The American Marketing Association recently published six studies about the luxury goods purchasing differences between American conservatives and liberals. For those in the automotive, travel, and other affluent-targeting industries, knowing this information can greatly improve the ROI of your marketing efforts.
One of the key functions of a luxury good is to communicate the owner’s social status. Wealth, ability, and personal network power are examples of status that can be visually demonstrated with a luxury item.
As Rolex puts it: “Wearing a Rolex watch enables entry into a world of unlimited possibilities.”
Or from a rival watchmaker: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
Dubai-based DAMAC says their luxury real estate properties “complement your stature”.
In each of these instances, the object under consideration does not elevate your status – it maintains it. They show what you have already achieved. Status-maintenance is a vital component to how political ideology can influence purchasing decisions. Conservatives and liberals in the United States view and approach status-maintenance differently. In the AMA research, a total of six studies were conducted to analyze the differences and the result they have on the purchase of luxury goods.
We recently developed a magazine for a luxury car dealership. As part of the design process, we discussed with them the idea of placing an “aspirational” vehicle on the cover – the type of vehicle that one would literally dream of owning. For example, many people may want to own a Mercedes-Benz, but it is something else entirely to own a Mercedes-AMG® S 63.
Status is an integral part of desire. It shapes how we define ourselves, both in terms of our own self-worth and how others see us. For marketing purposes, it is important to understand how consumers perceive their own status because of its influence on desire for luxury goods.
For the purposes of the AMA research, “political ideology refers to beliefs and principles that reflect a person’s views on how society should be governed.”Ball and Dagger 2006
As noted in the research, political conservatives tend to favor the status quo. They are more comfortable with lifestyle elements which are familiar to them. They are more likely to evaluate a person’s social status than to evaluate the system in which that status is ranked. Therefore, it is important to note their preference for status-maintenance over status-advancement. It was also shown that the more politically conservative a person is, the more they valued not only status-maintenance, but luxury status-maintenance.
Scientifically, the studies did not seek to measure a contrasting behavior by liberals or their specific preferences. It was noted that liberals favored status advancement, but that was not a specific goal.
The participants in one study were sent a survey 3-4 months after the purchase of their vehicle and asked to self-identify their political affiliation. Vehicles were categorized as luxury or non-luxury. A total of 21,999 observations were made. According to the data, affluent conservatives are 35% more likely to purchase luxury vehicles than affluent liberals. The luxury car is a status symbol. It communicates their stature to the wider world.
Marketing Impact: Such data should influence campaign elements including image choice, copywriting, and media selection. Elements such as high-brow patriotism (Colin Powell, not Larry the Cable Guy), affluence, and support for the military and law enforcement will work well. It is important to note that law-and-order support should be evidenced through actions as well as words. If you intend to claim you support first responders, have a partnership with local police or fire departments in your community. If you want to say you support the military, volunteer time for welcome returning soldiers or financially sponsoring a local VFW. You are more likely to permanently lose business if your words are not backed by actions.
The important message here is the difference between status-maintenance and status-advancement. American political conservatives aren’t buying luxury products because they are conservative. Every decision is an emotional one. The ownership (or perceived ownership) of a luxury product helps a conservative feel as though they are maintaining status in their network.
“You earned it” is more effective than “You will earn it”.
“The trip your friends wish they could take” is more effective than “the trip you’ve always wanted to take”.
Simple draping a flag over something or getting an endorsement from Tomi Lahren isn’t the key to your success. If you know your prospect is politically conservative, tailor your message to meet their expectations and respect their beliefs.
Here’s your word of the day: anthropomorphism. It means “the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.” Have fun casually dropping that six syllable word into daily conversation; but you might find it easier than you expect. Why? Because millions of Americans are having daily conversations with inanimate objects. Even more interesting is that we are humanizing the inhuman products with genders, voices, and names. Their genders are female, their voices are soft, and their names are Alexa, Home, and Siri. But what do these assistants embedded in a smart speaker tell us about customer behavior?
