Effective Affluence

A funny thing happened on the way to this column. We set out to spotlight the difference between +$100K and -$100K consumers, as evident in a new study, "Beyond Influence," of people who most influence others online. And we got stuck. We couldn't do anything more than validate time-honored facts on people with money; you know, they travel, buy stocks, plan finances more.

Then we heard the message underneath the numbers.

For the majority of marketers, the question really isn't how much money people have; it's how much of their money they're willing to spend, and how much of their resources (time, emotion, energy, personal equity) they're willing to devote to brands. You have to earn well north of $100K a year to be a private banking customer, but to buy a Rolex you simply have to be able (and, more importantly, willing) to devote the capital.

That takes passion. The people who share the most online are principally motivated by passion. First, there are more influencers than we thought, so you can throw out the old adoption curve specifying 16% as the market movers. Click power means 65% of people online are Influentials (they share opinion, etc., weekly), while 25% are Pollinators who share and blog regularly on their passion areas. Pollinators say they set their personal agendas via specialty sites, whether the interest is finance, technology, design, riding horses, etc. Here's the big point from a brand perspective: They spend more on their passions than any other group. And yet both under and over 100K people were part of the pool.



What does this mean? Well, maybe it's time to evolve our definitions and consider effective affluence. By effective affluence, we mean two things: how much money and mouse power your brand actually needs, and how much combined power a given audience has to fulfill that.

On behavior, a couple of things stand out under the microscope. First, the 100K+ set are more concerned with getting their money's worth ("a good deal") than the under 100K set. Yet they're more inclined to pay more for eco-friendly products. Their Facebook and Twitter behaviors are similar to -$100K, but they are miles ahead on LinkedIn. Overall, +$100K people are more likely to have online networks of over 100 people; but their networks are principally concentrated in business. Indeed, they're twice as likely as under $100K people to have more than 100 people in their business networks.

As you'd expect, they're more apt to consider the costlier model of a staple purchase. For a BMW, it's 32% v. 13%; for Acura, 20% v. 9%; for Audi, 21% v. 8%; for Mercedes, 17% v. 9%. You get the point: on average, twice as likely. The interesting part: style counts more for them. Some 49% prioritize styling when they buy a car, v. 37% for the under-100K crowd. They travel more, trade stocks more, have more laptops and smartphones, and even own more video game consoles.

That said, it's far more important to find the people who will be your best brand advocates than it is to know a little bit more about those with the most money. We found Pollinators to be younger, aspirational, educated and connected. They share more, to larger networks, than anyone else online. They source their action in the places -- niche sites -- where the avid congregate and what you contribute determines who you are.

Perhaps most importantly, Pollinators want to stand out from the crowd. For them, brands enable personal statements. They do their homework, and they broadcast their good, bad and ugly experiences with products, service people, and ads. Yes, ads. If they see it in their domain and it's relevant, they welcome an ad; and if it's not, well, they may flame it, far and wide and fast.

When we have access to hundreds of people at the click, and programs tell our friends what we're buying on certain sites, marketing depends on this kind of chain reaction from a brand experience-whether that comes from shopping, buying, using, calling customer service, seeing an ad, or encountering an ad. The chain is tightest in the passion arenas where Pollinators go first to find sophisticated content and likeminded community.

For marketers, this suggests the more organic way to hit meaningful mass with effective affluence is to work from the inside out. Start with the passionate, prolific people. Attract them where they congregate. Let them generate the momentum that accrues mass.

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