The Next Big Market Opportunity (Meet the HENRYs)
Pam Danziger has spent years researching the 37-million households that will drive disposable income spending in the US market for decades to come: the HENRYs or High Earners Not Rich Yet.
Pamela N. Danziger
Speaker, author and market researcher Pamela N. Danziger (Pam) is internationally recognized for her expertise on the world’s most influential consumers: the American Affluent, including the HENRYs (high-earners-not-rich-yet).
As founder of Unity Marketing, Pam’s research provides brands with actionable insights into the minds of their most profitable customers. She is also a principal at , which offers focused and effective consulting, training and mentorship in retail management, marketing, sales and operations.
Pam is a member of the renowned Leaders in Luxury + Design panel recognized by The Home Trust International. She received the Global Luxury Award for top luxury industry achievers which was presented at the Global Luxury Forum in 2007. She was named to Luxury Daily’s Luxury Women to Watch in 2013. She is a member of Jim Blasingame: The Small Business Advocate’s Brain Trust and a contributing columnist for The Robin Report and Forbes.com.
A prolific writer and blogger, Pam is the author of nine books, including her latest Meet the HENRYs: Millennials that Matter Most to Luxury Brands.
HENRYs Market Extra
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Brandon: Pam Danziger has spent years researching the 37 million households set to drive disposable income in the US market for decades to come. These are the HENRYs – High Earners Not Rich Yet. In today’s podcast we’ll discuss the easy way to spot a HENRY. In fact, 80% of them can be spotted by this common demographic marker. We’ll talk about what brands need to do in order to earn street cred with this market, and how to make sense of the paradox that HENRYs are both value shoppers and luxury consumers at the same time. If you haven’t spent much time with this market you’re in for a treat, so let’s jump on in.
Brandon: Pam, to kick things off, what are the primary considerations a HENRY has before buying things?
Pam: That is a very complex question. I think the most important thing we really need to understand is who the HENRYs are, why and how they buy, and then why they buy.
When we talk about HENRYs I like to talk about the demographics, because HENRYs are the High Earners Not Rich Yet. They’re defined as people with incomes from $100,000 and above, and the fact is that is the fastest-growing segment, basically the only growing household segment. They increased from 2012 to 2017 by 26%, so there’s roughly 37 million households that fall into the affluent demographic, and they are so important to understand when we’re thinking about any kind of discretionary purchase.
When it comes to purchase behavior and how they are making purchases, I was talking to a person yesterday and she said – and I thought it was really great – that digital now is the primary marketing channel for all consumers, so we really have to think about the opportunity and look at how we integrate digital with in-store experiences.
The motivations why people buy is the most important thing when it comes to discretionary purchases. What are the purchasing considerations? It’s the old things like price and the idea of the product features and benefits, but today it’s much more around experiences. It’s elevated from the 4 Ps of marketing – product, price, promotion, and placement – to the four Es, which are the experiences, and exchange is the new price. It’s all about the experiences for the customer, what kinds of problems you solve for the customer and how you meet that need.
Brandon: You mentioned before one of the 4 E’s, that exchange is the new price. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Pam: Now lots of people are discounting and that has become the race to the bottom, as far as brands are concerned. Exchange is really how you add value to the whole proposition. When we talk about luxury, when we talk about discretionary purchases, when we talk about fashion, it’s those extra features, like someone helped you in the dressing room, will actually interact with you, help you, get you things to try on, people who really meet a greater need.
I know that you’re very interested in the intimates category. I look at ThirdLove as being a perfect example of a 4 E’s kind of marketer because they’ve identified a need, which is bras that don’t fit, bras that are uncomfortable. They meet the customer digitally. They created a quiz. Again, the idea of fitting a bra online without someone to do the measurements is a unique opportunity, but it works and it works very well. And then of course the price. The prices are very reasonable, but they certainly aren’t the cheapest bras or cheapest intimates in the marketplace.
Brandon: That’s very interesting. Going back to the bigger picture of the High Earners Not Rich Yet, what differentiates them from some of the other markets, both in terms of age for sure, as well as the traditional discount, mass, premium, and luxury segments?
Pam: We’re really talking about a consumer marketplace versus sort of a retail business marketplace. The fact is HENRYs buy high, HENRYs buy low, and they are concerned about price. If they can buy something for less they will, without a doubt, because they know that the more that they save on those commodity kinds of purchases, those need-based purchases, the more money they have to spend on the discretionary purchases, the more upscale purchases, so they can live a couple rungs up the income ladder simply by being very careful and cautious kinds of consumers.
