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Imagine two musicians… one who plays a $3.5 million dollar violin and can sell out an entire auditorium at $100 a seat… and one who plays for people's spare change in a train station.

What's the difference between the two musicians?

Well, in at least one case… there is almost no difference at all.

This is a true story that's fascinated me since I heard it a couple of years ago…

Joshua Bell, an internationally acclaimed viruoso violinist tried a bit of an experiment. He took his Stradivarius (worth $3.5 million) down to a Washington Metro train station and played for tips for about 45 minutes.

It's important to note that Joshua Bell is a true star in the classical music world – just three days before this experiment he sold out the Symphony Hall in Boston, where the decent seats were priced at $100, and the best seats sold for a lot more.

The same musician, very different surroundings.

In the 45 minutes that Bell played in the train station, there were 1,097 people that walked by and heard him playing. Only 27 of those people left a tip in his open violin case. Only seven of them actually stopped to listen.  Bell made a total of $32 in tips.

That wasn't exactly world-class appreciation for his world-class talent.

Now, of course, there were several things at play here… for one, most of those people who rushed past were on their way to work, and undoubtedly distracted.

And although Joshua clearly knows how to perform to a sold-out auditorium, he probably doesn't know much about being a successful street performer… that's a different skill set.

But there was another HUGE factor at play here – and that's what we call “positioning”…

Positioning is creating an image or an identity in the minds of the people in your target market. It's how you are viewed by your market.

When Joshua Bell performs in a sold out auditorium, he is positioned as the star of the show. He's dressed like the star, and people know that they should expect a star performance. They have an idea what a star performance sounds like. And they likely know much of the music that the star is going to perform. They expect a lot from the star, and they're usually rooting for the star to come through with a big performance.

When Joshua plays at a concert, he's got star positioning, and people expect him to be a star.

When he plays in a train station, he definitely doesn't have star positioning.

That's the big difference between $100 seats and $32 in tips.

Of course, you need the talent to get the $100 seats… all the positioning in the world won't get you in front of a sold out Symphony Hall if you don't have the talent.

But just having talent alone won't get you there either… there are thousands of incredibly talented people walking around who are completely under-appreciated – and that's a true waste.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been writing a lot about “expert” positioning. I think for most online businesses, getting expert positioning is one of the most critical things you need to do.

So how do you become viewed as an expert?

And like a lot of things in business, it's part science and part art.

But the first thing you need to understand (and this is critical) is that expert status is not something that anyone GIVES you.

You don't sit around and wait for someone to magically declare that you're an expert in your field. That probably won't happen… and if it does, then it will take forever.

What you have to do is go out and GET that expert positioning… and the good news is that it's all very doable and repeatable.

IMPORTANT: Shifting your brain from thinking that someone else is going to GIVE you expert status to realizing that expert status is something that you actually CREATE is the first critical step in your evolution.

I'm telling you this from personal experience… I've personally achieved “expert” status in multiple markets with multiple businesses… when I had no “official” background in those fields.

And the benefits of expert or “guru” positioning are huge…

First, you make a lot more money – it's easier to sell stuff, and it's easier to charge higher prices.

And you can make a much bigger impact on people and the world (and I know, for a lot of people, this is more important than all the extra money.)

The bottom line is this: if you want greater success in your business… go get that expert positioning. It makes everything a whole lot easier.

(You can read the original Washington Post article about Joshua Bell's experiment here and thanks to Sonia Simone who brought this story to my attention.)

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51 Replies to “The Tale of Two Men…”

  1. This reminds of some of funny oddities in my own business. I train pro and Olympic athletes on developing a sharper mental game, so they can compete more consistently at a peak level.

    Because of the nature of my work I do a lot of speeches and workshops to amateur athletes.

    What’s funny though…

    Whenever my speech is in a nice College lecture hall vs. a community center or sports arena. Interest in my products or services from the audience is exponentially higher.

    The nicer the surroundings… the higher the interest. Social dynamics is fascinating!

    Thanks for sharing Jeff.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Tale of Two Men… --

  3. Holy Crap!!! I’m a big JB fan and I never knew he did such an experiment! I’m so glad I read this post Jeff! I’m currently going through Carlton’s Simple Writing Secrets and he talked about “Unique Selling Position” at great lengths. Your post just made it crystal clear on the USP. Good thing is I have the talent in my market, not just in certifications, but in experience too. I just have to position myself now. Easier said than done, but I’ll figure it out. I promise.

