Posts Tagged ‘consumer’


Position Narrow, Catch Wide

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I think I first heard the above expression from Alpa Pandya, a colleague of mine at Sterling, and I’m happy to give her full credit for it.

Although obvious to the best marketers, “position narrow, catch wide” seems counterintuitive to nearly everyone else. I means that if you want to appeal to a wide audience you must position yourself in a narrow, specific way. Its corollary is that if you try to be a lot of things to a lot of people, you will be nothing to nobody. A friend read the phrase and told me about an old radio commercial that began: “Men! And that includes you girls.”

Another, similar saying: “Positioning is the art of sacrifice.” In other words, done right, great positioning is subtractive in nature, not additive. The road is filled with tough sacrifices you must make if you are to achieve a narrow focus.

Think of real life. The people we admire most are those who stand for something specific. They have a point of view and it’s simply not negotiable. The people who get the attention of the media (for better and sometimes for worse) are also those with a strong, specific and narrow point of view.

In marketing as well as life, it takes nerve to position narrow, which is perhaps why entrepreneurs are so much more successful at it than professional brand managers. Positioning narrow entails finding your core audience, understanding it and building a sustainable relationship. Once you’ve done that, you can enlist that core to help the rest of the world “discover” you.


Ideally, then, you want a core audience that is inspirational to others. Nike is a great example of this. It’s clear to everyone on the Nike campus and across the marketplace that Nike is a brand for the high-performance, highly competitive athlete. That said, Nike also knows that about 80 percent of its shoes are worn by people like me, often simply to go grocery shopping. Why do we buy high performance shoes if we live low-performance lives? Because we all think we have a bit of that high-performance athlete in us. And because we all feel we need to be ready and equipped to perform, even if we never do.

Nike’s message? Don’t confuse your core customer with your target market.

That said, within the organization, we first want everyone to know we are building our brand for our core customer. This is important because we want every employee to know the people for whom they are designing products, experiences and marketing. Ideally, we want everyone to have a single customer in mind. Why? Because life is so much simpler when you are designing for a solitary person instead of a faceless demographic. Ideally, we want every single employee working on the same product experience to have that same individual in mind. The long term goal, of course, is to have everyone outside the organization also understand the individual we are building for- and we want them to aspire to be more like that person.

Once all of this is in place, we then want to reach out to those who can best help us achieve our objectives. This might be limited to our core audience (remember the need for critical mass), but it might just as easily be directed toward those legions of undecided buyers.

In practice, this means our core audience is unequalled in importance. They are the people we are working for, the people for whom our brand is built. With luck, others aspire to be more like them. But that is a completely separate issue from identifying our target market when it comes to communication. In other words, target narrow, reach wide.

Cadillac New Logo

When Cadillac moved to restage its brand, which was (accurately) stigmatized as being only for old folks, the first thing the company did was design a product that would appeal to younger drivers. Cadillac hit pay dirt when rap stars began snapping up the Escalade, and the marketing team quickly saw the opportunity to position the model as the prestige SUV of the hip-hop set. This opened the door to the brand embarking on a massive shift toward high-performance luxury cars that continues to this day.

googleIn what may be the whopper of all narrow product positions, Google has specialized in and come to own a simple idea: Search. In the early days of Google, lots of “expert” commentators criticized this model as limited and overly specialized. But we’ve all now come to see that Search, by sucking away advertising dollars from every industry (all while appearing completely benign) was the killer application to end all killer applications. as we continue to expand our use of the Internet, search will be the one unifying “tool” that almost all activities pass through.

If Google teaches us anything, it is to not confuse how narrowly you position your offering with the ultimate size of your business. Indeed, it’s often an inverse relationship: the narrower the position, the broader the ultimate audience. Just look to Google- the narrowest and simplest of positions, and the widest of all catches.

