You may have heard this story before. World-class violinist Joshua Bell normally plays to sellout audiences who pay $100 for a single ticket. He agreed to participate in an experiment arranged by the Washington Post. He set up shop as a subway busker, playing a difficult Bach piece on his multi-million dollar violin. Full story here.
The Post had been concerned about crowd control, but in fact nobody noticed. To the riders hurrying by, he was just another struggling musician, looking for handouts.
In the subway, Bell’s performance is perceived the same way most people perceive the messages they get on the Internet.
(1) People hurry past and, if they don’t expect great things, they don’t see them.
Consumer psychologists refer to anticipation as an influence on perception. That’s why television ads showcase the product: when you see an item on a crowded shelf, you immediately recognize the package and the product. You were introduced via television, whether you were searching or not.
Similarly, your articles and book reviews establish anticipation before visitors come to your website or blog. You create expectations.
Your reputation also helps audiences anticipate your message. A new book by a best-selling author will come with different expectations. So will a program from someone whose name you recognize.
(2) Perception filters through the context of your client’s backstory.
People attending a live concern will come with the backstory, “I place a high value on classical music and I’m willing to pay serious money to hear it. They may have studied music themselves. Their identity may be wrapped up in cultural participation.
What isn’t widely known is that a few people recognized Joshua Bell even from his street performance, They heard his music through their backstory.
To take another example:
You may have heard of the famous Milgram experiment. An “experimenter” orders “students” to administer shocks to someone labeled as “the learner.” The “experimenter” of course was planted; the “students” were subjects who volunteered; the “learner” was an actor.
What’s less widely known is that some people came with unexpected backstories. An electrical engineer said, “No way am I going to do this. I know what those volts mean.”
And if you’re reading a sales letter in an area where you have expertise, you too might be more skeptical. You might bring a backstory of, “This can’t be real.”
Or you’re an experienced customer who says, “Yeah…I’ve heard it all before.”
On the Internet, you have an opportunity to do two thins.
You can give your reader a context to understand the significance of your background.
And you can make special efforts to research the backstories your audience brings to your presentation and sales message.
(3) Subtlety doesn’t work.
This lesson was the hardest for me to learn. Like many business owners, I used to work in an environment where my qualifications were obvious. If I weren’t qualified, I wouldn’t be there. If I didn’t perform well, I’d be gone.
But on the Internet, we’re all a little like Joshua Bell in the subway. People land on websites for all kinds of reasons, bringing all kinds of backstories and even more varieties of awareness.
Bell’s take for a Friday morning 43-minute session was a grand $32.17…nothing like what he commands for a similar stint with a major orchestra. It’s a vivid outcome to an experiment demonstrating the value of context.
You can learn how to stand out and create your own context with the 3 steps to branding yourself with a story. It’s a free download you can claim here. There’s a whole section on how to differentiate yourself from the crowd and become the go-to person in your field.
And you can discover how to find and use your client’s backstory with this free guide, where you’ll discover exactly what parts of a client’s backstory you need to know.