Joshua Bell And The Importance Of Marketing

This morning on Facebook, I came across an old piece of copypasta I’ve seen many times before. This time, though, it caught my attention and made me think about how our minds work, and how we can apply that to marketing.

No, not this type of pasta. I bet you’re hungry now though, aren’t you? Go ahead and grab a snack. It’s okay, we’ll wait for you.

 In order for this article to make any sense, I’ve included the copypasta below:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and 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 1,100 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 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, and 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 3 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 6 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 most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $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 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?

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?

Recognize it? This happened back in 2007, and everyone was surprised by it. After all, Joshua Bell is a fantastic musician, playing a complex piece of music on an expensive instrument, and everyone is walking by ignoring him, like they have somewhere more important to be.

But at the same time, you can understand their reactions. After all, I walk by a musician at the subway station nearly every day, but I never stop to pay attention to their music.

Is it because I don’t care for music? Because I’m uncultured? Hardly. I’m a musician myself, and I also write an occasional article for my friend’s music website, Plastic and Wax. It’s pretty safe to say that I love music as much as the next person. Perhaps even a bit more.

I feel very fortunate to do what I do, because as an entrepreneur I can really arrive at the office any time I choose. I have no clock to punch, so unless I have a meeting scheduled, lateness is a non-concept.

But regardless, I do have a schedule by which I run my day. And that schedule doesn’t include stopping to listen to a musician, regardless of how good they sound.

It’s funny though, isn’t it? How people will shell out a hundred dollars or more to see Joshua Bell play, but when they have the opportunity to hear him for free they pass it up.

It just goes to show that even if your product is fantastic, it needs to be marketed properly!


Would anyone care about this Porsche if they didn’t know what they were looking at?

Joshua Bell has one of the best products in his niche. He has spent years perfecting his craft. But when he stands in a busy, crowded subway station, nobody cares.

Why Should I Care About Joshua Bell?

Maybe you’re running a business, or have a product you’ve created. Maybe it’s the greatest product in the world. Maybe it can solve some of the biggest problems people have in the world today. You might have a product which completely revolutionizes the way we do things.

But if you’re putting it out there in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’re going to struggle.

That’s the difference marketing can make. That’s why Joshua Bell can bring in tens of thousands of dollars a night in a performance at a hall, and barely make enough for lunch money when busking.

Think about your own business experience. Do you have a product or service which just isn’t succeeding the way you know it should? You might be led to believe it’s your offering itself. But it might be just the fact that you aren’t marketing it the way it should be marketed!

According to an article on Yahoo Small Business Advisor, in 2012 small- and medium-businesses  spent only around 10% of their budget on marketing. And often, when a company faces financially difficult times, sales and marketing are the first things to be cut from the budget. But why? After all, marketing is what brings new business to you!

It’s like being aboard a sinking ship, and tossing the bail buckets overboard because they’re adding weight.

At the end of the day, it’s sales which brings in new money, and marketing which keeps your business afloat. And it’s important to invest in it properly. Otherwise, you may end up with the Joshua Bell syndrome – a fantastic offering with no one to care about it.

About Corey Jason

A born entrepreneur, Corey has always lived life by his own rules. His journey has brought him through the worlds of marketing, business, lead generation, and the internet, and it's these experiences that help him develop effective marketing strategies that deliver real results. When he’s not trapped in his head overthinking things, Corey can be found in the vicinity of bacon, butter, and brew.