🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

The tricky balance of marketing to the affluent

Sally Herships Sep 11, 2014

The tricky balance of marketing to the affluent

Sally Herships Sep 11, 2014

The rich spend money very differently than the rest of us — or so we mere mortals with middle-class and lower-tiered bank balances imagine. Most of us don’t have the first-hand shopping experience of rubbing luxury-garbed shoulders with the sumptuously perfumed rich.

“You don’t really typically see movie stars walking into the grocery store to pick up milk. They have a handler, they have a housekeeper,” says Kirby Rosplock, author of “The Complete Family Office Handbook,” and a fourth-generation member of a family business.

Rosplock, whom it might be accurate to categorize as wealthy, says, “I guess it depends on who’s categorizing me, because I’m not wealthy compared to a Warren Buffett or Carl Icahn.”

While you and I might be worried about our retirement, she says, the ultra-wealthy are saving their money for something else altogether — the future-future.

“They have to determine what they want for their lifestyle today,” she says, “and what they want for their legacy when they’re not here.”

Like money for their grandchildren, a charity or an alma mater. After the recession, Rosplock says the wealthy are also likely to be more conservative with spending. 

She says it’s easy for marketers to get the rich wrong.

“The biggest mistake I see is marketers trying to play into the stereotype of who they think these people are,” she says. “They’re not necessarily wooed by those strategies of showing the chic, sexy model wearing the bedazzled necklace.”

Andrew Sacks, president of AGENCYSACKS and The Affluence Collaborative, two companies that help brands target affluent consumers, says marketers need to learn to dissect the wealthy, correctly breaking them down into subgroups, each with their own unique characteristics.

“To try and appeal to the wealthy as a group is not a winning strategy,” he says.

About 90 percent of rich Americans, notes Sacks, didn’t grow up wealthy. So affluent shoppers can also be intimidated by fancy-schmancy stores.

“There’s a lot on the line,” Sacks says. “When you’re buying a $500,000 diamond, you really don’t want to be the fool and buy the thing that’s the wrong thing.”

Which is one reason it’s important for luxury brands to educate consumers on the brand’s history and product quality. When you buy a luxury product with a high price tag, he says, it can start to feel all too normal.

“So you might buy Tom Ford shoes for the first time and feel like ‘holy cow, I just spent $1,600 on these shoes… I really went overboard!'” But that threshold, he says, “becomes your new floor.”

In case you’re wondering, $1,600 is how much Tom Ford shoes cost.

“I’m embarrassed to say it is,” says Sacks, noting his own feet, clad in the designer’s footwear.

It’s become increasingly more important for brands to learn how to connect with consumers on a personal level.  They can begin, Sacks says, by saying thank you to their customers. Affluent consumers are spending a ton of money on products, and they’re not getting what they would expect in return.

For example, the time when Sacks and his wife bought a German car — for $80,000.

“We got nothing,” he says. “We didn’t get a baseball cap. We didn’t get a letter. We really got nothing. Think about — could they have spent one-tenth of one percent, $80, on a gift to say thank you? I think they could have.”

People are living longer than ever, says Sacks. “They’ve been wealthy for quite some time,” he says. “At some point you run out of a need for stuff and you realize that your deepest human needs are not fulfilled by stuff.”

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.