it up here. 


The Lions—who, prior to this season, haven’t hosted a home playoff game or won a playoff game in 30-some odd years—had an incredible underdog story. They reached the NFC Championship game, and were only one win away from the Super Bowl — a feat they haven’t accomplished in the entire history of their franchise. 

And going into half-time, they had a dominating 24-7 lead against the NFC’s #1 seed. 

But then they got in their own ways, and stuck to their guns, which cost them the game. 

Here’s what I mean: 

Back when their coach, Dan Cambell, got his job, he fascinated the media because he wanted to restore grit to the Motor City. He even said he wants his players to “bite off kneecaps” in his inaugural press conference. 

And his schtick worked too: 

In 2021, the Lions went  3-13. 

In 2022, they went 9-8. 

And this past year, they went 12-5. 

Massive improvements year over year, climaxing with their first NFC Championship game in 30+ years. 

But Dan also had more than a few fatal flaws… 

Y’see, his first mistake is one often made by business owners: 

He thought what got him to the NFC Championship game would be the same thing needed to get to the Super Bowl, but he couldn’t be more wrong. One of Dan’s “quirks” as a coach (and probably more because he’s a former NFL player) is that he’s never met a fourth down that he doesn’t want to go for. Well, he went for it on fourth multiple times in this game—a game his team lost by only 3 points—while in field goal position. If, instead, he opted to kick the field goal any of those times, then, well, the Lions might be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. 

Moral of the story?

What got you to where you are now, won’t be what gets you to the next level in your business. 

In a business context, this could mean in any number of things, but as the email guy, I’ll relate this’n back to email: 

One problem I see from the health and wellness brands I work with is that the owner handles all the email stuff, and refuses to give it up, the same way Campbell refuses to kick field goals. Even though they aren’t the best email copywriters, don’t get as much ROI from writing their emails as they do being the head honcho of their brand, and even if it takes them hours to design, write, and send emails. 

Or another example: 

A brand has a refusal to even try plain-text emails because they’ve done the heavily-designed HTML route to email marketing for as long as they existed. But what got you to where you are won’t get you to where you’re going. I’ve never run a test where an HTML “branded” email makes more than a plain-text email that focuses on the copy rather than the design. 

And yet, some brands would rather spend literally all day—designing emails can easily devour 8 hours of time—working on a strategy that’s not even half as effective as a more copy-heavy, plain-text approach. 

Of course, the copy-heavy approach requires you to have some copywriting skills. And most brand owners don’t. But their refusal to even want to try a more stripped back approach reminds me of Dan Campbell’s inability to kick a field goal in a game that could’ve sent his team to their first Super Bowl ever. 

Moving on… 

Dan Campbell’s second fatal flaw has to do with analytics: 

Analytics have started infecting the world of football. And some of the newer NFL coaches rely on analytics to a fault. 

Dan Campbell is the epitome of this. 


Well, part of the reason he never meets a fourth down he doesn't want to go for is because the analytics say that you should go for more fourth downs than you actually should. 

I won’t get into all the probability science here, but essentially, the analytics say that you have a higher chance of winning the game if you go for it on fourth downs throughout the context of the game. 

Only problem here is, the analytics, by their very nature, don’t account for the context of the game. That’s how you end up as the Lions did: Going for it on fourth down several times while within field goal range, yet losing the game by a measly 3 points. 

And would you look at that, this is also a problem that deeply affects brands and marketers alike:

They overemphasize vanity metrics—like going for it on fourth down, or the marketing example: open rates—at the expense of the context of a given situation. 

Would you rather send emails that get 50% open rates but result in zero sales or emails that get 30% opens but make a few grand in sales? 

If you’d rather have higher open rates than revenue generated, then, well, you’re the Detroit Lions. 

Good news is, unlike the Lions, you have a chance to right the ship you’re sailing on right now by hitting reply and setting up a discovery call with yours truly. 

Don’t be the Lions, cully. 

Hit reply and let’s chat. 


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