There are more Highland bagpipe makers now than ever before and it seems that new makers come on the scene every week. I was corresponding with one well-established maker the other day and he was bemoaning the fact that there are many makers, but the most successful seem to be those who don’t necessarily have the best workmanship but have the best marketing and lowest prices.
Marketing of course is the make-or-break of any product or business. Sure, you have to have a decent piece of merchandise, but who will buy it if they don’t know about it and don’t hear about credible people using it happily?
Two of the most successful and biggest pipe-makers, McCallum and Naill, have done marketing right by leading with public relations supported by good advertising. They also are both capable of making instruments of the highest order, of course.
But their PR efforts have been spot-on, for the most part: put the instruments in the hands of top players and bands and let them do the talking; offer pipes as coveted prizes at prestigious professional and amateur contests; chalk up first-prizes won with their drones and chanters and publicize them everywhere; and avoid having reps from the company judging competitions.
I feel sorry for some of the smaller pipe-makers that are making finely crafted instruments and charging a premium for them but have no marketing accumen. There will always be a niche market for those best-kept-secret pipe-makers, and perhaps that’s all they want, but success in bagpipe-making is like any other industry: the best marketing wins every time.
I’m fortunate to work with a company that provides a ton/tonne of education and training. A few times a month we have lunchtime seminars from various outside experts, and today a professor of marketing from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business came in to talk about “overchoice” and the science behind offering a multitude of versions of the same essential product, versus offering no choice, versus providing a product “decoy.” Can’t go into detail, but it was all fascinating, particularly the psychological aspects of how we choose and what makes us happy.
But one element of his talk stood out, at least as it concerns competing pipers and drummers. Apparently, scientific studies show that those who win third-prize are actually happier than those who get second. The Olympic silver medallist is almost always disappointed, while the bronze-finisher is almost always very pleased.
The essential reason for this is that the second-prize-winner suffers from regret: If I had only done one little thing differently I’d have won. The third-prize-winner is just happy to make the list.
I see this all the time in piping and drumming and band contests, and have experienced it myself. They say that second-prize is the hardest prize, and it’s scientifically true that there’s more to the cliche than we may realize. There are great pipers who have been second several times in Gold Medal contests and seem to live with a degree of bitterness. There’s always that guy who is the “Best Golfer Never to Have Won a Major,” and the “Best Band Never to Win the World’s” label.
If they finally win the big award, there seems to be more relief than happiness. The golfer or the band or the solo piper are essentially just as good as they were before they won, they just no longer have the millstone of “what if?” around their neck.
It’s all about one’s reference point. If playing well is the goal, then chances are we will be psychologically satisfied with second-prize. If winning is the goal, then second-prize will certainly come with regret and disappointment.