When they’re looking for relationships with brands it really is around trust. They’re very responsible. They’re very thoughtful about developing relationships with a brand, and that’s one of the reasons that they’re very socially engaged. They’re looking for brands that they can trust, not just ones that are trying to take their money.
Brandon: Focusing on the luxury segment for a moment, and the idea of social responsibility, obviously there are certain companies that have had a rough go recently when it comes to consumer perception – Gucci’s blackface, for example, or Burberry’s noose runway show last year, or to a certain degree within the premium market the Victoria’s Secret tone-deaf response to the demands from consumers for more diversity in its fashion show.
Is this something the HENRYs really care about as a purchasing decision, as a sort of ethos? Or is it window dressing to something more fundamental in your mind?
Pam: I think it is very much fundamental to the mindset of consumers today. Again, it’s not just HENRYs, it’s everybody. We are very in-tune now with the social issue questions. A lot of the luxury brands are now saying they’re making efforts towards diversity – hiring more diverse people, different cultures, different points of view, different sexual orientations and so on – but to me that’s really about numbers on a chart. It’s really not about fundamentally changing the whole culture of the brand. It seems to me that it’s not just hiring diversity but it’s listening to the diverse points of view and really paying attention to them. I think in that respect the decision makers in luxury brands are really not listening.
For example, Dolce and Gabbana ran a video ad, a pizza chopstick ad, and they had it translated it into Mandarin. They had at least one person who was embedded in the culture who was involved, but they didn’t listen apparently and, as I say, they offended an entire culture. So it’s really not about hiring more people, but it’s really about listening and really understanding today that the consumer is in charge.
The culture of luxury brands is like, “We are the leaders. We are the ones that know best. We’re going to be out there pushing the envelope,” but today the consumer is in control and you really face a terrible backlash now due to social media, and you have to be sensitive to that.
Brandon: Do you think that on some sort of basic level when it comes to the HENRYs making their purchasing decisions, are they making it because of that social responsibility, because of the cultural fit? Is that the primary reason for purchasing an item, or is that more that they associate with it, they affiliate with it, they identify with it, but they’re buying because of something else? They’re buying because of aspiration or they’re buying because of some other factor.
Pam: That is a very good question, and the simple fact is that those social responsibilities and environmental responsibilities – ultimately we need to tell new brand stories that really resonate with this younger HENRY mindset.
When I look at a brand like Canada Goose, they have the luxury performance. Being from Canada you know that they started serving lumberjacks and people in the forestry business in the far north in Canada, and it’s become now a new luxury streetwear brand for upwardly-mobile millennials who need to stay warm. They’ve been able to take that message of authenticity, take that message of their roots, of performance, and translate it into a luxury value that really resonates with the consumers.
A brand that I think is really off is Tiffany. Tiffany has refused to go into the lab-grown diamond business, which really is the most responsible way to have the bling of the diamond without raping and pillaging the environment.
Tiffany has made noise about, “We’re going to track, we’re going to report where our diamonds come from,” but the simple fact is it doesn’t ring true to millennial HENRYs because no matter how responsibly a mined diamond is sourced, it still comes from the earth and a very big environmental price has been paid.
I think that’s an example of a brand that is really off-message for the millennials, and I suspect it will ultimately change because they’re not doing as well as they would like. They just can’t keep going on the heritage of their brand anymore. They’ve really got to morph and resonate with the new values of these young HENRYs.
Brandon: So basically if I understand that correctly, you’re effectively saying that in the case of Tiffany, because of their refusal to change they’re turning off the people who will become their best clients over the next 20-30 years.
Pam: There’s no question about that, and it’s a painful reality and one that they really haven’t stepped up to. When I look at the HENRYs in particular and their relationship with luxury brands, one of the key distinctives is they really are not into status and exclusivity. They don’t need to buy a brand to prove that they’ve made it, to prove that they are somebody. They are buying a brand because it has true value.
A very interesting comment that I got in research I was doing with millennial HENRYs was from a young man who was a lawyer working in a New York City law firm. He says all the gray-haired lawyers in their practice come in with their Rolexes and so on, and that’s their status symbol watch. He said, “My status symbol watch is my $100 Timex Triathlon watch because it shows the kind of person I am – a triathlete. It shows who I am, so it’s luxury on the inside.” It’s luxury in what it means to him, not luxury as it means to other people.