Position narrow/ catch wide also applies to corporate communications. Way too much PR, advertising and point-of-sale copy is written with the belief that it is possible to convey complex information to its target audience. It almost never works. Not because the audience isn’t smart enough, but because it isn’t interested enough. Instead, you have to focus the message, whatever that message might be. As I used to tell clients when I worked in advertising- you can say whatever you want, but it’s only what they hear that counts.

Strategy, positioning and communication: in their best forms they are all acts of sacrifice.

Stay tuned- next time Austin shares how to Own your new position


How to Beat the Start-Up Fatigue

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Start-ups are everywhere, “entrepreneur” is the new cool-guy job, and Ashton Kutcher is doing his Steve Jobs impersonation on movie screens all over America. Even though it’s an exciting time for business and a really exciting time to be a consumer, it’s hard not to have some kind of start-up fatigue.

Branding and brand strategy are essential tools that can help fledgling companies cut through the clutter. We all know that big, established companies have a lot to learn from start-ups in terms of staying nimble, driving innovation, and thinking about things differently. But start-ups can learn a lot from big companies, too.


What kind of brand do you want to be? If you are a tech start-up, the brand values that might come to mind are intuitive, optimistic, straightforward, and maybe a bit cheeky. But you are not alone in identifying with those values – these have become category conventions. They are assumptions, not equities. To live in the hearts & minds of consumers, your brand must stand for something unique. Tuckernuck, an online boutique, feels like a real-world brand because it has identified its college-prepster voice and speaks it unapologetically. Figure out what is unique and true about your company upfront, and all your creative decisions will become a lot easier.



Even if you are working in technology, your brand no doubt stands for functional and emotional benefits that live in 360 degrees (not just on someone’s iPhone). So decide what those values look like in the real world. It helps to think visually. Color, for example, is an essential brand tool. If your company was a store, what would it look like? What makes it look different than the stores around it? What can you own? Warby Parker didn’t just create a smarter way to buy eyeglasses, they created a modern library. Don’t forget to build in these essential visual brand cues.


I imagine that one of the best things about entrepreneurship is being able to invest your energy in products or services that really matter to you. If you wouldn’t personally use the output of your efforts, you probably wouldn’t be there. That’s why it is worth reminding all entrepreneurs that you – and people with similar attitudes, behaviors, and means – are not necessarily your target audience. Your target may include you, but it doesn’t have to be limited to you. So you can’t rely only on your personal intuition when developing and branding your product, you must work to define your target, work to get their feedback, and work to listen to them on as many decisions as possible.

Big CPG companies require qualitative and quantitative consumer verification on almost every product decision, from basic product concepts that will never see the light of day to marketing executions. We can’t expect consumers to validate all of our decisions, and we are braver and better companies if we manage to take consumer feedback with a grain of salt. But expecting branding to be entirely intuitive is short-sighted at best. Do people actually want what you are selling, or are you talking to yourself?


Many startups invest in a lifestyle brand approach, which means they build in non-essential components like shareable editorial content and feel-good charitable partnerships. Buy a sock, send a sock! It’s important to understand the role of these investments in driving your brand – if they are startup clichés, they are category antes, not differentiators. Activities you have to do to even get in the game are not activities that are going to set you apart. You may need some new tricks if you want to attract the attention of publicists, and consumers too.

Sarah Birnbaum, Sterling Design Intelligence


Content Strategy: Feeding the Beast

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

In a recent post (that began with our anticipation for the start of Mad Men season 6, which by the way, was as good as we wanted it to be), we talked about the importance of going beyond the “click” (or “Like”) to develop brand stories that create authentic engagement with customers.

There is no longer (if there ever was) a linear path between awareness, acquisition, loyalty, and retention.  With our access to information, all of these decisions and actions are happening in real-time, so we need to keep customers (and potential customers) engaged all the time.

The brands that best go “beyond first click” have done more than good social media. They have changed the core of how they approach marketing. They plan and execute a content strategy – thinking like creators, rather than like advertisers. They are creating content that builds a single brand story, across all platforms, in the real and digital worlds, in a way that appears seamless to the consumer.

