Marketing, ROI, and Joshua Bell

As we think about marketing, whether it be a product, a business, a personality, a new widget or what have you, check out this interesting social experiment to gauge how presentation affects consumer presentations of quality. The experiment chronicled in “Pearls Before Breakfast” was a study in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unwavering assessment of public taste.  The experiment was conducted by Gene Weingarten, staff writer of the Washington Post.  He won a Pulitzer in 2008.

“In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, does talent transcend?”

Applying this theory to the product or service your business is offering, check out this experiment, courtesy of Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post:

Violinist Joshua Bell Played Incognito In a Washington Subway

A man at a metro station in Washington DC started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a three year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before he played in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context? One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Marketing Your Business

Numerous surveys have found that people will often choose one of two identical items as being distinctively better because of it the way it is packaged or presented more attractively.

Two things to take away from this for your business: the true believers of your service, product, widget, or other form of art, will both understand and appreciate it when they see it. But unfortunately in our modern age being inundated by products, advertisements, and the next best thing, you have to package it in the right context, at the right time.  Practice this in your outreach efforts and avoid getting lost in the masses and the day-to-day grind, even if you are the Joshua Bell of your niche.

1 Comment

  1. Irvin E. | On April 15, 2013

    Great article, love Joshua Bell. It is all about what we stop to see and hear around us.


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