When we look at this sort of new idea of anti-status luxury, I like to think of luxury as now it’s more about being elusive rather than exclusive. We think about brands like Mini Cooper versus a Mercedes, or a Filson messenger bag versus a Louis Vuitton bag or even Everlane. Everlane has a leather tote bag that looks very similar to the Louis Vuitton canvas one, but it costs $175 versus a Louis Vuitton tote with all the logo treatment on it and canvas treatment on it for $3,000. They’re really looking for real value in the products that they buy. They’re willing to spend, but only if the values are there.
Brandon: So to summarize, a lot has changed between the generations and the HENRYs. The millennials obviously is a general market, and in our conversation today the HENRYs in particular are very different than the Baby Boomers and the Generation X’ers.
In your mind, what are some of the major opportunities? In so much chaos, where are the opportunities for brands to appeal to this group?
Pam: The opportunities are very big when it comes to marketing and understanding the HENRYs. First of all, it takes research. It takes sitting down with people, not relying just on big data or what’s going across on all the social media feeds about your brand and what people are saying about you. You really need to sit and talk to them.
The really interesting thing about the affluent HENRYs is that they’re so easy to identify, because the higher earners for the future are going to be young people who are college graduates who have advanced degrees. You can identify them simply by their education.
It’s interesting that only about a third of U.S. households are led by someone with a college education overall. For HENRYs, more like 80% of them have college degrees or higher, so you can identify them and you can find them. Then as a company, as a brand, you really need to understand. You’ve got to think forward and you’ve got to project forward.
BDO just did a recent study of retail executives and divided the groups and found some retailers were what they would call Thrivers. They are going to thrive in the future versus Survivors who are simply maintaining the status quo. The Thrivers are forward-thinking. They’re investing in strategic planning. They are very heavily invested in technology and they’re realistic about the problems and the challenges ahead, the realities.
Survivors on the other hand are really looking just toward the next quarter. They’re not looking out over the horizon. They are slow adopters to technology and basically they’re blissfully unaware of the dangers that are ahead. Essentially Thrivers see the glass as half-empty, while Survivors see the glass as half-full.
As humans, we’re more motivated by fear of losing than a desire or drive for gain. If I look at the Thrivers, they have that fear motivation but at the same time they’re not afraid to take risks and respond to that fear. I think we need to fashion ourselves more as Thrivers, which is really looking to the future. The future is millennials.
I don’t care if you’re selling low-end or high-end, the future is the high-spending consumers, the ones who have more money. The HENRYs basically are the biggest marketplace and the one that allows for the most growth. They represent about 24-25% of all U.S. households, but account for 40% of all spending.
On the other hand, the Ultra-Affluents, people with incomes of $250,000 and above, represent about 5% of U.S. households, but only account for about 10% of the spending, so the HENRYs are where the bulk of the spending power is in the United States marketplace, particularly for fashion or any kind of discretionary purchase.
Brandon: For these Thrivers, what are some of the opportunities that they’re exploiting right now in the marketplace? Are there any specific tactics that they’re implementing that are allowing them to tap into this market, connect with this market, and ultimately capture some of that spending?
Pam: I look at companies like Target. I look at companies like Walmart. They are really doing dramatically different and new things to appeal to the HENRYs, high earners, because they haven’t turned their back on the fact that they need to grow with the more affluent consumer marketplace.
They understand that the internet is the channel of the future. Their stores are basically going to provide a more supporting role as opposed to a leading role in terms of retail in the future. Both of those brands are perfect examples of ones that I think are doing a very good job targeting millennial younger HENRYs, with the idea that they will grow their business by growing connection with those younger consumers.
Brandon: On the flip side then, what are the consequences that brands are going to face if they don’t adapt to this market?
Pam: I think the #1 danger is simply becoming irrelevant. There are so many companies out there, so many brands, so many opportunities to buy, that if you just sort of sit on your hands and think that everything’s rosy and the consumer retail market is growing 5% a year, that is the real danger.
Victoria’s Secret I think is a perfect example of a brand that should have been out in front, that should have understood, but has been held back by old ideas. They’ve become irrelevant, simply not understanding what women want today, what women value today, and ignoring that.
