Christopher Murphy · 18 June, 2020

I love how April Dunford explains positioning and the importance of first establishing context:

When customers encounter a product they have never seen before, they will look for contextual clues to help them figure out what it is, who it’s for and why they should care.

Dunford started with the opening scene from 'Apocalypse Now', which sets the scene and establishes context perfectly. At first – when you see the palm trees – the context is a tropical paradise. When the napalm hits, however, the context shifts. Fundamentally.

How you position something shapes its perceived price point.

Bic vs. Montblanc

A Bic biro is an inexpensive pen. A Bic biro costs 15p. I have hundreds. The context for this is the stationery aisle, amongst other low-cost stationery.

You do not expect to find a Montblanc pen in that context. The Meisterstück Gold-Coated 149 Fountain Pen costs £695. I have one. The correct context for the Montblanc is in a specialist shop or a high end department store.

The Bic biro is a pen. The Meisterstück fountain pen is a pen and a status symbol.

Is this a quilt or an heirloom?

I have a client who creates quilts. The quilts are designed to celebrate the birth, or christening, of a new baby. A moment to celebrate.

One of the first questions I asked her was: Is this a quilt or an heirloom? This is an important question to ask because it changes the context. A quilt and an heirloom resonate in different ways.

One is priced at £X (the quilt), the other – because it's passed down from person to person and generation to generation – is priced at 10 × £X (the heirloom).

The first is a functional object. The second is a story.

This quilt was originally given to Cara on the arrival of her first child, Ross. It's been used for christenings ever since. Cara passed it on to Ross's wife Hannah who used it for the christening of Michael. And so on.

Patek Philippe understand this and their advertising captures it perfectly. The following isn't a watch, it's an heirloom.


Further Reading

Start with April Dunford's excellent book, Obviously Awesome. Dunford's article – How to Transform Your Product by Giving It Context – will give you a sense of her style.


If you found this post useful, you might enjoy The Library, a resource available to The School of Design members: find out more about The School of Design membership or sign up to our weekly mailing list, The Periodical. (See a past issue here.)