Those that are braving this new approach have had a lot to overcome.  In our last post we noted the organizational challenges.  But building a content strategy is also challenging for how marketers think about their business.   Advertising goes in campaigns, and there are planning and review and revision and execution times.  Content doesn’t – content is 24/7, a relentless beast that needs to be fed consistently.

To feed the beast, marketers have to live with imperfection and uncertainty more than ever before.  They need to be making new, relevant and interesting content all the time, every day, related to what their brand stands for, and what their brand is doing.  When faced with creating content, we all wonder what to say, and how to make sure what we’re creating is good enough. The real challenge with a content strategy isn’t so much that the beast needs to be fed, it’s more about overcoming the fear of our ability to create, uncertainty about what works, and doubt about whether anyone is listening. The cool part about this new world of content strategy is that we have the opportunity to see over time what people find compelling, what breaks through and what might actually motivate customers to act.

There are FIVE THINGS to think about when cooking up food for the beast:

1.) You are making content so people will not only engage with it but share it, and that means it has to have value for them – so make it FOR them rather than ABOUT you.

A great example is the latest from the Dove Real Beauty campaign:

2.) Variety is more important than consistency – you never know what will get people’s attention.

3.) Some of the most engaging content is not professionally produced – the bar is high for what’s compelling, but lower than you think for how it’s made.

4.) Creating something quickly that reflects/comments/plays off of current events can make your brand relevant, even when a connection isn’t obvious.

5.) And most importantly, don’t try to do everything yourself – the best case scenario is to involve your customers in creating content about your brand, and then finding ways (and confidence) to use what they create.

The book on best practices in content strategy is being written right now by brands that are brave enough to open their minds to what and where great content can come from.  One of the best examples of content strategy as marketing strategy is coming from GoPro.  Yes, they create cameras – a product that lends itself to storytelling a bit easier to content than foot cream or socks.  But they recognize how valuable content is, whether they create it or their customers do.  Instead of shying away from that “non-premium user-generated stuff”, they encouraged it.   They are engaging their customers to participate in building the story of the brand, which is therefore building their brand authentically based on how customers use their products (rather than a set of proof points and details, like we might see in an ad campaign).

The content beast is here, and here to stay as one of the primary ways to authentically connect with your customers, cut through the noise and go beyond the “click”.  It’s up to you to decide if your brand is willing to feed the beast, even if it requires an approach to marketing that is a little scary, and a little uncomfortable. What can you do in 2013 to build the story of your brand through content that will engage your customer, rather than simply trying to persuade them through advertising?

Deirdre Davi, Sterling Strategy


Beyond First Clicks

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

The new season of Mad Men starts soon, where we get to see Don, Peggy and the team once again tell consumers a brand story via advertising (in print, and perhaps even on TV!) that they expect will influence behavior.

But like secretaries and 3 martini lunches, we in brand marketing know that those days are long gone.  We want more that just a captive listening audience. We want “engagement.” Any one who has responsibility for growing a brand needs to not just get potential customers to see their messages, but for them to “engage” with their product or brand.  And marketers are actively tapping into digital media to make this happen.  But we sense that it’s time to reconsider how we think about “engagement”.

In the early days of digital marketing, it was all about the click, and businesses were grown from tracking that all-powerful click.  Even more recently, marketers are defining engagement as the number of “Likes” a brand can get on Facebook.   But really, it’s still just a click, and like many clicks, there is no “there” there after the Like.   Do I know any more about a brand when I click or Like?   Am I more likely to buy or use that brand?  Do I care more about that brand than I did before? The answer to these questions is an unenthusiastic maybe.


Just like many of us need more than one coffee date to bond with another person, we need more than one click or Like to commit to a brand.  As marketers, we need to tell (and build) a brand story over time.

