Mass Affluence: A book review by Bob Morris

Mass Affluence: Seven New Rules of Marketing to Today’s Consumer
Paul Nunes and Brian Johnson
Harvard Business Review Press (2004)

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Customer’s Way

Nunes and Johnson help to increase our understanding of an especially powerful trend in contemporary marketing: creating or increasing demand for customized products or services that have been mass-produced primarily for affluent consumers. This is a complicated subject in that, as recent research clearly indicates, many of these same products and services also appeal to less affluent consumers. This is precisely what Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske discuss in Trading Up: The New American Luxury in which they refer to “products and services which possess higher levels of quality, taste, and [key word] aspiration than [other] goods in the [same] category but are not so expensive as to be out of reach…[trading up to products and services which] sell at much higher prices than conventional goods and in much higher volumes than traditional luxury goods and, as a result, have soared into previously uncharted territory high above the familiar price-volume demand curve.”

According to Nunes and Johnson, what is needed is “an approach that considers the facts about mass affluence and delivers a comprehensive view of how companies can change their marketing strategies to capture the value created from greater consumer affluence. That is why we wrote this book; that’s what we’re attempting to provide.”

Indeed they do, and with discipline and eloquence. Their material is carefully organized within four Parts: The New Rules of Positioning, The New Rules of Designing Offerings, The New Rules of Customer Reach, and then a final section which responds to the question “What’s Next?” Then in their Epilogue, Nunes and Johnson share their observations and suggestions with regard to “Reenvisioning an Industry” (i.e. the jewelry and watch business), applying to it the “seven new rules of mass marketing” previously introduced and discussed in the first chapter.

Long ago, Warren Buffett suggested that price is what we charge and value is what the buyer thinks it’s worth. I was reminded of that as I read Part One in which Nunes and Johnson explain “The New Rules of Marketing.” These are not their rules nor are they even rules per se. Rather, they are strategies that the competitive marketplace has already determined are more appropriate to new realties. For example:

Old Rule: Avoid middle-market positions between low-cost and premium.

New Rule: Seize the new-middle-ground position, above the rest of the conventional offerings and below the ultrapremium solutions. (Please see Figure 2-1 on page 33.)

Old Rule: Produce less-expensive versions of luxuries to sell to the masses.

New Rule: Introduce new models of ownership that make a wealthy lifestyle, and even real luxuries, affordable to the masses.

According to Nunes and Johnson, traditional mass marketers can “play by the new rules” (i.e. can capture the spending of the moneyed masses) without sacrificing the former core mass market. How? Give customers the chance to spend more by offering new premium versions, adding on product upgrades and differentiated service levels to existing offerings. Also, honor customers with the recognition they desire by creating status levels that richly reward willing-to-spend customers in all of the ways they wish to be recognized. Also, offer the right price to each customer by using effective pricing to achieve differential margins based on qualities that aren’t intrinsic to the offering. Customers may not always be right but, ultimately, their perceptions ARE market realities.

They are asking different kinds of questions now. For example, “What does this [watch, handbag, dress, set of golf clubs, etc.] say about me?” Moreover, they are less concerned about a luxury item’s purchase price than they are about ROI that includes enhanced self-esteem in their own eyes as well as in others’. New realities do indeed require different (if not “new”) strategies by which to respond to them. Nunes and Johnson offer several in this book, anchoring each within a context of relevant information and appropriate examples. Well-done!

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine’s Markets of One: Creating Customer-Unique Value through Mass Customization, the aforementioned Trading Up, James B. Twitchell’s Living It Up: America’s Love Affair with Luxury, Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, Gerald Zaltman’s How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, Joseph Epstein’s Snobbery: The American Version, and Bill Stinnett’s Think Like Your Customer: A Winning Strategy to Maximize Sales By Understanding and Influencing How and Why Your Customers Buy.


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