In 2007 the world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, busked at a Washington subway station for 45 minutes during morning rush-hour, playing a violin valued at over $3.5 million.  For the duration of his performance 1,097 people passed by, 7 stopped and 27 gave him money. He collected the grand total of $32.17.  Two days previously he’d played to a sold-out audience in a Boston theatre for an average of $100 per seat.

What’s the moral of this story?

There are many of course. One of which tells us that people don’t take the time in their busy lives anymore to stop for ‘beauty’.

But there’s another moral of this story if you’re one of those entrepreneurs who still believes that you don’t need to market your business because you are so good at what you do.

In my years working with service-based professionals, ranging from financial consultants to yoga teachers, I’ve heard one argument over and over as to why they don’t ‘need’ to market. “Because I provide such great value, word will get out and the clients will come.”  You may recognise this belief as the entrepreneur’s version of the Hollywood line, “If you build it, they’ll come!”

Sure, word will get out and you will get some referrals. But to how many and to whom exactly? In today’s world of endless choice, you certainly won’t build a business on random word-of-mouth marketing, nor will you last very long if you think the value of your service alone will do the marketing for you.

Let’s get back to the original story above. Why did those people NOT stop and listen to the legendary Joshua Bell – even if was rush hour? He played pieces from his sold out concerts, so content wasn’t the issue. The standard of his playing was, as always, excellent (there’s a video of his performance to prove it), so premium value was a given.

There are a few reasons and they are central to what successful marketing is all about.

·     He was playing to the wrong audience. In marketing terms he was not connecting with his ideal clients, i.e. those who want what he has to offer. One of the primary functions of marketing is to establish who your ideal clients are

·     Just getting yourself ‘out there’ is a total waste of effort. If you want to be heard, you have to get the attention of your audience – even if you are a world-class performer. You don’t just have to know who your ideal clients are; you also have to know where you can connect with them

·     You have to speak to your audience in THEIR language. When Bell plays in classical venues, it’s a given that his audience ‘speaks’ his language. If people don’t pay attention to you, it may be you don’t know how to speak to them so that they understand you and they ‘know’ that you know them

·     If content alone doesn’t get their attention, it’s because ‘packaging’ is also important, i.e. how you brand your service or product. Your brand must resonate with your ideal client so that they instantly ‘know’ you are speaking just to them. Playing Bach with a baseball cap at a busy metro station doesn’t give those who appreciate his music the experience they expect, e.g. excellent acoustics, no distractions, dress code, etc.

·     You can’t convince someone of the value of your service. (Trying to convince someone of your value is hard selling!) They have to already value what you offer. Even then you still have to ‘market’. If people are already willing to pay for a ticket to see Bell, they still need to be informed when and where he’s performing, his concert programme and what their ticket options are

Why marketing is not an option?

You may have a terrific product or service, but your success depends on getting enough people to buy from you rather than from someone else. And that’s why marketing is not an option for your business.

If successful marketing is about making it easy for potential clients to find you and then giving them compelling reasons to buy from you, then why oh why do so many hard-working, committed entrepreneurs have so many problems with it?


The Washington Post repeated the experiment with Joshua Bell in 2014 – with a very different outcome!