It should come as no surprise that we humans like to socialize. We’re generally social creatures, even from birth. We like to look at each other, hear each other, and on occasion, speak to each other. So when we bring something into our home, we want to be as comfortable with it as possible.
Ever caught a friend, family member, or even yourself referring to a smart speaker as “her” or “she”? It is a fascinating observation the first time it happens. “Wow. I just called a speaker ‘she’.” You gave an appliance the same gender as your daughter or mother.
Isn’t that strange?
Not historically. Men, especially, have assigned the female gender to many of the things they love most: cars, ships, planes, countries, guns, oceans, and much more.
Now combine centuries of tradition with modern smart speakers. According to the “Smart Audio Report” conducted by NPR and Edison Research, people love their smart speakers:
This is the root of our anthropomorphism of smart speakers and the artificial intelligence inside them. The designers of these systems are very intentional. Research repeatedly shows that men and women prefer female voices when receiving “customer service”. If women appeal to women, and women appeal to men, it is logical to craft a smart speaker as female. It is the gender and personality we trust most. Amazon, Google, and Apple want you to really like their device! For the record, there are some exceptions in preference for highly technical products (vehicles, computers) or services (medicine, accounting), but generally we prefer a woman’s voice. Maybe Freud was right and everything is about our mothers.
There is a fun video by “rusty78609” in which he asks an Amazon Echo and Google Home if they are male or female. Their answers are crafty.
Gender is one thing, but machines can be boring regardless of their voice.
So why did Amazon spend money on jokes? Sarcasm? An attitude?
Amazon’s Alexa & Echo did not come into existence cheaply. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars went into their development. From AI programming and internet connectivity to product design and voice selection, every minute of work was expensive.
Adding a personality to the AI voice was actually a smart yet simple choice: “enjoyability”. With a personality, the assistant known as Alexa (or Siri or Google) becomes more:
Since some people are referring to their smart speaker as a “girlfriend” or “granddaughter”, that sort of affinity would never occur if it was just a machine. The famous HAL 9000 had an AI personality (even if it was creepy and eventually murderous). It helps with human morale. Furbies were a hugely popular child’s toy that had the ability to speak. The voice and personality help us view objects as something with which we can connect on an emotional level.
Although the smart speakers of today have voices and personalities, companies have done excellent jobs of applying human characteristics to non-human objects to achieve connections with their audience.
Remember “Clippy”? Formally known as the Microsoft Office Assistant, Clippy is now more than 20 years old and was an amazing example of how a company wanted to humanize something so that people felt comfortable working with it. Learning how to use Microsoft Office was daunting, so Clippy was there to help and make it more interesting (and easy).
He and the owner discussed a new reason for customers to choose Moss Bros. over the competition. The idea of a “Lifetime Oil & Filter Change” program was chosen. Nathan was tasked with developing the outline of the program. But he wanted to ensure Mr. Moss’ vision came to life. So he worked with his in-house agency team and developed “Olly the Oil Drop”: a personified drop of clean oil that customers could connect with. He would teach them about the importance of regular maintenance, educate kids on environmental stewardship, and make customers feel more comfortable about dealership service.
Two years after the program launched -with Olly at the front of all marketing- 10-25% of customers said it was the #1 reason they purchased from Moss Bros. Of course, the free oil changes helped, but the response to happy, friendly Olly from dealership employees and the public was resoundingly positive. And he never spoke a word.
Every purchase ever made has been based on emotion. The quantity and intensity may vary, but ultimately a human being has to “like” one choice over another. Product A or Product B, this vendor or no vendor at all, the blue dress or the gold dress…it all came down to choice.
If you can influence their choice by turning your company or product into something relatable, you are more likely to be the preferred choice. This enables you to earn more marketshare, increase sales, and drive up revenue. This is true for B2C and B2B companies because every transaction is H2H: human-to-human.
Keep the human element in mind as you develop your logo, create a company mascot, or design your product packaging. Giving it warm eyes and a gleaming smile might be the tipping point between a four-star and a five-star review or earning repeat business.