Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup visited over 30 households in the US, Sweden, and Turkey, belonging to members of the urban middle class. She interviewed individuals in their homes, and she spent a great deal of time with them in their everyday lives to get a sense of their consumption in terms of status.
Consumers in the different local cultures furnished their homes in various styles in purely material terms, but they all used the same cardinal themes in their way of speaking about what was regarded as lending these styles high or low status. Words like “authenticity,” “individuality,” and “simplicity” were superordinated and ranked highest in terms of status. In other words, a similar global form of thought and expression was used, but it was given differing material content.
For example, something typically authentic might be represented by a piece of hard-to-get Danish furniture in a Swedish home, while it might be a flea market bargain in dark colonial style in the American house. In both cases, however, what was stressed as its foremost quality was its “authenticity,” since it was a departure from the mass commercialism of global brands and therefore also lived up to the need for “individuality” (and therefore brought high status). In Turkey, a home furnished with IKEA items showed that you consume in an individualistic way by daring to break with the older generation?s traditional way of furnishing, since several pieces of furniture that are obligatory items in the classical Turkish home are not available in an IKEA arrangement.
This means that companies should make us of a glocal strategy, a mixture of standardization and local adaptation in their marketing, according to Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup.
?Companies should standardize their basic communicative themes behind their concepts, offers, products, and advertising, but they should think of variants to adapt the material content in their pictures and stores. For example, an IKEA arrangement in Philadelphia can be accented by a flea market bargain that cuts across the style, and in Istanbul the lack of the obligatory classics can be made even more apparent by using before-and-after pictures.
Conspicuous status consumption is no longer the same as luxury consumption. Todays large and growing middle class communicates status in myriad subtle ways, and, what´s more, this often happens unconsciously. This makes it more difficult to analyze the consumer market today, compared to 20 years ago when the consumption techniques were not as sophisticated.
– Companies therefore need to be better at analyzing their consumer markets according to how consumers perceive their social status, rather than in terms of demographics or other hard facts such as income, age, and address. The status motive does steer consumption, but it is hard to discern today, when mass producers like IKEA make it possible for “everyone” to purchase design, says Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup.
She maintains that the middle class is struggling with the sense of disarray that comes from the fact that our social status today is not a given but rather something dynamic and malleable. This was shown, for example, in the study in the various ways of consuming style, where those who dramatically moved up and down the status hierarchies were more anxious consumers than those who were stable. The anxious consumers focused more on what was the “right” or “wrong” style by sticking to brand names approved by authorities, while the stable consumers were guided more by political or ideological notions.
These experiences and consumption techniques can also be translated into concept development and marketing in the media and store displays in line with themes that Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup introduces in her dissertation.
Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup will defend her dissertation Status Spotting “A Consumer Cultural Exploration into Ordinary Status Consumption of “Home” and Home Aesthetics” at the School of Economics and Management, Lund University, on September 5.