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The Consumer’s Social Class

19 January, 2016 - 17:13

A social class is a group of people who have the same social, economic, or educational status in society. 1To some degree, consumers in the same social class exhibit similar purchasing behavior. Have you ever been surprised to find out that someone you knew who was wealthy drove a beat-up old car or wore old clothes and shoes? If so, it was because the person, given his or her social class, was behaving “out of the norm” in terms of what you thought his or her purchasing behavior should be.

Table 3.1 Social Classes and Buying Patterns: An Example shows seven classes of American consumers along with the types of car brands they might buy. Keep in mind that the U.S. market is just a fraction of the world market. As we explained in Chapter 2 "Strategic Planning", to sustain their products, companies often launch their products in other parts of the world. The rise of the middle class in India and China is creating opportunities for many companies to successfully do this. For example, China has begun to overtake the United States as the world’s largest auto market. 2 

Table 3.1 Social Classes and Buying Patterns: An Example


Type of Car

Definition of Class

Upper-Upper Class


People with inherited wealth and aristocratic names (the Kennedys, Rothschilds, Windsors, etc.)

Lower-Upper Class


Professionals such as CEOs, doctors, and lawyers

Upper-Middle Class


College graduates and managers

Middle Class


Both white-collar and blue-collar workers

Working Class


Blue-collar workers

Lower but Not the Lowest

Used Vehicle

People who are working but not on welfare

Lowest Class

No vehicle

People on welfare


The makers of upscale brands in particular walk a fine line in terms of marketing to customers. On the one hand, they want their customer bases to be as large as possible. This is especially tempting in a recession when luxury buyers are harder to come by. On the other hand, if the companies create products the middle class can better afford, they risk “cheapening” their brands. That’s why, for example, Smart Cars, which are made by BMW, don’t have the BMW label on them. For a time, Tiffany’s sold a cheaper line of silver jewelry to a lot of customers. However, the company later worried that its reputation was being tarnished by the line. Keep in mind that a product’s price is to some extent determined by supply and demand. Luxury brands therefore try to keep the supply of their products in check so their prices remain high.

Some companies have managed to capture market share by introducing “lower echelon” brands without damaging their luxury brands. Johnnie Walker is an example. The company’s whiskeys come in bottles with red, green, blue, black, and gold labels. The blue label is the company’s best product. Every blue-label bottle has a serial number and is sold in a silk-lined box, accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. 3