Of course one way to have these ongoing interactions is through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, all of which bring customers and brands closer.  But smart marketers have always known that commitment is a journey, not a click.  I think the marketing community at large is just starting to come around to the idea that we simply can’t think about marketing as digital and traditional, because that first response (the impression, the click, or the Like) isn’t enough – we need to look beyond that response.  It’s about creating content that builds a brand’s story across all platforms, in the real world and the digital world.

This of course is a blinding glimpse of the obvious – but is surprisingly difficult to execute in the real world.  Why? Because doing it involves marketers across all different functions who just aren’t used to playing well with each other.   Building a compelling and cohesive cross-platform content strategy is organizationally challenged – different platforms, different lead times, different agencies, different approval processes.  It’s hard but it’s critical to get right.  And it means marketers can’t think in media or platform silos (TV, radio, banner, video, ….) but have to think of how to create engagement across platforms – exactly how their customers interact with the world.

One example we most admire right now comes from an unlikely source – packaged goods.  We recently spoke with the brand manager of Reynolds (yup, the aluminum foil) in a marketer discussion and were impressed by how fully he has embraced the potential of engagement.  He’s not thinking about how to explain why one food-wrapping foil is better than another – instead, he is working to tell his brand story through the food that Reynolds wraps, and the role it plays in sharing meals, family time, great events, and fun.   Reynolds is telling the story of their brand in a way that their customers will want to follow over time.  They are creating real engagement – with a product that is anything but what we’d traditionally think of as engaging.

The brands that don’t get it will still talk at us, and do it in a disjointed way. One group will talk to the brand agency about the big TV idea, another will plan the digital campaign, another will do something in “social media”, and the PR team might even get in on the action. They are creating a lot of impressions (and even those clicks), but not engagement.  What can you do in 2013 to plan and activate a cross-platform approach that will truly create engagement?

Deirdre Davi, Sterling Strategy


Google + Sterling

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
“Sterling is proud to have participated in two new pilot studies with consumers, conducted entirely through the G+ social media platform!
Together with Google, we spoke to two distinct groups: First Time Dads and New Smartphone Users. Using the myriad techniques offered by the G+ platform, we asked these two groups to share about their needs and motivations for relevant purchases and pull critical insights for marketers.
Find out more about the First Time Dad’s Study here.
Find out more about the New Smartphone Users here.
And stay tuned for more!”


Sterling is proud to have participated in two new pilot studies with consumers, conducted entirely through the Google+ social media platform!

Together with Google, we spoke to two distinct groups: New Dads and New Smartphone Users. Using the myriad techniques offered by the Google+ platform, we asked these two groups to share about their needs and motivations for relevant purchases and pull critical insights for marketers.

Find out more about the New Dads Study here.

Find out more about the New Smartphone Users here.

And stay tuned for more!


Get Into Their Heads

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

intheirheadsNo matter how old you are, you’re bound to have had a moment where age wasn’t in your favor. A reference you didn’t recognize, a word you didn’t know- it happens. And when it happens with family or friends, it’s pretty easy to move on. But when age-based disconnects get between your brand and your audience, it’s a trickier beast. There’s much more at stake than improperly used slang: your brand risks irrelevance.

Age is much more than a number: It affects your mentality, knowledge and beliefs. So when you’re planning for a group outside your own age set, you need to really dig into that group’s thoughts and behaviors. Otherwise, you might develop products they don’t want (even if they need them), ads they don’t care about (even if they’re slickly produced) and promotions they don’t like (even if they involve big prizes). Here are a couple of examples to help you see just how much age matters:

Example 1: Behavior Let’s think about personal finance for a minute. Try to remember how you approached money when you were 16. Did you have the same beliefs and practices you do today? I’d guess that the answer is a resounding “no!” When you were 16, you probably had much less money, poor financial literacy and less of a motivation to save your dollars. Quiz time: Should a bank speak to 16 year-olds like it speaks to 40 year-olds? Absolutely not.

