The Core Value of Family
Number one in the Core Values Series about The New American Middle—The Center of Everything
April 30, 2021
What Is the New American Middle?
In a previous article, we explored a new consumer supergroup we call the New American Middle. While we think the name New American Middle (NAM) is a useful and apt description, it could be confused with assumptions related to geography (“Middle America”) or household income (middle class). Because of these limiting definitions, our first task is to unwind assumptions. In contrast to geographic or socioeconomic demographics, the NAM is defined by values. Once we understand the values and mindset of the NAM, geography and household income can be useful in further precision targeting, but they are the cart, not the horse.* The NAM presents an opportunity to activate at scale and to do so with fundamental relevancy. The secret to activating at scale is to understand the tectonic plate of values upon which this huge population builds their lives.
Driving strategy by concept is sometimes difficult for brands that focus their marketing on product benefits and competitive pricing. So, it bears repeating: to understand this new supergroup, we must understand their personal and cultural values, because values are what define their relationships with brands. Elsewhere, we have defined the “Core Four” values motivating the New American Middle. They are family, community, faith, and environmental stewardship. This article will introduce the complex value of family.
Recently, much has been written about the importance of values-driven branding, but not much has been written about what those values actually are and what role they play in the real lives of consumers. Brands that want to succeed with the NAM must understand the “Core Four” values, and then reflect them back to consumers in every aspect of their marketing. When brands reflect New American Middle values in relatable, meaningful, authentic ways, they will be rewarded with loyalty.
Setting Aside Existing Preconceptions
We all think we know how to define “family.” Most of those definitions are grounded in the experience of our own families. Hollywood also informs how we think about family, though it usually just reinforces existing stereotypes, especially stereotypes involving family units in immigrant or foreign communities (personally, I am not a big fan of the bumbling father stereotype, and since family is a “Core Four” NAM value, I suspect I am not the only one offended—perhaps there is a lesson here). The point is, as marketers, we must consider the fact that the audiences we seek to reach often come from, or are a part of, family units that are very different from our own. Relying only on personal experience or media stereotypes to understand multiple brand consumer groups has never been enough, and that is especially true now, when our society has witnessed so many fundamental changes and updates to traditional family structures.
Because of this, we encourage every reader to set aside their assumptions, biases, and stereotypes as we explore the core value of family.
“C’mon!” you might be saying. “What’s new about family? Psychology 101 taught us that physical and psychological needs are rooted in our sense of family. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I’ve got this!”
We agree that the core value of family is so basic, so foundational to how our society constructs itself, and that’s why it can sometimes be so hard to understand why it’s so important even when it is changing right in front of our eyes. Our own personal experiences, and the centrality of family in most of our lives, often limit our appreciation for what family means to other people. And how a brand expresses its understanding of family can easily be the difference between winning or losing. You may have noticed an increase in interracial and same-sex relationships in advertising. This follows recent gains in LGBTQ and racial inequities. Some messaging is a mere hint, while others provide more leadership and are more overt in addressing these larger social issues. The goal is to strike a balance between both social responsibility and leadership while respecting the sentiments of your target consumer audience.
We are living in a time when the traditional family structure is changing faster than at any other point in history. The traditional nuclear family in the US now represents just about 50% of all families. One hundred years ago, the nuclear family would have been closer to 80% of the population. Even the nuclear family is no longer so nuclear—there are countless variants even within the 50% of Americans that fit the nuclear family label. Thirty or so alternative family structures make up the next 40% of the total population. The remaining 10% of the population is made up of literally hundreds of family types. While perfectly acceptable to those living in these families, these new family structures may stretch some people’s notion of what family means. While the NAM population seems to be rooted in the more traditional, nuclear family models, the NAM mindset can be found in other family types too.
Targeting Opportunity: Precision and at Scale
The traditional Western family structure has allowed generations of Americans to grow up, leave home, and find success. But to recent arrivals to America, this model often appears more interested in stability and in retaining their relatively comfortable position in society. Newer American families have embraced risk and disruption by deciding to seek a new life here in the first place. A focus on carving out space and providing a better, safer life for their children is foremost in their minds in the hopes that comfort and stability will follow. These particular family motivators would naturally inform any campaign targeting these specific communities.
But, on an even larger scale, there are unexpected benefits to understanding what the value of family means to the NAM. By building a campaign based on the importance the NAM assigns to family, marketers can leverage the value-based brand messaging so that it’s relevant to the individual and yet retains that relevancy to the wider NAM audience.
Remember—every brand has product. There’s plenty of “stuff” out there with all sorts of exciting new features and benefits. But real brands must offer product that delivers more to the consumer than the time, capital, and materials that go into manufacturing that product. Intangible value is what brings exceptional return on a brand’s investment. Family is where we launch our lives and where we retreat when we need to regroup. It’s safe, encouraging, enabling. For the NAM, family is where an individual’s meaning is developed and where it is reinforced over and over again, and brands that learn to harness its power will be the brands that win.