stradivarius1Actu­ally, the title should say Myths, as there are two of them.

Stradi­var­ius Myth #1

The first Myth is that there is one sin­gle iso­lated ele­ment respon­si­ble for the unique sound and virtue of a Stradivari.

Most the­o­ries about the Stradi­vari magic fall into the “sil­ver bul­let” cat­e­gory. Accord­ing to them, just one, soli­tary fac­tor or ele­ment make these vio­lin tower over all other merely mor­tal vio­lins. Some say it’s the wood den­sity; oth­ers the resin or chem­i­cals used to treat the wood, or the way the wood was shaped or con­structed. But the vast major­ity point to just one thing.

Almost no one claims that the unique sound sig­na­ture is due to a hun­dred smaller aspects pushed in the right direc­tion and work­ing together syn­er­gis­ti­cally. Supe­rior crafts­man­ship, after all, usu­ally involves the arti­san mak­ing thou­sands of deci­sions and get­ting them all right, not just in iso­la­tion, but in terms of how each deci­sion affects the whole. So one might fig­ure that most the­o­rists would sug­gest a mul­ti­tude of ele­ments rather than “One Big Thing.” Yet pre­cious few ever sug­gest this.

StradivariusWe sim­ply don’t think of expla­na­tions like this because we’ve lost touch with the nature of craft in this mass-produced, hyper-rationalized, “7 Steps for dum­mies to earn riches in their sleep” world of ours.

We not only des­per­ately want there to be an eas­ily ana­lyzed and dupli­cated short­cut, but balk at acknowl­edg­ing excep­tions to this because they imply a rebuke. To sug­gest that excel­lence is made up of a total­ity rather than one secret for­mula is to sug­gest that there’s no sub­sti­tu­tion for long dili­gent prac­tice, for study, for mas­tery of craft, and for atten­tion to detail.

And who wants to hear that?

2011-03-27_1720Stradi­var­ius Myth #2

The Sec­ond Myth is that Stradi­vari really are bet­ter than the very best mod­ern violins.

Believe it or not, there are highly trained crafts­man that have ded­i­cated their pro­fes­sional lives to cre­at­ing vio­lins to the same stan­dards of the Stradi­vari. And by every objec­tive and sub­jec­tive test some of them are as good as those leg­endary vio­lins that sell for 100 times as much money. Whether it’s sci­en­tists record­ing and ana­lyz­ing the sound qual­ity, or it’s expert musi­cians and vio­lin­ists lis­ten­ing “blind”  to a com­par­i­son, there’s no evi­dence that the Stradi­vari out­per­form the best modern-made violins.

So the supe­ri­or­ity of these vio­lins is largely sub­jec­tive, encom­pass­ing far more mag­i­cal think­ing and leg­end than fact, such that, when put to the pepsi-challenge, many Stradi­vari devo­tees end up pre­fer­ring the sound of the mod­ern violins.

So what does this tell you?

It tells you that expec­ta­tions over­ride perception:

So here are 2 Mar­ket­ing To-Dos:

To-Do #1 = Get the Lit­tle Big Things Right; Aim for Mastery

This one is hard, but cru­cial. Just as the Stradivari’s excel­lence resides in hun­dreds of ele­ments, deftly aligned and opti­mized, so too is your brand made up of scores of touch points: your park­ing lot, bath­rooms, pack­ag­ing, on-hold mes­sag­ing, cus­tomer ser­vice reps, auto-responders, Web­site copy, and so on. And the same goes with any brand.

Case in point: after every launch of an Apple prod­uct, some knock-off jumps into the fray, her­alded as an i-killer due to it’s supe­rior specs or 1–2 killer func­tions. Yet these so-called i-killers always end up slaugh­tered in the mar­ket­place.  Why?

