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?


  1. Grimey on 03.29.2011

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

    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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