180 Degrees from Thurston Howell III

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A shortcut for how to think about affluent consumers.

 

One of the most important jobs for a marketer of high-end brands is to understand the incredibly complex diversity of affluent consumers in the marketplace. They are not a one-dimensional group, even if the mainstream media tends to portray them that way.

“Marketers’ fantasies about how the luxury consumer lives and behaves cloud their judgments,” says Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing. “I often find marketers attribute motives to the aspirations of their customers when they really are projecting their own aspirations onto the customer.”

I call this bias the “Thurston Howell III Syndrome,” named for the affable millionaire from the television series, Gilligan’s Island.

When a marketer tries to envision a wealthy or affluent target and the image of Thurston Howell comes to mind, I advise them to think 180 degrees from that stereotype. Generally speaking, when it comes to envisioning your affluent consumer prospect, you’ll do much better by thinking the complete opposite of Thurston Howell.

Here’s what I mean:

Thurston went to Harvard. Affluents go to State University.

While it’s true that 14% of Affluents attended an Ivy League university, four times more Affluents – nearly 60% – attended a public college or university.

Thurston was an Elite. Affluents are Middle Class.

Nearly nine out of ten wealthy Americans come from humble beginnings. And they remain middle class at heart.

Thurston Inherited. Affluents Create Their Own.

More than 90% of wealthy Americans created their own wealth, while fewer than 10% inherited it.

Thurston Lived a Life of Leisure. Affluents Work into Retirement.

Millionaires are twice as likely to keep working in retirement than the broader population.

Thurston was an Old Patriarch. Most Affluents are Boomers and Xers:

Only 8% of Affluents are Seniors, while 39% are Boomers and 33% Gen Xers. Half of all Affluents have kids under 18.

Thurston Worshipped Wealth. Affluent Wealth comes from Pursuing Passions:

Nearly two-thirds of Affluents are still on the front lines of their businesses. They didn’t necessarily set out to be rich; instead, they just pursued their passions, worked hard, and did very well financially.

As you can see, Affluents are by no means solely the rich, old white guy, playing golf every day at the club. Next time you find yourself falling into the one-dimensional affluent trap, just envision your target as the complete opposite of Thurston Howell.

“No one can pull the wool over my eyes. Cashmere maybe, but wool, never.”

– Thurston Howell III

 

Sources:
Jim Taylor, The New Elite: Inside the Minds of the Truly Wealthy
American Express Luxury Summit
Mendelsohn Affluent Survey 2012
CNBC columnist and Richistan author, Robert Frank. 

Chris Ray

Chris Ray is founding editor of Upward Home, an online resource for marketers of high-end home brands.
Find more information from Chris on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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