Brandon: Speaking of brands, it’s always great to study successful brands to know what they’re doing, and unsuccessful brands to know what to avoid. Why don’t we start with what brands are doing really, really well at reaching HENRYs and connecting with them? What specific tactics and what strategies?
Pam: I think Walmart is a good example. I just did a new promotion with Bobbi Brown, who is an icon in the beauty business. She is now launching a product line exclusively with Walmart in the beauty department. It’s not cosmetics but it’s an ingestible beauty product brand. Her whole belief and her whole value system is that beauty starts on the inside. If you don’t have health, you don’t have vitality, you don’t have glow, then no matter how much make-up you apply you’ll never be beautiful.
I think that’s an example of a brand that is doing so well in understanding the future. Walmart bought Bare Necessities, which is a digital lingerie brand, and Bonobos, a leading-edge digital native brand, and Eloquii, which is the brand of fashion for plus-size women.
Gucci is a brand that I greatly admire. We know that they made a misstep with the lollygag sweater, but basically they’ve tuned into the idea and the concept of millennials, putting a millennial in charge of the brand, designing for the brand, and really the CEO giving him free rein to explore and find the connection with the young consumers, understanding that digital is a very important channel, not just the runway and the stores.
There are tremendous opportunities for brands. I think it’s really a matter of doing your research to understand what these younger affluent people are looking for, and then translating that into products and services, which is very important, to meet those needs.
Brandon: What about brands that have attempted to connect with the HENRYs, but haven’t been as successful as they had hoped?
Pam: Tiffany is an example of that. This Christmas they invested a lot of money in a new video ad, sort of an Alice in Wonderful kind of idea, going behind in the workshop to sort of show how Tiffany creates its magic.
I think that was visually interesting but it didn’t seem to really turn the needle for that brand, because again I think they’re too stuck in who they were and who Tiffany is, not who they should be for the consumer that they are targeting.
Another area that I think is very dangerous, particularly for luxury brands, is the streetwear trend. It’s almost like they’re descending from the high road down into sort of the street, and I think that’s a very dangerous place to be. Luxury brands, what made them great and what will keep them great is by following good taste, being tasteful and elegant and understanding that good taste never goes out of style.
Karl Lagerfeld said, “Trendy is the last stage before tacky,” and I couldn’t agree with him more. I think the streetwear trend which we’re seeing – Louis Vuitton is dabbling with it, and Gucci to a certain extent, and many of these luxury brands are – I think it’s a very dangerous place to play.
Brandon: Pam, could you expand a little bit on your concept of the four E’s?
Pam: In 2013 the American Marketing Association changed the definition of marketing, but it seems to me that many marketers didn’t ever get that memo. The old ideas of the 4 P’s, which is product, price, promotion, and placement, has now been replaced by a focus on value to the customer, as opposed to just selling them things or selling them services. Now experiences becomes the new product. It’s all about the experiences, the way you interact with the consumer throughout their buying journey.
Today everybody talks about the experiential economy. People aren’t buying products, they really are looking to buy experiences, so you have to translate the products that you’re selling ultimately into an experience for the consumer. In fashion that’s fairly easy to do because a woman puts on a new dress, puts on a new bra, puts on a new pair of shoes and she can transform herself and that becomes the experience.
Also then we think about place. The old idea of place now becomes everyplace, which means that you really have to meet the consumer everywhere they’re looking for you – digitally, socially, as well as in stores – so that has really transformed.
We talked about price. Exchange is the new price and that is really about what values, in addition to just the price you’re charging, are you delivering to the consumer.
The last one is promotion. The old promotion now has become evangelism. That’s really about engaging with consumers and getting them to share your message. It doesn’t just have to be social media, but most of the word-of-mouth is coming from people talking face-to-face. You really need to have a word-of-mouth program and plan that isn’t just Facebook and Instagram, but also includes ways of engaging with the customers to get them to share, talk, and really think about you. Evangelism is about pulling the consumer in, as opposed to just pushing promotional messages out.
Brandon: Very good. We’ve pretty much run out of time, and that was a great way to end the conversation, I believe. I’d like to take a moment and thank you very much. Could you tell our listeners about your new book that came out a couple months ago?
Pam: My book is called Meet the HENRYs: The Millennials that Matter Most for Luxury Brands. It’s particularly the millennials that are going to be the future for every brand, and now the leading edge of that generation is 37 years old so they are really moving.
Brandon: Pam, I would like to thank you. That was a great interview.
Pam: Thank you very much for inviting me.