A wealth of richness

By Heidi Dietzsch

Brand owners are always eager to know what makes the wealthy tick: the contest for this segment’s share of wallet is fierce.

With significant spending power and influence, and very often political clout, luxury brands in particular want to know how the rich spend their time and money and what their ideals and goals are.

Market researchers are regularly commissioned to do research on the wealthy segment. This type of research is, however, not easy and requires a different approach than that used for the mass market. The wealthy have significant psychological differences from other classes in how they view money and how they look at their relationship with society. The American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald very aptly said: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.

When researching the rich, probably the biggest challenge is to identify the right target market. People, especially the truly wealthy, are reluctant to disclose the extent of their wealth. Incentives such as vouchers, for instance, are often used to entice the mass market to participate in studies. These types of gimmicks are not effective in luring the rich.

Affluent people tend to be business decision makers and will therefore often be interested in the results of the research. Agreeing to share the research results with these respondents might be an effective type of incentive.

When affluent people do agree to participate in research, anonymity is usually of utmost importance. We often think that the rich are flashy and strive to advertise their wealth in many different ways. However, numerous studies have found quite the opposite. In fact, many are ambivalent about identifying as affluent and some find common stereotypes of the wealthy as being ostentatious, selfish, snobby and entitled as abhorrent.

Rachel Sherman, an associate professor of sociology and the author of Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, says her interviewees seldom refer to themselves as “rich” or “upper class” but rather use terms such as “comfortable” or “fortunate”. Sherman elaborates that one exceptionally wealthy women told her: “There’s nobody who knows how much we spend. You’re the only person I ever said those numbers to out loud.”

When Sherman asked another very affluent woman what her family’s assets were, she was taken aback. “No one’s ever asked me that, honestly,” she said. “No one asks that question.” For this woman, these types of questions were akin to a very private interrogation. Therefore, if researchers cannot guarantee absolute anonymity, it is very unlikely that the rich will provide any data.

Obviously, one cannot approach people on street corners and malls asking them if they are rich and willing to participate in research. Alternatively one can undertake a wide-ranging survey and then select only the wealthy respondents within the total response universe.

The wealthy segment is also reluctant to participate in telephonic research. We’ve found that a mix of online and face-to-face data collection methods are the best ways of reaching the wealthy. They are more inclined to fill in an online questionnaire which they can do anonymously and in their own time. This also allows respondents to take a break from the survey and continue at a more convenient time, something that telephonic interviews do not accommodate.

Using face-to face interviews to complement the online surveys can be extremely useful. These interviews are easier to secure when wealthy respondents have some kind of existing relationship with the interviewer, either socially or in business. It is important to establish a relationship of trust in order to succeed with these interviews, with anonymity being central.

Interviewers who conduct face-to-face interviews with the wealthy need to be well-trained, seasoned interviewers. They need to be professional and well-spoken with the ability to establish rapport with the interviewees. The interviewers should also be skilled in picking up on subtle cues and nuances. The wealthy segment often consists of high profile people who need to be treated as such.

However, the rich shouldn’t be seen as untouchable. Most want to be perceived as normal people who live responsible lives. Many also partake in worthy philanthropical endeavours and are eager to contribute positively to society. Supporting a research project can be a way for them to do so.

When processes are correctly followed, research on the wealthy segment can lead to a myriad of sought-after data that will be beneficial to various stakeholders. With extensive knowledge and experience of the financial needs and wealth management requirements of high net-worth individuals and ultra-high net-worth individuals, Intellidex is in an exceptional position to conduct this type of research.