The New American Middle—The Value of Community

Number two in the Core Values Series about The New American Middle—The Center of Everything

November 17, 2021

people in a cafe
community is strength outdoor sign

Introduction—What Is the New American Middle?

If you are unfamiliar with the term New American Middle (NAM), and you sell to what might be described as “Middle America,” then you will want to read on. What was once referred to as Middle America has morphed into a more diverse and complex group of consumers. Surprisingly, this mix of people is also unified by common underlying values and sense of personal empowerment

This article will introduce the NAM value of Community. Elsewhere, we have defined the Core 4 Values motivating the New American Middle. They are Family, Community, Faith, and Environmental Stewardship. The NAM also reacts negatively toward the perceived intrusion by big national influences (too big to fail, too big to care). We recommend reading this series as a precursor to this one.

Unlike previous conceptions of Middle America that equated socioeconomic class to places like the Midwest, or “the heartland,” this new audience isn’t solely defined by income or geography. The NAM is a mindset based on a set of values. The people who make up the NAM are least likely to live in a large city, or in the most rural locations. But it is an error to assume they live in just the traditional geographic “heartland.” This group is defined by belief, not location. One of the first tasks we must all face is to dismantle our assumptions toward this group. As marketers, it is worth the work to do so since we believe the NAM exceeds 50 percent of the US population. That’s right. Most of your customers are in the NAM, and you don’t yet know what that means. Emphasis on yet. Read on.

Recently, much has been written about the importance of values-driven branding. Understanding the NAM is understanding the values that matter most to them. Brands that want to succeed with this supergroup must understand what those values are. Authentically reflecting these values through brand expression is one big step toward success.

Representing over 50 percent of the US population means the NAM represents an enormous pool of purchasing power. Yes. There are plenty of products they buy on price or convenience alone. Yet our recent research has shown that when price is not the deciding factor, product quality is. We believe it is an error to think these Americans are looking merely for lowest price. Everyone knows what happens when price is all there is to say about a product: the pricing death spiral. Business has always been pressured to slash their price to win. We can blame the most recent pressures to the Amazon-ation of the economy. As they say, either we stand for something or we’ll fall for anything. Brands without a strong Why and who do not know their consumers have only themselves to blame for falling profits. Understanding the NAM enables marketers to more accurately target and speak to their customers and better defend pricing and profits. If there is nothing else to talk about than price, then your product is just one among many—and you’ve got yourself a commodity.

Here’s what our research revealed is important to consumers:

  • For product benefits that drive purchase, quality (69.2 percent), time savings (59.3 percent), and cost reduction (49.5 percent) were the top three selected options.
  • 36.9 percent of respondents stated it was extremely or very important to them that brands take a stand for something.
  • When we asked respondents to rank the importance of several brand characteristics that factor into purchase decisions, “brand is transparent” (38.7 percent), “brand is authentic” (25.7 percent), and “brand has American-made products” (20.8 percent) were the top three selections.
  • When we asked respondents to select the top three reasons why brands have earned their loyalty in the past, “quality of products” (83.6 percent), “great customer service” (60.2 percent), and “craftsmanship of product” (42.4 percent) were the top three selected.

It is easy enough for a beleaguered category manager to believe it is all about lowest price as they try and sell poorly branded, undifferentiated products, or compete with desperate foreign copycat imports. And it is true that the NAM consumer doesn’t want to pay more than they have to. But they also want more than just “product.” And yeah, values can be compromised when a deal is dangled up front or when Amazon convenience wins the day (we all have those boxes stacked in our garages), but low price and convenience are not the whole story.

boxed water is better
wrapped green beans

Take a look at these telling facts:

  • Have you noticed the increase in the buy local movement? Take a look at the “Small Unites” campaign of 2020.
  • The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported that 82 percent of Canadians “worry their favorite local business will disappear,” and 95 percent “believe supporting small business is key to keeping our economy healthy.”
  • Have you heard of Not Amazon? It’s a combo twofer, with Community and anti-Big NAM values coming together to snub a nose at Amazon. Dozens of other such efforts are springing up.
  • Farm to fork. Farmers markets. Patio gardens. Canning supplies are in short supply. We want to know where our food comes from. And what about the Beef Council? It’s time to require source and country of origin for labeling. Transparency? Hey! Beef-council! Haven’t you noticed the decline in beef sales?
  • Ugly produce. So what if the carrot is imperfect or a bug took a bite out of the cabbage. Wash the misfits—don’t waste them. A blemish on an apple is the new “red badge of courage.” (I know this cultural reference has aged out.)
  • Social justice movements: The most recent efforts to achieve new levels of social justice were played out in local settings, not just in Washington, DC. People are reacting where they live and doing it in person.
  • We just don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. When the pandemic restrictions are lifted, we all rushed back out into the community.

The NAM is not just interested in local issues—the NAM is also very well informed. What can any of us do about global issues except apply them where we are? Does local activation seem too small-minded or insignificant? Well, if change is going to take place on a large scale, it has to start from the ground up, and the NAM is all about grass roots up. The motto of the NAM might be “If everyone swept in front of their own door, the whole world would be clean.” That might seem provincial, but only if seen from the top down. The NAM does not respond well to “top-down big” influences. Grassroots up is where the NAM lives.

group of women outside on stairs

Community—a New Definition

In the past, the word community has often been used to describe a geography—a neighborhood, a physical social group, perhaps a group with a wider professional or interest base. These communities were based on face-to-face interactions—local, interest-based events, or professional gatherings, such as trade shows or conferences. The requirement for physical proximity created limitations to how much community influenced our lives. In the past, your community was where you were born or live or work. But there is a flip side to this truth. Today, we choose our own communities. Today, marketers must provide dimension to the concept of community if they are going to engage with their customers.

While face-to-face is the essential element of community, we now live in a digital age, where community can be anyplace you find other members of your tribe of interest. Instant access to social media groups now connects us with others of similar interests. In order to redefine what “community” means, we must layer in these virtual communities.

 

 

Stay tuned for part two, where we go in-depth into what the concept of Community means to the New American Middle consumer.
 
 
Images: Misfits Market Instagram,
 
By Britton Marketing Design Group & (B)RIGHT Brand Performance Group
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