  4. Jeff I would add one more factor. When he played at Symphony Hall in Boston he was playing in front of an audience that appreciated and understood his music. At the train station much of the potential audience may not have enjoyed the violin.
    So I believe it is important to position yourself in front of the right target audience to maximize your return.

  5. Always love reading your posts Jeff. It’s great how you incorporate a story into every post. Very powerful stuff.

  6. Declan Barnett


    Hi Jeff,

    You nailed it once again! This has to be the single most important aspect of your business. How you’re perceived by the very people you want to deal with. As an expert your whole world changes and doors that appeared closed magically open….especially the door to the vault where all the money is!

    Thanks for a great post.


    Declan Barnett

  7. Great example, and a really great article in the newspaper.

    Reminds me of something I saw while I was driving down the M1 (the main motorway in England) to a seminar in London. I noticed a “rusty old banger” of a car struggling along in the slow lane. It looked like it was going to fall to pieces any minute, so as I pulled out to overtake I noticed a bumper sticker, which read “How would you like to earn £1,000 a day. Call this number now…”


  8. Jeff,

    As always, your posts are excellent, thought provoking and deliver “core” strategies upon which ALL successful marketing tactics MUST be built.

    A great book for all your readers to buy to more thoroughly grasp the importance of “Positioning” is “Positioning, The Battle For Your Mind” by: Al Ries and Jack Trout.

    It’s available at Amazon — and it is a BARGIN!

    Kindle Edition: $9.99
    Hardcover: $17.79 to $5.20
    Paperback $3.99 and up

    Reminds me, I gave my copy to my father-in-law, and never did get it back. I need to buy another myself.

    Thanks for all you do for the community,


  9. Hi Jeff,

    Thats a really amazing story especially since I’m a musician and have played to all sizes of audience in many different locations.This year I’ve actually started teaching music to kids in my kids school and have noticed how many people now come to me asking about all sorts of things to do with music, where as last year they didnt know me from Adam. However what I’m teaching the kids so far is pretty basic guitar and bohran (Irish drum). I of course love it and its so great to be passing on some of my musical experience to the next generation and I especially love sowing seeds in their minds and hearts about how far they can go should they keep nourishing their talents.

    Great article, thanks for sharing. It also illustrates the power of story telling which you speak about in the PLF 3 course.

    Carpe Dream!

  10. Femme Business Coach


    Beautiful follow up to Brendon’s launch as well…expert status AND presentation are
    the windows with which we perceive value (ours and everyone elses.)

  11. On a deeper note, this has much to say about our cultural appreciation for the fine arts. Classical music was huge in my house when I was growing up, I can’t say that I would have just walked on by. In listening, you can tell that he’s not just a violin player. His chops and landings are accurate and perfect… yeah, I would have stopped to listen.

    Excellent story.

  12. So true, JW… A simple way to do this is to begin to interview celebrities or authority figures in your industry. This helps you easily gain credibility by association if done properly. Most importantly, think big! There’s no reason why you can’t be on stage with the best.

  13. I think positioning has a lot to do with perception. In other words, how does the market perceive you? In this case, the market was not willing to pay for what was perceived as an amateur performance in a venue not fit for a gifted and talented musician.
    It was a clever sociological experiment in what people are willing to pay for perceived value.

  14. Great post jeff.. I have been able to attain the “status,” now just reach more people! Thanks again!

  15. Jeff,
    Great post, very interesting case example, and I couldn’t agree more on expert positioning. Very powerful information and I know I’ve read about this particular case somewhere before. Thanks for sharing and reminding us of this great example, something I definitely won’t forget now.
    Best Regards, Scott

  16. Interesting story, but not sure I buy into the efficacy of your point. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, you will have a room full of posers with very few who could pick up the violin.

    I see it all the time with Internet marketing – attraction marketing; people that haven’t done anything positioning themselves as a leader with no real evidence to support their advice. They, at best, regurgitate it from the gurus.

    • @Rich: My point is that if you have expertise without positioning, you will have a hard time getting anywhere.

      If you have positioning without expertise, then you’re a poser who will almost surely be found out one day… which is why I wrote “Of course, you need the talent to get the $100 seats… all the positioning in the world won’t get you in front of a sold out Symphony Hall if you don’t have the talent.”

