Here we are in the midst of the new marketing revolution, witnessing the expansion of markets to meet the needs of increasingly niche consumer groups (the so-called ‘Long Tail’ effect), as well as having the ability to target increasingly empowered consumers using personalised behavioural or attitudinal targeting methodologies and yet we still have marketers referring to audiences in terms of ABC1s.
Just what does an ABC1 look like? If you know any could you please let me know as I really don’t believe they exist.
My opposition to socio-economic classification is on three grounds:
1) The terminology is often misunderstood:
I have witnessed too many instances where such terms as ABC1, C1C2 and even recently D1D2 (whatever that might mean) have been bandied around with a look of self-satisfaction, without any understanding as to what it actually means: many are ignorant that it is based purely on occupation of the head of the household rather than on income or social class; even more seem unaware that even the National Statistics Office moved away from using this form of Social Class back in 2001.
2) The terminology is outdated:
It not just that the folks at the National Statistics have moved on, but the whole basis that you can tell a lot about a person from their occupation is seriously outdated. Research recently undertaken by the Future Foundation on behalf of Liverpool Victoria suggests that by 2020 over half of Britain will consider themselves to be “middle class” and that there are over half a million Britons earning over £100k a year who consider themselves working class.
We have moved from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, with rising standards of living and average wealth, but with huge disparities in individual assets between the haves and have-nots. Yes – for some, class remains a state of mind, irrespective of income or occupation; however for others it is an utterly meaningless or even confusing concept that they are unable to get their head around (whom the Future Foundation call “the Muddle Class”).
Take one prime example of an individual currently enjoying the warm glow of the media spotlight – Ms Colleen McLoughlin.
The twenty year old’s father is a bricklayer – and so by the traditional classification based on the head of the household, Colleen would be classed as a “skilled working class” C2. However, having recently moved in with her fiancé Wayne, assuming her earnings haven’t yet topped his, she would have moved up to being a C1 based on her husband’s skills as a manual worker (there’s no classification for those who work with their feet). And yet, as we know Colleen is a multi-million pound earner in her own right, a prolific shopper for luxury goods, a frequent first class flyer who is also engaged in charity activities.
A simple C1 or C2 classification really provides no clarity here.
3) It promotes lazy thinking:
Finally, and in fact my main point, is that describing an audience by their Social Class – whether A, B, C1, C2, D or E actually tells us very little about them. Of much greater interest would to define their relationship with the product, service or organisation of interest: are they customers, consumers, prospects, collectors, hoarders, disposers, promoters, users, dismissives or addicts? Alternatively, what about their relationships with other consumers: are they promoters, knowledge seekers or connectors. Or even better, what about their personality type or even better their social aspirations? If you don’t know the answer, then that suggests a need to some research or analysis to under your audience better.
If time or budget doesn’t permit any analysis, then make a guess as to how to describe the audience. Let’s face it, it won’t be any worse than describing them as an ABC1.