They’re Rich And You’re Not

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Lessons In Brand Marketing To The Affluent

Perhaps you don’t know any rich people and get few opportunities to observe them in their natural habitat. Their mysterious ways stymie your formulation of evil genius-caliber marketing plans to separate them from their surplus funds. This is an especially big problem if wealthy people are the only ones who can actually afford the products you sell.

There are two cornerstones of accepted wisdom about the affluent that may help.

First, being rich is as effortless as it is fabulous. It’s all velvet chairs, fluffed ascots, caviar dollops, and periodic urges to stir up high society scandal to fight the ennui that comes from never truly needing to get out of bed. Fortunes are amassed either through accident of birth, or as a by-product of living as though civil and scientific laws don’t apply.

Second, being rich may be fabulous, but it’s no fun. The rich secretly envy the simple pleasures that necessity invents. They long to sneak down to the ship’s lower decks and dance with the scruffy folk in steerage. Their luxuries insulate them from awareness of how miserable they truly are, and they will buy anything if it supports this illusion. During temporary lulls in the acquisition of furs, thoroughbreds, and boats with putting greens, they find comfort in decadent innovations, such as bathrooms wallpapered with 100-dollar bills. The richer the person, the poorer the soul!

Just as there are no true
get rich quick schemes,
there are no schemes to
get rich customers quickly.

In other words, they’re myths.

One of the great dangers in defining brands and markets is to reduce customers to caricatures. Marketing to the affluent is especially susceptible to this because our observation of this segment has so much to do with our own measurement of ourselves. These powerful myths perform the dual social purposes of inspiring us to strive and consoling us when we fall short. So the first step in learning how to market to the affluent is to admit you have a problem.

The next step is to understand that affluence is a broad market category within which there is variation even as to the definition of affluence.

Measured against worldwide standards, the 14% of U.S. households that haul in $100,000 or more per year could be considered affluent, even though they may not be in the market for your vacation property or timeshare jet. But expanding to a global view, the truly wealthy can be segmented between the “Sorta Rich,” the 16.7 Million people around the world who have scraped together at least $1 Million, and segments of 600,000 “Super Rich” who’ve amassed a $5-500 Million net worth (The Luxury Institute, The Luxury Consumer Market, 2006).

At the far right of the number line are the world’s 2,000 some odd Billionaires. If they want your products, they’ll buy your company. Ignore them unless you are marketing sleds named “Rosebud”.

The next thing to understand is that rich people often don’t think of themselves as rich. Many of them made their own money, and still worry about the same things as the non-wealthy - like how to make more money. One study showed that 73.6% of people with $1 Million “were worried about how to become wealthy”. (Prince & Associates, 2007). For every silver spoon, there are four golden gooses that haven’t had enough time to get used to the idea of wealth - stop thinking of them as Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island.

Yet, there are some existing conceptions about the wealthy that hold true. They are no strangers to luxury travel, entertainment, jewelry, and designer fashion. They believe in indulging in life’s pleasures, even if they do not do so as frivolously as you may think.

But what defines this group (especially if you’re asking them and not yourself) is not just a stereotypical attachment to style, but an underlying appreciation of substance. Here are five ways to apply that insight to your brand marketing efforts:

  1. If you build it, they will come. Marketers often look upon this “Field of Dreams” quote with derision. But with this group it makes sense. They have the luxury of discernment, and use that to focus on all the details that characterize quality products. If the product and the entire experience that surrounds it aren’t wholly compelling, no amount of marketing savvy will compensate. Instead of skimping on the ratio of palm trees to people, for instance, your posh resort should be able to claim more palms per capita. All the amenities and marketing materials should be designed with the same principal. Think of extra investment in designing, branding, and servicing these products as commensurate with the cost per acquisition of a customer with 10, 20, 100 times the spending power.
  2. Reach them where they live. The wealthy are easy to find, but hard to truly reach. Some modes of communication are by definition contradictory to their highly independent and interpersonal ways of gaining product knowledge. They are very well informed, but have neither the time nor the inclination to rely upon mass media sources. So while a highly customized direct marketing piece is a sure way to reach the right people, it must also carry with it the kind of messaging and design that separates it clearly from junk mail. And while carefully selected magazine placement can also help, it must be something that carries the confidence of a product that sells itself on its own merits.
  3. Talk to the millionaire next door. Message them in ways that do not pander to their wealth. Selling luxury vacation property is about offering an environment where life’s true pleasures can be realized, not about bathing in caviar and comparing paparazzi horror stories. A timeshare jet is about getting you there in comfort, not about how much fun it will be to think about the bovine conditions of the slobs on commercial airlines. Enough with the ascots already.
  4. Create a true brand franchise. You must think of wealthy-focused brands as a true customer franchise. It’s something that coalesces around a loyal group of customers, rather than some exercise in positioning packaged goods to the mass market. Wealthy customers can vary in age, gender, family status, hobbies, and income and must be defined and pursued on some basis other than simply their wealth. Perhaps the best way to say this is that rich people are people too.
  5. Advertise on the other networks. A good way to think about how to establish a brand among the affluent is to think about how it will proliferate through interpersonal networks rather than mass ones. The wealthy find word of mouth and referrals from friends extremely important in making purchase decisions. They rely first on the evidence of their own judgment, second on the judgment of others they respect, and third on very little else. Creating messages, stories, and venues that resonate in this social context is important. Focus on creating evangelists for your brand through everything ranging from personal interaction to product demonstration. What story about your brand will carry news of it across this network?

Witnessing attempts to market to the affluent can be a bit like that feeling you get when you switch on the television in a faraway country to find that an entire culture may be getting its image of Americans from subtitled Desperate Housewives reruns. It makes you want to start a cultural exchange program. Or write an article.

Just as there are no true get rich quick schemes, there are no schemes to get rich customers quickly. Marketers who think beyond stereotypes learn that one accepted truth about this segment holds true - it turns out they do have money to spend.

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