Does Branding Matter?

Even a masterpiece melody cannot save a brandless artist.

On an early morning on January 12th, 2007, a young man in blue jeans, long-sleeved t-shirt, and a baseball cap entered L’Enfant Plaza, one of the most crowded interchange train stations of Washington, D.C. He opened his case, pulled out a violin, and started playing amid the American morning rush.

By the end of his 43-minute performance, the guy collected in total $52.17 from 28 people. It’s not that small an amount, but you wouldn’t care enough to justify his earnings since he’s just some random performer we see every day on the street. Except that he’s not.

The event was actually a social experiment by the Washington Post. The young performer was Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of his time. Three days before the experiment, he sold out at a theater in Boston in which an average seat cost $100.

A musical genius was holding a 3.5-million-dollar violin while playing the timeless, most brilliant pieces in the history of music. Yet, out of more than a thousand passersby, only 7 stopped to listen to him, and only 1 recognized him (who accounted for nearly half of Bell’s earnings from the performance).

importance of branding

According to the result, it seemed like Bell’s shining talent was nowhere near enough to make a difference had he chosen to pursue a street performing career. In fact, interviews with experienced street performers revealed that many seasoned street musicians could have out-earned Bell and made a good living out of the profession.

So what’s going on here?

Timeless music played by one of the most highly respected artists of his genre – what else to complain about? Bell was unnoticed, but not because train commuters failed to see the beauty of his performance. The problem was that he was delivering it without taking into account his audience’s “context, perception, and priorities”. In other words, he ignored the importance of branding.

When you create for people, simply throwing something brilliant out there is not enough. The audience Bell was performing for was a representation of the modern marketplace – people who are constantly preoccupied, time-pressed, and looking for products and services that help them solve problems that are more important than finding good music. In fact, had they recognized who he was, the result would have probably stayed the same. That’s because stopping for him would have cost them their ultimate morning goal – to catch the train on time.

What Bell should have done but didn’t was to bring himself and his music to life in a way that felt anticipated, relevant, and personal for his audience. His street performance would have made far more than 50 bucks had he understood and paid attention to their inner desires and the necessary circumstances they needed to appreciate his talent.

Bell was not the only one who suffered from failure despite having an exceptional product (his music). As businesses, to avoid the fate of overlooked and forgotten excellence, start building your brand by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you creating for?
  2. What is the change you want to make?
  3. What do you want people to say about you?

Don’t be a brandless artist. If you have a meaningful voice, spread it, amplify it, and make it heard by the people who need to hear.


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/pearls-before-breakfast-can-one-of-the-nations-great-musicians-cut-through-the-fog-of-a-dc-rush-hour-lets-find-out/2014/09/23/8a6d46da-4331-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html
  2. https://www.tomasacker.com/blog/does-branding-matter
  3. http://www.woodpecker.com/blogs/joshua_bell_subway.html
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