Is marketing irrelevant?

I just had a bizarre experience which convinced me that if your clients feel they’re getting real value, you’ll get their business. It doesn’t matter how incompetent, rude, or irrational you are.

It started with a mysteriously threatening letter I received from the City of Los Angeles. After some entertaining verbiage about “Protecting the interests of the city” the letter informed me that I was  delinquent on a city tax.

When several phone calls failed to resolve the problem, I gathered up a sheaf of requested documents and went to City Hall to take care of the situation in person.

Protecting the Interests of the City, Part I

Once I found the right room,  The woman behind the desk told me to take a number, even though there wasn’t anyone else waiting. She took a few minutes to make a call on her cell phone, and then called out three or for numbers ahead of mine. When my number came up, I approached the desk and was informed, “I can’t serve you until you place your number in the receptacle.”

I jumped through a few more hoops and then finally got to explain my situation. The woman behind the desk  asked what kind of business I was in.

“I’m a copywriter.”

A blank, inquisitive, uncomprehending stare.

“I write marketing copy that businesses use on their websites to get more customers,” I explained, with all the confidence and enthusiasm I could muster.

“And people pay you money for that?”

“Isn’t that why I’m here?”

She scowled, sighed, rolled her eyes and  shook her head.

“Well, Mr. Bear,” she finally said, “It looks like we were unable to determine how much money you made, so the computer picked a random number and that’s the income you’re being taxed on.”

I took out my state and federal tax returns, printed records from QuickBooks, and showed her the correct figures. But when one item was still missing, she angrily shoved the folder back at me and demanded, “How could you NOT bring that?”

Don’t blame me, I’m the creative one…

Protecting the Interests of the City, Part II

In the end, I got everything sorted out. The City of Los Angeles has given me permission to continue to do business here, with the Mayor’s blessing.  But there’s a useful marketing lesson here as well, and it isn’t the obvious one about good customer service

The truth is, the city of L.A. offers tremendous value to me, so I’ll happily pay whatever I’m reasonably determined to owe them.

Maybe we need bureaucracy. Surely I do. Let me explain.

The city supports a large industry of attorneys, CPAs, IT professionals and others to help people and businesses deal with situations like mine. These organizations hire numerous bicycle messengers, whose high-energy caffeine addictions support the coffee shops where I often ply my trade on a laptop. Better still, these organizations need copywriters, so they keep me in the green and allow me to pay taxes to the city. What comes around goes around.

Not to mention the woman of my dreams works for the City of L.A., makes less than half of what she’s worth, and manages to support several of her family members and a whole menagerie of cute, furry animals.

In fact, just the Los Angeles Public Library by itself has done more for me than 4 years of college. That’s worth giving a few bucks to the city.

What I’m saying is without any advertising, horrible PR and abysmal customer service the City of LA still retains me as a loyal customer because her numerous and elusive products and services are immensely valuable. I get my money’s worth. Value trumps marketing.

So here’s the bottom line. Be good at what you do. If your clients really feel you’re delivering great value, doing far more for you than the dollars they pay you, they’ll stay with you and protect your interest. Then use your copywriters and marketers to make the outrageous, irresistible promises that you know you can deliver.