An interesting story appeared in the Washington Post last year. A man stood in the metro station near the top of the escalators on a cold January morning in Washington DC and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for 43 minutes. While he played 1097 people passed by. He had his violin case open and by the end had collected $32.17. And that includes the twenty-dollar bill thrown in by the only person that recognized him.
This was not your typical street performer. The violinist dressed in jeans and a baseball cap was Joshua Bell, who just three nights before gave a sold out performance at Boston Symphony Hall with seats going for more than $100. He was playing some of the most challenging, yet elegant classical music ever written. And Bell was playing it all on his 300-year-old Stradivari violin, conservatively estimated at $3.5 million.
The stunt was organized by the Washington Post as a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities. c Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? In the 43 minutes the virtuoso played, only six people stopped and listened for a moment. About 20 gave him money but most continued to walk at their normal pace. Interestingly, kids seem to be the most attracted, but were invariably hurried along by their parents.
There’s may be more than one conclusion to draw from the experiment, but the most obvious to me is that your perception has a huge impact on how you value what you receive. As the Washington Post said, Joshua Bell “was, in short, art without a frame. We shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby as unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.” Are you expecting to receive something valuable in that situation? No. There’s no stage, no sold-out tickets or formal clothes. There’s no supporting cast. There’s no expectation that you will be getting the performance of your life.
Knowing that Joshua Bell was a onetime child prodigy and now an internationally acclaimed virtuoso makes it painful to watch the video. The hundreds of people hurrying to work are oblivious to the value of what they are passing. But the minute you change the perception of what they are getting, by changing the context, suddenly the same people are lining up to pay a $100 a seat.
The connection to brand perception is obvious. Set the stage. Change the expectation. Create the experience. The result will be higher value on what it is that you deliver.