Example 2: Perspective This time, think about what you eat. Do you have the same eating habits as your grandpa? I doubt it. He grew up in a different era that had different conceptions of what was “healthy” and what was “normal.” Your own habits have been shaped by the place you were raised and whatever nutrition principles were floating around at the time. And now your quiz: Should a 50-something year-old executive plan snack products for 20-somethings without bothering to research her target? No way.

The problem of generational gaps isn’t unique to marketing, of course. Think about college professors: on a daily basis, they have to relate complex topics to an audience that is distanced in age and expertise. Back in 1998, some professors at Beloit College who felt out of touch created the The Mindset List, a yearly publication about the experiences and beliefs of incoming freshmen. The list’s entries don’t seem too monumental on their own; for example, an entry on this year’s list says that incoming freshmen don’t remember tan M&Ms. But as you scroll through the 75 entries, the sum of the list’s parts begins to resonate.  You get a picture of  the world these students were raised in and the sorts of experiences that have shaped their minds. Taken line by the line, the list provides a chuckle. But taken as a whole, the list helps you step out of your own frame of reference, and into the students’.

Which is exactly what we try to do when we talk to consumers: We want to get inside their heads. We want to understand what shapes their lives and how they see the world around them. We want to know what feeds into their beliefs and how that dictates their behaviors. We root our work in consumer insight because it’s just so darn important to know where your audience is coming from. After all: Who wants their brand’s main attribute to be “out of touch?”

Felicia Baskin, Strategist


Lululemon: The Ultimate Badging Brand

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

I’m a moderately enthusiastic yoga enthusiast, which at times feels like a requirement of an SF resident.  I used to go to classes in the Haight, I occasionally frequent a studio in the Mission, and my “home base” studio is in the Marina.  For the sake of simplification, let’s characterize these neighborhoods by noting that they are home to, respectively, hippies, hipsters, and future Stepford Wives.   So…they’re different.

But despite the differing levels of body art, dreadlocks, and jewelry on display, the presence of Lululemon attire holds constant across these different environments.

There must be dozens of brands that produce reasonably stylish, functional, well-made yoga clothing – and there’s a pretty good chunk of them providing it at price parity to Lulu. So why then, do all these women (and a growing population of men), who differ so greatly in their attitudes and styles, all gravitate toward the same brand?

Because while other brands may make a great yoga product, only Lulu sells a product that serves as a badge* of dedication and commitment to the “yoga lifestyle”.   Put on Lululemon gear, and you’re proclaiming to your fellow yogis (and world at large), “I’m serious about yoga and all that it stands for.”

How do they do this?  I see a few key ingredients in crafting a badge brand:

1. A well-defined brand “muse”: At Sterling, we define a “muse” as the “single person you come to work for – the person you want your brand and the outside world to believe the brand is built for.”  Lulu builds its brand for the true yoga devotee:  an individual who practices yoga daily and balances her practice with a “portfolio” of fitness activities, but more importantly, a woman who embodies the teachings of yoga not just physically but spiritually.  In everything Lulu does, you can see her shining through – you can tell that she inspires each decision the brand makes.  And in doing so, they not only catch her – but all the other women and men out there who aspire to be like her.


2. Prove focus in your product: Aside from some pieces designed for cross-training (running, cycling, dance), Lulu’s product line and store experience are devoted to the practice of yoga.  It doesn’t just pay lip service to a tight, focused position – it delivers an experience and product set that backs it up.


3. Tap into macro trends: While Lululemon may be eating, sleeping, and breathing yoga, the brand recognizes that it’s also in the business of fashion.  Lulu has an outstanding awareness of macro fashion and style trends, and it does a great job of translating them into performance wear.  The clothing stays ahead of the curve relative to other performance apparel brands in silhouettes, textures and fabrics, color palettes, detailing.

