The Changing Nature Of Affluence
Man, we love to come up with new catch-phrases and words. Then we torture them on social media, talk radio – everywhere. We have “binge viewers” instead of people who watch too much TV. We don’t “hang out” anymore. We “chillax” or “thrillax.” Even old-school phrases get the new torture treatment. These days politicians and everyone associated with them (which seems to be everybody) are ranting about the “one percent.”
Wait a minute. Isn’t the “one percent” the reason I started my company? Isn’t the “one percent” a cool thing to be? It meant you were wealthy. Rich. Comfortable. Now, the “one percent” is a voting bloc and a politically charged group of people. Let’s use this debate to clarify the changing definitions of what it means to be affluent and wealthy. It does not mean that it’s time to move marketing away from valuable customers in higher income brackets. It does mean that the nature of affluence and wealth are changing. For digital marketers, this is a good development.
First off, a survey released in May by The Harrison Group tried to define this new affluence, and they did a great job. In terms of cold numbers, they define an affluent consumer as one who makes more than $100,000 per year. They even go to the “one percent.” The millionaires. According to the survey, the top 1% of the income earners in the U.S. grew up in a middle class or poorer household (67%), describe themselves as middle class at heart (76%) and made their wealth in their lifetime (85%). So, before digital marketers think “affluent” means “blue bloods,” think again.
See, “affluent” was never meant to be a description of one audience. It was never meant to describe one type of customer who lived at the highest level of super income in a mega-mansion driving a German-made sedan. No. Affluent has a multitude of meanings. For example, there’s “young affluent,” there’s “technological affluence” and there’s “automotive affluent.” The once accepted singular vision of “affluent” customers isn’t relevant anymore. Digital marketing has given us the ability and the data to be more granular and informed about the changing nature of affluence.
Affluence isn’t defined by demographics and income. It is defined by what consumers want to own and the lifestyle they want to live. That's why when I was in college I absolutely had to own a killer bike (code word “expensive”), which cost me a lot more than I could ever afford. At Arizona State University (ASU), the lifestyle everyone wanted to have was a healthy glow and an ability to be upwardly mobile and social. So it wasn’t a convertible that you aspired to at ASU. It was an expensive mountain bike (also a function of 100-degree temperatures). Due to the social nature of ASU, driving an automobile when dating was out of the question. The bike made your individuality, status and authenticity. Apologies to Lance Armstrong. But it was all about the bike.
I was not an affluent person, especially coming from Red Bud, Ill. (a southern farm town of 2,000). Some might say I was not an affluent customer from specialized and Schwinn’s standpoint. But, I was willing to do what it took to own these products, which put me into the affluent (fit, fast and cool) kids group.
So, I learned more about affluence and the concept of being wealthy. And it breaks down to attitudes. As a student of this marketplace, I understand that the concept of affluence automatically breaks down into many different levels and many different customer segments. Sam Walton drove an F-250 pickup. Willie Nelson plays a guitar that has holes worn into it. You could be a 17-year-old working as a waitress, but you’ll still pay $100 for a Coach handbag.
Affluence is not about words. It is better defined by product category and lifestyle than it is by cold numbers. As marketers, the challenge is to find the intersection between income, lifestyle and aspiration. People will pay big bucks for what they are truly passionate about. For marketers, this means that media buying and planning need to surround the content, activity and products that customers are passionate about. Passion is passion. Passion represents a lifestyle and products that define it. Passion is not a line on an income tax form.
However, passion is reflected in the behaviors that users exhibit when they consume media, when they buy products and when they recommend products and experiences to other people. That’s where affluents become affluencers.