  17. I had a big “A-HA!” around this myself…I was attending a meet and greet party at a yacht club for an annual “fun run” to Mexico. There were boat owners seeking crew (wearing orange name tags) and crew members seeking boats (in green name tags). Usually, I was told, the crowd was about 50/50 split, but this time around there were way more seekers than positions, and the environment was similarly desperate. (Sound familiar?) Anyway, I was merely a guest not a sailor, with nothing at stake, and I got tired of no one wanting to talk to me and my green sticker. So for fun I slapped on an orange tag and instantly became much more popular 🙂

    Of course I was received differently with my new “star positioning”, but here’s the amazing thing…EVEN AFTER GREEN-STICKER PEOPLE FIGURED OUT I WAS FAKING IT, THEY CONTINUED TO TREAT ME LIKE A HIGHER-STATUS PERSON. This blew my mind. For me, it explains both the “guru” phenomenon as well as many corporate and political situations where people are given respect due to their title, not their performance or their abilities.

    Ya wanna be the captain, you don’t necessarily need a ship….

  18. Very cool. Thanks for the great post Jeff. In the Kentucky Derby the difference between first place and second is typically a “nose” and a couple million bucks.

    Viva la Ries and Trout, gotta love Positioning.

  19. Hi Jeff,
    It is a really interesting story.
    Positioning is so important in business.
    Great post – thank you.
    All the best

  20. Great post Jeff,
    I never looked at such a simply (yet dramatic) example of positioning this way.

    Definitely opened my eyes (and ears:)..


  21. What an amazing story! I stumbled on this a few years back too, and it was intriguing then and still is now, heh. If anyone wanted to see the actual performance, the Washington Post recorded it and posted it on YouTube here:!

  22. Thanks for the reminder Jeff. I am in the very same position. I know how to cure depression without drugs and I have been helping my private clients do this for a few years now. My clients are usually unemployed single parents and their children who need help. I love helping them and it doesn’t matter that they cannot afford to pay me. This was never an issue because I had another “job”.
    My situation has changed and I now have to get my message out to a larger audience so that I can make a living and a greater difference. Your post reminded me that whilst I am actually an expert in my field (mental health) I am not perceived as an expert by anyone except my clients. That’s why I signed up for Brendan’s Experts Academy through your affiliate link.
    I am looking forward to meeting up one day.

  23. I agree up to a point. But if you reverse the situation and get an amateur violinist up on the concert stage to play for a discerning $100 a seat audience, he/she is not going to pull it off. The audience would demand their money back. The same goes for wanna-be gurus.

    Once you have the know-how and experience then it’s fine to position yourself as the expert. Sometimes it takes “piggy-backing” on another guru. A lot of name-dropping goes on in the IM sector (photos taken at seminars with gurus etc).

    I’d like to see you do another post about “positioning” that goes into detail about how to do that. I consider myself an expert in a few areas, but have difficulty finding the stage on which to play my instrument.

  24. Thanks Jeff … great article – so refreshing to know that he was in no way defending his psychology.

    We can only reach our true potential when we are not defending our psychology.

    Great reminder. The map is not the territory. As individuals we have our own map of reality. Perceptions and filters. It is so wonderful to know how when we take second position (walk a mile in another’s’ shoes) that we can actually enter in to their reality.

    From this perspective we can learn so much. Intellect is past knowledge stored in us as we are interacting with the moment. Intelligence is when we interact with the moment in a new way and what is born out of that.

    With integrity we are then in a much better place to position ourselves.

    Thanks for the reminder. Looking forward to finishing up PLF3 and the videosales.
    Have a very blessed Thanksgiving. So much to be grateful for.

    In kindness

  25. “…expert status is not something that anyone GIVES you.”

    You are absolutely right. Expert status is created. Unfortunately, knowledge alone won’t get you there. You’ve got to take deliberate and conscious action. That’s a great place to start thinking about 2011.


  26. Hey Jeff –

    Nice job guy.

    I did an similar article using the same story with the video recently. I’d link to it but I don’t want to poach your blog…

    Here is the link to the vid though:

    Keep up the good work my friend.


  27. Another factor would be exposure to a targeted audience. Probably many people on the subway didn’t care whereas people who would pay $100 for a ticket are highly interested music lovers.

  28. Unfortunately, this works in many more arenas. We believe (collectively, at least) that the more expensive a drug is, the better it works. See chapter 10, Predictable Irrational, by Dan Ariely (which any direct marketer should read, BTW).