4. Build out a values-based experience: Getting the product right is important.  But a badge brand transcends the product, building an experience online and offline that speaks to the values and beliefs of its target. In Lululemon’s case, it’s about holistic health and well-being, positive energy.  To that end, the company posts its “manifesto,” which encompasses these values, on its bags and throughout its store.  It hires individuals that embody these values and convey them in-store.  Stores offer free yoga classes.  Stores are actively involved philanthropically with like-minded causes in their local communities.


Because this phenomenon fascinates me, here are some other interesting badge brands to consider:

-Harley Davidson (the free spirit lifestyle)

-PBR (the hipster lifestyle)

-Chubbies (the frat boy lifestyle)

-Bonobos (and the grown up frat boy lifestyle)

But Lululemon, in my humble opinion, has truly cracked the code.  So it’s unsurprising to me to see so many others on-board with the brand when I’m out and about.  Putting aside my own very narrow purview of the brand’s success, though, allow me to call out Lulu’s (LULU) stock performance across the past 5 years:


The company has been increasing sales at an average annual rate of 40% since its inception.  Pretty sweet.  A sign, I’d say, that their brand positioning and approach is working for them.

So the end game advice:  take a step back from your brand.  Think about your “muse” and how usage of your product or service connects to her lifestyle, her values, who she is.  Reframe and reground in that broader context.  And then, my personal suggestion, would be to build a forward-looking position for your brand using the “form” inspired by Lulu’s approach.

*Side note:  Status brands like Luis Vuitton are also deemed “badge” brands.  But…other than proclaiming, “I’m rich”, they don’t showcase a lifestyle – so they don’t fit the definition of a badge brand that I’m addressing.

Sara Linderman, Strategist


The Extraordinary Economics of Sharing

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Whether you call it the “sharing economy,” “peer-to-peer services” or  “collaborative consumption,” it’s hard not to be amazed by the growth of this new arena of consumer-driven commerce.

As a reminder, until very recently, if you wanted a product or service, you would seek out a company that happened to provide that product or service.

But businesses are no longer the only suppliers of consumer needs. Because the marketplace is now flush with consumers willing to share (for a profit) the under-used capacity of the things they own. Consumers (and Silicon Valley) have slowly figured out that there’s a lot of money in collaborating to support and drive this exchange.  As Forbes states it, “this blows up the industrial model of companies owning and people consuming, and allows everyone to be both consumer and producer, along with the potential for cash that the latter provides.”

Per Fast Company, “the confluence of the economic crisis, environmental concerns, and the maturation of the social web…an entirely new generation of business is popping up.” Indeed. Over 100 new “sharing” companies have formed in the past 4 years; Forbes estimates the revenue flowing through the share economy directly into people’s wallets will surpass $3.5 billion this year, with growth exceeding 25%.


Probably the most well-known of these companies is Airbnb, a company that facilitates rentals of rooms in people’s homes and boasts over 10M “rented” nights in 192 countries. Yes, people are happily inviting strangers to stay in their homes.  Turns out, the economic upside of sharing your most valuable assets with strangers, and the benefit of finding what you need or want for less from strangers, is pretty compelling, which is why we see massive growth in shared accommodations as well as shared car rides, with companies like Lyft, RelayRides and SideCar all showing at least moderate success.


But it’s not only about sharing assets, it’s about sharing time.  Need someone to put your IKEA dresser together? Post the task on TaskRabbit. Need someone to watch your dog while you’re away? Call Dog Vacay. Want someone to pick up your dry cleaning? Get an Exec. Want to put your car in someone’s driveway? Check out Parking Panda. You want it? I got it! Let’s share.


So, the question is: what about the traditional service providers in these spaces? I’m sure the hoteliers are thrilled that San Francisco’s treasurer just ruled that Airbnb is now responsible for paying the city’s hotel tax, and I have to believe taxi services are watching ride-sharing companies’ legal challenges with bated breath.

