You might have heard of the “violin experiment,” some of which is shown in the video clip above. This event teaches us a lot about human nature, more than a simple marketing experiment, but the marketing lessons are valuable to all of use. So here’s the full story.
On January 12, 2007, a man standing in the arcade just outside a subway station in Washington, D.C. started to play the violin.
He wore a T-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. Over the course of 45 minutes, he played six pieces, including two by Bach and one by Schubert.
Because it was rush hour, it was crowded. During his performance, cameras showed exactly 1,097 people pouring through the station, most of them on their way to work during the morning rush.
According to video footage, three minutes went by before anyone noticed at all.
A middle aged man turned to notice the musician. He barely altered his gait, and then hurried to catch the next train.
Thirty seconds later, the violinist received his first tip: A woman threw a dollar bill into his open violin case. She did it hurriedly, like someone flicking a cigarette butt to the curb.
A few minutes later, another man leaned against the wall to listen to the violinist. Three minutes later, the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. He, too, had a train to catch.
The one who seemed to pay the most attention was a three-year-old boy. He was in tow at the hem of his mother’s skirt, hurriedly being dragged along, the kid’s head following the violinist even as he was being pulled away.
Several other children had the same reaction. All their parents, without exception, kept the children in tow as they moved on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only seven people stopped and stayed for any length of time.
About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace.
He collected $32.17. No one applauded.
Only one person out of the 1,097 who passed through the arcade recognized the violinist, a concert performer named Joshua Bell.
She patiently waited for him to finish, then went up to say hello to Bell, one of the most celebrated musicians in the entire world, who had agreed to take part in this unusual social experiment.
He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.
Three days earlier, Bell had sold out a theater in Boston playing the same repertoire. The average ticket price for that performance was $112.
What to take away
People have drawn quite a few conclusions from this experiment, including how our appreciation of beauty is affected by context, perception, and priorities. More on some of these later.
For someone familiar with the three pillars of marketing, the main lesson is obvious: Your audience can make or break exactly the same product. That’s what makes the concept of an audience important enough to be a pillar in the first place.
You can look at the classical concert fans as the “right” audience and the subway riders as the “wrong” audience, but that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Let’s face it, many of those subway riders must have enjoyed going to classical music performances once in a while. And many of the concertgoers at Bell’s show must have commuted to their jobs on public transit. In marketing terms, you can’t make a comparison just by the demographics of each group.
So what else is going on?
Timing, that’s what. You’ve probably seen advertising in the media change its whole “vibe” before holidays, big sporting events, festivals and other events that most people get caught up in. That’s because businesses have learned which events impact them and how people’s buying habits change relative to the timing of the event.
Something similar is going on with the violin performance. The theatergoers have set aside both money and time to enjoy a nice evening of music. For the commuters, however, their driving interest is to get to work on time, so very few of them will be likely to stop and listen, even if they love classical violin.
The bottom line: timing is also part of your audience analysis. Your audience is likely to have different challenges and pain points at different times. It’s a good idea not to overlook that.
The other factor
Although audience is the most important pillar in this marketing experiment, our old friend trust plays a part here as well. Probably a number of people in that Boston theater had never heard of Joshua Bell until that night. Of course, some of the audience, must have, but otherwise, where would the trust have come from? The answer is that people actually trusted the theater, and the performer based on his association with the theater. After all, theaters are designed to create an emotional bond between performers and audiences. Subway stations are definitely not designed for this purpose.
The result was that commuters didn’t trust that there could ever be a good musical performance in the station arcade. So they assumed that the violinist could not be any good.
Making your affiliate marketing sound like concert-grade music requires a great deal of thought and planning. But if you take the steps – and time it right – the difference to your bottom line can be huge.
Affiliate Swim is a teaching site for online entrepreneurs who want to learn how to launch affiliate campaigns.
You can study our free affiliate marketing course in the Coaching section. For additional support, you can join our Facebook group for free coaching from experts and other students, as our time allows.
Once you launch your campaign, check out the store, which has many different nice-to-have items for most online entrepreneurs.