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Selling Stuff to Men

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Affluent men are status-conscious. So are affluent women. But according to American Demographics, men and women perceive status and status enhancement in different ways. Men compete with other men for status. It is a competition based on pure comparison. The comparison takes place at every level. Cars, houses, watches, clothes, yachts, cigars, and yes, athletics.

When an affluent male sees another affluent male who appears to have more status, the game is on. It is not about the game, it is about winning the game. Which explains why Larry Ellison ordered a new yacht to replace his old one. While cruising the Mediterranean, Ellison pulled into Monaco for the night. To his dismay, his yacht was the second-longest in the harbor. The longest yacht belonged to Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft along with Bill Gates. Larry Ellison had to have the biggest yacht in the harbor. And his yacht had to have the finest and most luxurious appointments. So Ellison immediately ordered a new yacht to be custom-built for him. It would be fifty feet longer than Paul Allen’s yacht.

For affluent men, status is a “gut” reaction and involves what they perceive as a “winning image.” This winning image is established by marketing in popular media outlets: magazines, the internet, television. Affluent men see what other affluent men are buying, so they buy too. In other words, they buy what they see every day, because what they see every day is what they come to desire. To validate themselves and their status, affluent men want what their peers have and, if possible, something a little bit better.

Understanding how to appeal to the psychology of affluent male customers is vital to the success of any business or individual catering to them. This, in turn, necessitates asking a lot of questions, because male customers prefer to get right to the point. They know what they want—improved status. Often, though, they are not sure how to attain it. This is where branding enters the picture. Affluent men, because of their competitive drive for the winning image, are susceptible to the influence of branding.

They eat Wheaties for breakfast because Tom Brady does. They wear a Rolex watch because Donald Trump does. Steve Jobs drinks diet Pepsi, so they do too. Brady, Trump and Jobs have winning images. Other affluent men want that same winning image. They wish for it and dream of it. They will buy it because it is for sale. Marketing creates their desired reality by means of branding, and brand association. Winners are associated with winning brands.

Branding implies that buying the brand will provide the winning image. The need for the winning image is psychological. Basically, there are two ways to appeal to the need: through the eyes, and through the ears. This means the appeal is made by marketing, and advertising.

Affluent male customers need to feel important and worthwhile. This feeling is physiological as well as psychological. It is the need for self-esteem. They develop and maintain this winning-image feeling by comparing themselves and what they have done to the accomplishments of other affluent males. If other affluent men use a certain brand of shaving cream, then that brand has a winning image. By using the same brand, the winning image of the brand is extended to the user and he too has attained the winning image. In effect, the brand becomes an identity.

Branding, then, creates and transmits identity to those who use it. Affluent males relate and buy brands that align with their self-image. Self-images are informed by popular media. Thus, affluent men gain self-esteem—the winning image—by emulating the appearance and behavior of other affluent men whom they admire. They use the same brands as winners.

What is important here is this: affluent male customers not only want a winning image, they also want to be unique. Competition and comparison with other affluent men motivates such men to surpass their peers. They want to excel, not be equal. This means that the successful seller of luxury products or services must provide a brand both superior to and scarcer than the others.

This means innovative marketing, because, generally speaking, the affluent customer is overwhelmed by advertising. So much so that he becomes immune to it. Branding helps the affluent male customer to traverse the maze of marketing advertisements. He selects the brand that suits his financial status and his desired winning image. The image conveyed by the brand is of primary importance. Price is secondary.

It should be remembered that the preferences of affluent men constantly change, which makes the luxury brands they desire come and go. This means luxury brands must keep their products and services unique. Which means the seller of such luxuries cannot sit still. They have to innovate, yet maintain prestige.

For example, Burberry, the famous maker of trench coats, is a brand that conveys status and success. Burberry has had a winning image since being founded in 1856. To maintain that winning image, Burberry realized that it needed to accommodate younger buyers too, or slowly become outdated. What did Burberry do? According to Folio 4, they didn’t scrap their famous trench coat. Indeed, they kept it. But they added a new line of stylish coats and accessories for a fresh generation of buyers, which includes celebrities like Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, and Natalie Portman.