But the “net” of this post isn’t that Hyatt should’ve started an Airbnb-ish company, nor that Hertz should’ve founded something like Lyft (or maybe they should have, but that’s not necessarily the point). All of the these sharing-economy companies also serve as an example of how to serve a particular marketplace and consumer needs in a new way, and to remind us that businesses often think too narrowly about their business model and target audience and continue to be uninfluenced by more macro consumer needs and trends.

Every once in a while, business people should to step out of their conference rooms and back-to-back meetings and spreadsheets and question themselves: Are we fully serving consumer needs, and is there a new way for us to do it? Are there new consumers for us to serve? What marketplace are we in – what does that mean for how we need to evolve? And my favorite question: if 3 guys in a garage wanted to enter our market, what would they do and how can we do it first?

Just a single day out of the office, pushed to think a bit differently about your business, can yield really extraordinary benefits.

Sara Schor

Sterling Strategy


Friends with Money : Grounding in the Affluent Consumer

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Thanks to our obsession with celebrity culture, we’re quick to scroll through our mental rolodex and arrive on a portrait of an Hermes-toting, Prada-wearing, private-jet flying individual as the role model for “our affluent consumer” – living leisurely, perhaps born into wealth, spending heavily and conspicuously, flashing black cards.

When you actually talk to affluents (and we at Sterling have a lot of those conversations), you start to reveal a very different profile when it comes to affluent consumers’ consumption behaviors and lifestyle – which have some valuable implications for brands that are trying to make greater inroads with this segment.

1. They worked hard for their money:  Let’s briefly acknowledge how the “affluent” population shapes up, by the numbers.

20% of US HHs make $100K+ per annum
5% make $167+
1.5% make 250K+
1% make 350K+

Most affluents aren’t falling into uppermost stratospheres.  They grew up in middle class families.  And they arrived at their station through hard work, dedication, and perseverance.


Those that work this hard expect that those around them will work equally as hard – and this holds true with what they expect out of brands.  They’re looking for brands to do more than the baseline, to provide out-of-the-ordinary experiences. Check out the lengths the Boston Private Bank & Trust are willing to go to for their customers.  This is an extreme example, but it illustrates how personal and unexpected touches go a long way in building a relationship with the affluent consumer.

2. Time is the greatest luxury:  When you look at where the wealthy are spending their money, it’s not all being chucked after luxury goods.  The biggest luxury, in consideration of their work ethics (and hours), is time.  So they indulge more heavily in vacations (on average, they take over 5 leisure trips per year, spending over $35K) and services (50%+ use housecleaning, lawn maintenance, accounts, or some combination thereof) – outsourcing the grudge work of life to get more time back.


So, in thinking about service or product delivery to the affluent, a brand should focus as much on the delivery as the service or product itself.   I think about Amazon – which a recent AdAge article noted as a preferred brand among affluents.  Amazon delivers an extraordinary range of products, often, free (and fast) shipping, easy returns, and an interface designed to make purchasing extremely quick and seamless.  So the consumer can spend less time shopping.  Think about what your brand can do to make service/product acquisition more efficient – because this is a consumer that will be especially appreciative of your efforts.

3. Money doesn’t actually burn holes in pockets:  Affluents are super value conscious (there’s a reason they’ve accumulated wealth…).  Over 50% seek out sales or wait for sales to shop; 45% shop with coupons.  Sure, they may have a lot in the bank, but they’d prefer to keep it that way.


One brand that gets this?  Costco, which tops the list of “favorite” shopping destinations of affluents (over more predictably “wealthy” brands like Neiman Marcus).  Costco doesn’t offer a highly luxurious shopping environment, and it sells expensive, big-ticket items alongside massive boxes of cereal.  But it stocks high-quality products at great prices, providing its members significant value.   Brands seeking to get in with the affluent are wise to draw on Costco’s wisdom and consider ways to enhance the price/value equation.