Because the appeal of Apple’s prod­ucts never rests on price, func­tion­al­ity, or specs alone. Apple prod­ucts are the Stradi­vari of the mar­ket­place because Steve Jobs and crew under­stand Myth #1; they push hun­dreds of small, seem­ingly tiny ele­ments in the right direc­tion to cre­ate a whole that’s much big­ger — and far more prof­itable — than the sum of its parts. Which is why the invari­ably leave the “sil­ver bul­let” prod­ucts in the dust.

So com­mit to mas­tery and push for added excel­lence on each small piece that goes into the process. Don’t rely on just one thing to pull you through.

To-Do #2 = Cre­ate Your Own Brand Mythology

This one’s a bit harder to explain, let alone pull off, but for starters, why not let your adver­tis­ing “Man­age Up” your sales, ser­vice, and tech­ni­cal staff? If you don’t cur­rently have a gen­e­sis story, worth shar­ing, why not go dig one up and pol­ish it off? In other words, share your pas­sion, so peo­ple know you have the raw emo­tional volt­age to power your­self to mas­tery of your craft.

Addi­tion­ally, focus on cre­at­ing the right mar­ket­ing cues.  Cues that’ll alert your cus­tomers that your prod­uct and ser­vice is the result of craft and not just auto­mated process. It could be as sim­ple as an expen­sive look­ing pack­ag­ing, or a hang tag on an item that nor­mally doesn’t have hang tags. Leav­ing a bit of skin on your “hand cut” french fries and sea­son­ing them with sea salt. There are hun­dreds of oppor­tu­ni­ties out there for busi­ness own­ers who’ll stop to search for them.

And while you’re think­ing about cues, spend some time pon­der­ing over what goes into the mythol­ogy behind a brand like Stein­way, Red Wing Boots, Snap-on Tools, etc.  Obvi­ously, qual­ity plays a huge role, but what else?  Why are these names pre­em­i­nent and known amongst the gen­eral pub­lic when Mason & Ham­lin pianos, White’s Boots, and Klein tools are not?

What can you do to help mythol­o­gize your brand?

Comments

  1. Grimey on 03.29.2011

    THE KETCHUP CONNUNDRUM — Glad­well
    Mus­tard now comes in dozens of vari­eties. Why has ketchup stayed the same?
    The crit­i­cal dimen­sion of “amplitude,” …

    http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_09_06_a_ketchup.html

    This jibes with your Stradi­var­ius story … can you make you biz as com­plete as ketchup?

  2. Jessica on 03.29.2011

    I really like this post. One has to do a lit­tle cre­ative think­ing, how­ever, to apply your sug­ges­tions to retail­ers rather than man­u­fac­tur­ers: retail­ers aren’t sell­ing their own prod­ucts, they’re sell­ing other people’s prod­ucts (and other people’s sto­ries.) And I think a retailer’s brand story can be a lit­tle harder of a sell: Ama­zon is an effi­cient busi­ness, but my impres­sion is they’re more pas­sion­ate about money than they are about books. Of course, it’s all still POSSIBLE. Like you said, pay­ing atten­tion to the Lit­tle Big Things, care­fully select­ing the inven­tory you’re will­ing to carry (rather than sign­ing up every man­u­fac­turer you can), invest­ing resources in the store design and site copy.….these steps can help any busi­ness build a brand, even if you are “just” sell­ing other people’s products.

  3. Martin Messier on 03.30.2011

    Bril­liant post, Jeff.

    Myth, of all the mar­ket­ing meth­ods avail­able, prob­a­bly holds the great­est poten­tial and power. It com­bines sto­ry­telling, emo­tion, curios­ity, won­der, and desire, among other emo­tions, into one neat package.

    The Matrix, Star Wars and even Rich Dad Poor Dad offered this route and were stratos­pheric successes.

    I believe the myth of the magic bul­let pro­pels us for­ward intel­lec­tu­ally and sci­en­tif­i­cally. It com­mands the search. It rep­re­sents the same as the Alchemist’s philo­soph­i­cal stone.

    This topic is really worth explor­ing A LOT fur­ther within the mar­ket­ing uni­verse. Very few peo­ple prob­a­bly have the chops to do it justice.

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