In her book, Brand New, author Nancy Koehn relates how David Birnbaum found a new niche in selling luxury jewelry. For one, Birnbaum’s store looks almost low-rent compared to such stores as Tiffany’s or Harry Winston’s. Birnbaum opted for low overhead, and discovered that Manhattan’s affluent customers approved. The average sale in Birnbaum’s store is between $50,000 and $150,000. Birnbaum believes his success stems from the fact that he listens to the market. “Throwing money around does not create a luxury brand, it just creates a lot of noise,” says Birnbaum. The secret is having a great product. A good product will not make it.

Birnbaum believes his product and services are so unique that he relies solely upon word-of-mouth referrals. In other words, he is playing the psychological card. Koehn sums up the importance of appealing to the psychology of the buyer, when she writes, “Great brands are all about psychology, not only mass advertising or a neat logo.”

Selling to affluent men means using language they can relate to psychologically. This translates into talking in the language of the customer. If this is accomplished, the affluent male feels comfortable.

For example, if an affluent male customer enters a jewelry store, saying, “May I help you?” is a mistake. Why? Because most men do not enter a store to shop, they enter to buy. They know what they want to buy or at least think they do. Therefore, they do not require help. A more appropriate approach, psychologically speaking, would be to wait until the customer stops to look at something. Then say, “You certainly have excellent taste. This is our highest quality.” This approach opens the door to communication. By listening to verbal cues, the salesperson can then guide the customer in making a purchase.

When selling to affluent men, it is important to know the product. Men are impressed with someone who knows what they are talking about. Since men like to get right to the point, it is necessary to ask questions to provide excellent service. Be direct and specific. Only ask for the facts. Then proceed to the bottom line. Affluent male customers tend to tune out if too much background information is given.

Most men are interested in business, money, and sports. Therefore, using analogies and terminology from those areas provides psychological comfort. A confident tone appeals to the male psychology. For it establishes a business-like atmosphere, a zone with which affluent men are familiar.

Utilizing all these different aspects of appealing to the psychology of the affluent customer allows the individual or business to position their service or product so that it is perceived as something only the wealthy are able to afford, which provides the sense of exclusivity. Correct positioning of the service or product also provides affluent customers with the opportunity to affirm their place at the pinnacle of the wealth pyramid. Which means that when they buy the product not only do they feel entitled, but they own something that is scarce and is available to very few, which appeals to their vanity because it will announce to other affluent males that the buyer has the winning image.

When positioning is successful on a psychological level, the price of the product or service becomes merely a detail.

Positioning a product so that it appeals to the subconscious, emotional needs of the affluent man means imbuing the product with the idea of “want to have.” This type of positioning is accomplished through adroit marketing and packaging.

Create exclusivity by offering the product to a select group of affluent customers. Be sure they know only a few wealthy and discerning individuals received the offer. Assemble entitlement by emphasizing the peerless handmade quality of the product. Give birth to the idea of scarcity by limiting the availability of the product. (“Only 50 were made.”) Stress the “want to have” idea: “Imagine what your friends will say when they see you driving this car.”

For example, MV Agusta is an Italian company that manufactures premium motorcycles, which are called “superbikes.” The company makes motorcycles that appeal to only affluent men. One model sells for $25,000, which is twice the cost of its Japanese counterparts, and targets the moneyed affluent male customer who makes $200,000+ per year. The other model targets rich and ultra-rich men. This model sells for $120,000. It is designated the MV Agusta F4CC. Capable of going 195 mph, it comes with a Trussardi leather jacket, and a Girard-Perregaux watch worth 15,000 Euro. Only 100 of the F4CC were produced in 2009. All have been sold.

By means of positioning, which was accomplished by marketing and packaging designed to appeal to the idea of “want to have,” MV Agusta not only sold their superbikes, but they also enhanced their entire product line. For even the cheaper model is affordable to only a select group, who now dream of moving up to the $120,000 model. How did MV Agusta do it? By appealing to the psychology of their affluent customers. They created exclusivity, entitlement, and scarcity. All of which appealed to the quest for status. MV Agusta made their affluent male customers “want to have” a superbike.

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About Randall Radic

  • Josephine / Online Brander

    I recommend this blog/article be tightened up and given a less mundane title; the details are good.