  29. Awesome Authority Trigger Post
    On the right track? …
    > Although I’m sure he demonstrated Competence, his appearance lacked:
    1. Social Proof – Since we’re ALL influenced by & get clues from others of how we’re to act,
    he was fighting an up hill battle, it was the wrong venue.
    3. Scarcity – His street appearance had none. In a hall performance, there are a limited amount of seats
    4. No Anticipation – there was no count down, nothing to look fwd to, he showed up & played.
    p.s….was he dressed in street closes? If so that is another Authority piece that
    was missing.
    p.s.s. what about an offer?
    THANKS Jeff!

  30. I have a great violinist friend. She concentrates all her effort in being training to be a good violinist (this is one of the reasons she is so good) but very little in marketing and positioning. I think she is hopping for the day when a agent will find her and give her the positioning. But I am afraid this day may or may not arrive.

    There has been a lot of discussion about providing financial education to our kids curriculum. This movement had started with Robert Kiosaki. I agree.

    In addition, I also believe that the all society would profit from a proper marketing education being introduced to the curriculum of every child. This could probably decrease the possibility that great violinist, like my friend, stays under the shadows of the unknown.

  31. To get positioning and keep it I think having Confidence as well as talent is huge. Playing in the subway has no real risk of exposure, playing in front of thousands has. Without Confidence you might not give yourself the opportunity to “position” even if offered. Love your staff Jeff. Thank you.


  32. Hi Jeff,

    I’m sure most of us would rather the $3.5m than the $32 ! What are your best tips for positioning and getting known?

  33. Pingback: Expert Positioning: Does It Matter? | HornBlowers.Biz

  34. Hi Jeff:
    Once more, a great blog!
    I saw the JB video in the news a couple of years ago and thought exactly what you say.
    Now I realice that this is the core of “Affiliate Programs” or JV partners. I didn’t know about this untill I took your PLF 3.0. This is a great example of what happens when you send mails to people who do not want to hear about what you are saying. This is why affilliates exists!

  35. I agree with Cody – the surroundings matter.
    Jeff, thank you for reminding me about this fact. I remember reading original article and imagining how was it to play in the subway. I used to see some of the musicians to play on Toronto’s Union Station. Some of them were quite talented. But everybody is in a hurry and there is nobody who would stay and listen. You do need the nice hall, the appreciative audience, otherwise nobody is going to listen to you

  36. Jeff – You make some very great points in this article. That expert positioning you are referring to is branding. This is the same reason why people will spend around $80,000 for a Mercedes Benz instead of paying much less for a car that has all the same features and style.

    Why? Because of the brand. Mercedes has that expert positioning behind their name and people know when they buy a Benz they will get the best quality and latest technology available in the auto industry.

    Maybe you should give us an article on the steps to properly go out and get that expert positioning. That would be great.

  37. Great story Jeff! At Liberty Jane we see any artist-prenuer as needing 4 critical skills, the tradecraft itself, marketing expertise, (including positioning as you’ve pointed out), relational skills, and finally sound judgement. Fail at any one of them and you’re stuck in the Metro Station 🙂

    We love your stuff Jeff. All the best and Happy Thanksgiving.

    Jason and Cinnamon

  38. David Whitfield


    A chapter in the 4 hour work week tells you exactly step by step how to become an expert. It’s an awesome book and chapter. Read it if you want expert guru status.

    Big Dave Whitfield

  39. I’ve been speaking from the stage for years in a polo shirt, shorts, and sandals, and realized a long time ago that the audience wouldn’t begin to take me seriously unless someone introduced me AND told them of my business and financial accomplishments.

    Plain-ass sad. Wonder why I love Frank Kern?!!

    Here’s what’s funny… I’ve had a few overly-judgmental presidents of charitable foundations that didn’t want me to speak (for free) to their groups. Let’s face it – I didn’t “look the part”… But they sure as heck didn’t have a problem accepting my check, and cashing it!

  40. Hi Jeff,

    Well said!

    May I also add that the “Positioning” must be targeted to the right “crowd”?

    No point positioning the $100 ticket to a crowd that does not appreciate music,
    they would probably ignore it and take $10 to buy pizza instead 🙂

    Happy ThanksGiving!

    Best wishes,

  41. Thanks Jeff for sharing this story!

    I’m a communication strategist and a personnal branding coach to artist and politicians, and I’ll add this story to my roll! I like to think that positionning comes from inside out…

    I look forward to read your blog from now on!

  42. I think he did very well considering it was his first hour. If he kept that up full time at that same pace 30*40= 1200 a week * 50 weeks= 60,000 a year which is higher than your average salary. I am sure with a little more thought behind it he good find the best place on the street to play and make over 100 an hour.

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