In January of 2007, the Washington Post conducted an experiment on how people’s perceptions and priorities were influenced by context. They had Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in the world, take the form of a street performer inside a busy subway station in Washington DC.

Bell played for 45 minutes using a 1713 Stradivarius (a violin worth about $3.5 million). He played six of the most powerful pieces of music written for solo violin from the likes of Bach, Shubert, Massenet and Ponce. Now this is a guy who regularly charges $100 or more a seat at concert halls around the world. During his performance, 1,097 people went through the subway station. Of them, only seven stopped and listened for a while. About 27 flicked money into the open violin case. There was no applause at the end of the performance. A total of $32.17 was collected.

So what are the lessons for business owners?

Well, I think ulimately that context matters.

There are hundreds of examples of inventions and products that were technically superior to others on the market, yet failed. So if the quality of the product is superior, why isn’t this enough to be successful?

The answer is context. In business terms this means marketing and positioning.

As business owners its important for us to remember that value is not intrinsic.

In a room full of pre-groomed fans, Bell is validated and recognised as the best. In a busy subway station, his talents are out of context and invalidated. Much like a painting worth millions in an art gallery. Put that same painting in a café that showcases the works of local unknown artists with a $250 price tag. Would anyone buy it? Would they even notice it?

So think about your products and services for a moment. What can you do to improve their context in the market, and the perceived value they deliver?