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Stradivarius Paradox

A premium product cannot exist without a story.

Stradivarius Paradox

A Stradivarius violin, made in 1721 and named “Lady Blunt”, sold for $15.9 million in 2011. (Youth Orchestras of Fresno) “Strads” are renowned for their sound quality, which is the most popular reason for their exorbitant prices.

Except, in a study published in 2017, high-quality, recently-made violins sound better and expert musicians cannot tell the difference between Strads and well-made modern violins.

Which begs the question: if Strads are indistinguishable from much cheaper violins, why are they 1,000 times more expensive?

Many reasons have been offered. They’re scarce: of the roughly 1,100 string instruments Antonio Stradivari made around the 1700s, only about 650 survive today. (Wikipedia) But scarcity isn’t enough – without demand, the price is zero, let alone a high price.

One other interesting reason is attributed to a “little ice age” in Europe from 1645 to 1715 that slowed tree growth. (The Conversation) The quality of sound that wood harvested from this time can never be replicated. But this wood was available to other makers. More importantly, this is still a function of quality, which we now know is not a factor.

Could it be the Paris Hilton effect, that they are famous only for being famous? Even if you don’t know about violins or classical music, you’ve probably heard of Stradivarius.

Or are they like fashion, or art, where the function is irrelevant but the status or expectation of appreciating value is the driver?

No doubt these factors each play a role in Strads often selling for 6 figures. But the most plausible explanation is story.

Many pieces can trace their ownership to their original owners. Some are named, like “Lady Blunt”, adding to their rarity. One particular cello has a dent purportedly caused by Napoleon Bonaparte – it was bought for $20 million in 2008.

This paradox of a high price tag for something that’s as good as a much cheaper competitor is not unique. It happens all the time across many industries. It’s well known that expensive wines taste better than cheap wines, until you test the wines without the price tag to find no difference in their quality. As many car buyers hear, “half” the price of a BMW is in the badge on the bonnet. A Breitling tells time just as well as a Seiko.

For premium products, the biggest component of value is in the the perception of value. And the only way we can influence perception is through story.

It could be from a once-off publicity stunt that gets viral videos circulated. Or more realistically and more predictable, in your marketing of regular and consistent messages to your customers.

How are you designing and building the story around your product?

(Image credit: CNN Style.)