The violin, the metro station, and your business.

When I first came across this story, I was in complete and utter disbelief. Then I realized that the same thing described in this story actually happens every day. And, it can have a direct impact on your business success.

A man entered a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, right in the middle of morning rush hour. During the next 43 minutes, 1,097 people passed by as the violinist performed six classical pieces. Almost all of them were on the way to work.

Three minutes went by before something happened. 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, 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 3-year old boy. His mother dragged him along while the boy tried to stop and look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. Several other children repeated this action. All their parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 43 minutes the musician played, only seven people stopped to take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave him money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32.17. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world. He was playing some of the most elegant music ever written on a handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Three days earlier, Bell had played to a full house at the 2,625 seat Boston’s Symphony Hall, where fairly good seats went for $100. He has been awarded the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music and regularly plays over 200 international engagements a year.

This is a performer whose talents can command $1,000 a minute. Yet that day he was given a little more than thirty-two dollars for 43 minutes of passionate playing.

This is a true 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 questions they wanted answered were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour; do we perceive beauty, do we stop to appreciate it, do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

To the shock and amazement of everyone involved in this experiment, the answer was a resounding “no.”

While no one predicted this result, (they expected large numbers of people to collect and even had contingency plans for crowd control) it makes complete sense.

Without the correct context to indicate quality and value, most people don’t perceive it.

If you were to take an abstract painting done by an acclaimed artist, take it from the museum where it hangs, remove it from it’s frame, and hang it in a restaurant where there are pieces of original art for sale, very few people would notice it.

In a museum it might be a $5 million painting. In a restaurant, it may not even get noticed at $150.

Let’s apply this to your business. A great deal of how your prospects perceive your product or service’s value has to do with how it is presented. This absolutely affects your bottom line.

Does your presentation say finest musician in the world? Or, does it say street musician?

Many marketing tests have found that people will frequently designate one of two identical items as being distinctly better than the other simply because it is packaged or presented more attractively.

Direct response advertisers often find that offering the same item at a higher price increases the number of people who buy. This works because price is one key indicator people rely on for quality and value.

Do this exercise. Take a look at all of the places where your business comes in contact with your prospects. Consider every aspect from your website, brochures, and even your office. What do they say about the quality and value of your product or service?

Now, don’t just blow this off. Take a real, candid look. Review everything as if you were a potential customer and give yourself an honest answer.

Are you presenting everything in a way that best represents the real value of your product or service? Or, are you undermining your own success?

You may find that you have work to do.

The good news is that improvements in any of these areas can have a significant impact in your overall sales and profitability.

Until next time,




Are you ready to make a positive impact with your business? Sentium helps clients get more clients, more sales, more often. Call to set-up a no-obligation telephone consultation. Call (800) 595-1288. It will cost you zero, zip, zilch, nada, but could give you answers that can dramatically boost your sales results.

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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 31 years, his clients have ranged from start-ups to major technology companies.



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