4. Under the radar:  89% of affluents don’t want those around them to know that they’re wealthy.  Now, some of this is likely due to personal protection of their wealth.  But the other theme we hear is a belief in “stealth wealth” – they don’t mind having money, but they like to keep it under the radar.  They’re modest and have a fear of coming off as ostentatious or snobbish.

audiSo when it comes to imagery, communications, messaging, naming, etc. – brands may want to hinge on substance over flash.  Personally, I think about how this plays out in the auto industry:  a lot of mainstay luxury brands flash prestige.  But Audi seems to take a slightly quieter path, focusing heavily on engineering and performance, positioning itself as the more demure luxury car.  And it’s been working: 2011 and 2012 showed record sales growth for the auto brand.

Clearly, affluent consumers are living better.  I mean, having an Audi isn’t slumming it, and a typical consumer doesn’t expect a bank employee to drop by his house to deliver travelers checks. It’s a higher bar. But brands that succeed with affluents recognize their subtleties, understand what really matters versus drawing easy (and often erroneous) conclusions about what they want and need.  Put in the effort to tap these insights and set your brand up to win at this lucrative game.

Sara Linderman, Strategist

Sources:  2009 U.S. Census; The Influence of Affluence; The New Elite; 2008 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey


A Reflection on Consumer Realities

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013


I think it’s fair to assume that no one thinks we’re still living in the 1950s, with legions of aproned (an apron over a dress, worn with pearls) housewives whiling their days away baking bread and vacuuming until their husbands return home for sit-down dinners complete with icy cold martinis and roasts (although, that dinner sounds nice…).

Certainly, we’re all worldly and current, and we get that gender roles have blurred dramatically, that family structures are ever-evolving, that pigeonholing men and women into age-old stereotyped roles is silly.

So then…please explain:  Why do cleaning ads still feature women 99.9% of the time?  And why are they cleaning during the daylight hours, wearing button downs and donning coiffed hair, before retiring on the porch to enjoy a cup of tea?  Why do electronics ads assume that only men care about gadgets (and that they have to sheepishly hide their purchases from their spouses)?  And, speaking of spouses, why do family-related ads still only show the wife+husband+2.5 kids family?

There could be one of two things going on here:  Either we’re not as worldly or current as we think we are; Or we simply refuse to acknowledge the facts.  I think it’s a combination of the two.  Regardless, through our minimal adjustments in the way we speak to our consumers, we’re growing increasingly distant from our audience’s reality, and at some point it’s going to erode the efficacy of our messaging (especially given the growing ability, and propensity, to tune that messaging out).

So if I may, let me recap some cold, hard facts about what’s up with the American family structure.

1.) The thought on marriage has become “Maybe later,”or even just “Maybe.”


2.) Moms are taking on the Dad roles:

- Only 16% of American households contain a breadwinner husband
- 74% of women participate in the workforce
- 40% of women make more than their husbands

3.) Dads are taking on the Mom roles:

- 70% of dads manage the grocery shopping (compared to only 32% of their fathers)
- 70% of dads help clean (compared to only 10% of their dads)
- 32% of dads are the regular caretaker (23% growth in the past 8 years)

Statistics and facts are certainly no substitute for actually getting to know one’s audience on a personal and holistic level.  They are, at the end of the day, nothing more than a starting point.  But it seems to me that despite all that we think we know, and as sophisticated as we think we may be when it comes to the consumer, it’s easy to fall back on stereotypes in the absence of really getting to know who they are and what they’re about.

This is my plea for brands everywhere to start digging in, start getting familiar with the roles that their consumers play in and what their worlds look like.  Forming that base of knowledge and painting that rich picture is the beginning of something beautiful – the ability to develop a truly informed and ultimately more rewarding relationship with the consumer, versus a flat bond based on tired, outdated assumptions.

Sara Linderman, Strategist

Sources:  The New York Times; Pew Research; US Census Bureau, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Edleman and Parenting Group