The masses follow the wealthy

Published on Dec 10, 2019

Last update: Dec 13, 2019

A product development strategy

One of the things that’s caught my attention recently is how over time the masses try their best to follow the wealthy. Our cultural and instinctual drive for status often leads us to imitate behaviors in order to show the world and ourselves which social class we fit into.

Take land, for example. I’ve personally realized how much of an expense owning property is. It’s not a good investment. And it’s brings with it a lot of stress, responsibility, immobility, and financial risk. And despite this, the masses have been obsessed with owning land since the end of fiefdoms.

Eating out fits into this bucket as well. People say dining at restaurants is less work than eating at home, but I’d bet that if you actually measure the time you spend driving to/from the restaurant, waiting to be seated, waiting for you food, waiting for you check, etc. that you could have easily cooked a meal at home and cleaned up. People say you can talk and socialize more at a restaurant, but I don’t think that’s true. I’ve had more great conversations while cooking or eating at home than I have at loud restaurants. Sure there’s some utility from eating out (maybe you want to eat different food than what you know how to cook), but I think a lot of it is driven by a desire for status.

And what do you need to eat out? Nice clothes. When you think about it, a suit has nothing that’s inherently better than a pair of sweatpants. The distinction is purely cultural.

If you’re looking for modern examples, I’d say travel fits the bill. Wealthy people used to travel when it would take months to get between continents. Now airline travel is so cheap, travel and “experiences” have become the ultimate status symbol.

That brings up the question: what do the wealthy do now that the masses want to adopt?

The first thing that comes to mind is pet travel. Wealthy people have taken their dogs to high-end restaurants, on airplanes, etc. for decades. I see this shift starting to take place and I think there is enormous opportunity for companies that help with the transition. What if there was some type of certification system that allowed qualified dogs to go more places without people needing to pretend to need emotional-support animals? The fact that so many people are breaking this rule shows how strong the demand is.

Another example are vacation homes. It’s the next level of land ownership. Time shares tried to fix our itch to feel rich, but I think they fell short. Now with the likes of Airbnb, the bar is much lower for owning a vacation home. You don’t have to let it sit dormant, you can make money renting it out.

Enabling the masses to feel rich is a good strategy for developing products. It’s not the only strategy, so use it sparingly.

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