I received an email from my mother last evening about a social experiment that the Washington Post conducted two years ago with Joshua Bell, the world famous violinist. That said, I think the real value of the experiment drives home an incredibly important message for business owners and senior executives.
The basic story line goes like this (note: hang in there, this has a great ending).
To test their ideas, the Washington Post had Joshua Bell, dress like a street musician and play six Bach violin concertos for 45 minutes on a cold January morning at a DC Metro stop. During that time frame, approximately 2,000 people passed by him on their way to work–only a few of whom stopped to listen.
All totaled, by the time he was finished 45 minutes later, only six people had stopped long enough to listen for any length of time and only 20 people had given him any money. The total take for 45 minutes of Joshua Bell’s playing time that morning at the DC Metro stop, $32. The applause, none.
Now, what makes that so remarkable, is that Bell often plays to sold-out audiences in the best performance halls around the world, he’s undoubtedly one of the best violinists on planet earth, he plays on a $3.5 million violin, he normally charges around $100 per person to hear him perform (e.g. 1500 people x $100 = $150,000), and he normally plays to standing ovations (I know, I’ve seen him play).
So, let’s recap what happened. The same Joshua Bell, playing on the same $3.5M violin, playing six of the most beautiful violin concertos of all time–and with the same brilliance as he normally does in a performance hall (where the receipts might be anywhere from $100K-$150K) only walked away with $32 and a few people willing to stop for a few minutes to listen.
So, what made the difference? It wasn’t the product (Bell playing Bach on his $3.5M violin), was it? No! It was the context, the perception of value, and the packaging of the product that made the difference–NOT the product itself.
But isn’t that exactly the mistake that most businesses make. They keep thinking it’s about their product or service. So they keep talking about their product or service as though that were everything–but it’s not. Whenever anyone gets sucked into focusing on how great their product or service is, they’re almost always sucked into a commodity mindset (and they end up with $32 playing on a DC Metro stop).
However, there is another alternative. The other alternative is to boost the perceived value. Looking at Bell’s normal marketing plan, changing the venue (i.e. the packaging) to a first-class performance hall, like the Kennedy Center, changes his perceived value immensely. Raising his ticket prices, changes his perceived value.
Doing PR on TV and radio, increases his perceived value. Winning competitions increases his perceived value. Being the featured violinist in Hollywood films increases his perceived value. Playing alongside some of the greatest violinists and conductors, increases his perceived value. Letting people know he plays on a $3.5M violin increases his perceived value. Sharing testimonials of listeners, conductors, and famous people increases his perceived value. Etc.
In other words, it’s not the product itself that creates the value. Whether Bell is playing at a DC Metro Stop or at the Kennedy Center, it’s still the same product. However, the difference in perceived value is the difference between $32 and $150,000.
So, as you look at your products and services, what can you start doing NOW to increase the perceived value of what you offer? Remember, you don’t want to focus on your product or service alone. You want to focus on increasing the perceived value of what you offer–and when you do that, you’ll immediately begin making more and more money for the same product or service–just like Joshua Bell!
To your accelerated success!