Robert Pirsig’s Marketing Lesson (to me, at any rate)

Those of you old enough to have owned LPs when they represented the highest fidelity audio source rather than a hipster accessory will no doubt offer a tear or a heartfelt sigh at the passing of Robert Pirsig.  The author of a seminal work of seeker literature has died.

While some enjoy sneering atZen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” I wanted to share the life and marketing lesson I drew from it: value is always relative and sometimes hidden.

Yeah, shaft drives are great until you have to lubricate one

I can’t find the passage because my copy of the book got mangled at some point, but Pirsig describes a friend who got so upset with his expensive but non-functioning BMW motorcycle that he nearly pushed it off a bridge.  The Beemer had failed because of a small part worth only a few cents.  At that moment, however, that tiny part was worth as much as the whole bike because his friend was nearly going to trash the bike over it.

While tangential to his main point about quality (not sure what he was getting at with that), this point about relative value always stuck with me.  On a personal level, I’ve used this example as an inspiration to try to fix broken things on my own.  A rusted adult trike doesn’t have any less value if you try to fix it and break it even further than if you just let it sit in your garage, unused.

Sans-rust, it makes a damn fine dump truck

The same principle applies to fixing marketing programs.  Sure, you can always junk a campaign or platform that doesn’t live up to its expectations.  However, a little elbow grease might turn a poorly-working (or non-working!) program into something that works really well.  You certainly can’t make it any more worthless than it already is.

Of course, fixing marketing programs requires more than Clint Eastwood’s WD-40, vise grips and duct tape.  It requires a little stripping down of the program to see what works and what doesn’t.  To Pirsig’s point, it requires looking for the values inside the program.

I wouldn’t take the analogy too far, of course.  We’re trying to develop effective marketing, not rebuild our lives after a divorce and a brush with mental illness.  However, I owe a debt of gratitude to “Motorcycle Maintenance” for opening my mind to the possibilities of finding value in so-called broken things.


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