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Posted: March 31, 2010

Top 5 marketing and PR blunders

No. 2: right product -- wrong place

Esty Atlas

(Editor's note: This is the second of a five-part series.)

BLUNDER NUMBER TWO: Right Product - Wrong Place

True Story: It was a Friday morning at a Washington, DC subway stop. A typical morning rush hour, there was a man playing an instrument for tips. But this time, something was quite different from the usual street busker. That's because this musician was part of an experiment being conducted by The Washington Post.

The busker was playing his violin for about an hour in the subway. The test was to determine if people passing by would appreciate his music. They didn't. The Washington Post purposely placed a world renown violinist into a remote location to study people's responses.

Herein lies a wonderful lesson for marketing products. Normally, this musician, better known as the famous violinist Joshua Bell, would command, at minimum, $100 per ticket at one of his typical stage performances. But in an a-typical environment (an underground subway station), the public reaction was less than the customary standing ovation he normally received.

Before I tell you the exact response, take a guess. What do you think his recognition factor was: 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent?

Despite the fact that he was playing Bach's legendary "Chaconne" to perfection on his $3 millon Stradivarius violin, of the 1,097 people that passed by that hour, only ONE person recognized who Bell really was. Yep; one person. That one person left a $20 tip.

As for the other 1,096 people who heard him, but thought little of the talent they were passing, he collected $32.17 in tips for a total of a whopping $52.17 earned in an hour's worth of work. Suffice it to say, substantially less than his normal compensation for a stage performance.

This is the key point. Just because you have a product or service that you believe is wonderful, getting other people to notice is no slam dunk if it's not put into the right context.

The editors and researchers at The Washington Post were genuinely surprised that the famous violinist wasn't recognized more. Reporter Gene Weingarten came to the conclusion that basically people are too busy during rush hour to notice true talent. He also concluded that in a concert setting, people are in the right frame of mind and are expecting brilliance. In an unexpected environment, however, people took little notice.

So, how does this experiment translate to a marketing or PR blunder? Simply put, it's a case of Right Product - Wrong Place.

What does it means for your business?

If you are running ads in the wrong publication, sending out mass direct mail to zip codes rather than to specific people, you are playing the numbers game. It doesn't work anymore. Consumers tend to screen out anything that looks unfamiliar as they did to the violinist in the subway. They toss unsolicited mail, throw spam into the trash, guard their email addresses with their first born, fast-forward through the commercials of their favorite TV programs, and rely on caller ID to see who it is.

Your challenge in the 21st century of marketing requires strategic new tactics to get recognized. It takes a combination of common sense and creativity to be received positively.

Your Strategy Should Be: Do your homework. Create the right environment for your product or service. Make sure it's a good fit. If you're not sure, spend a few bucks to do some market research. Many factors affect marketing, but placing the right product in the wrong places is unlikely to produce the desired results.

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Esty Atlas is a four-time Emmy award-winning writer, specializing in leadership communications, media and public relations. 303-919-2425; email: estycreative@yahoo.com or www.estycreative.com

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