What the Top Enders want, and what the Top Enders need

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That South Africa’s top end earners have massive spending power is beyond doubt. But what they’re spending that money on, and how to communicate with them, that was the question that Professor John Simpson of the Unilever Institute of Marketing at UCT, with RamsayMedia Research Solutions, effectively answered.

The TopEnd study – sponsored by Edgars, Clicks, Sanlam’s Glacier, and Growthpoint Properties – used quantitative and qualitative research done around South Africa that took over a year to complete. According to the South African Revenue Service (SARS), 900 000 adults earn over R30 000 p/m.

Researchers managed to connect with a large sample of those people.

–       Online quantitative survey with over 20 000 respondents

–       7 420 people living in households with income over R30 000 p/m

–       This included 1 200 people earning over R100 000 p/m

The TopEnders of South African society have:

–       Massive spending power

–       Spend over R300 billion annually

–       Are responsible for a third of all SA consumer spend

–       Contribute nearly half of all personal tax revenue

–       Yet, make up less than 10% of taxpayers

Speaking at the Cape Town presentation, Professor Simpson explained that wealth is a ‘journey’. “For some it’s rapid; for others it’s slow,” he said. “We were looking for an indication about what wealth is to people. Is it lifestyle? Much of it as the accumulation of assets.”

“Most people who are wealthy WANT to be wealthy,” he said. “Like the ‘igniters’ of our previous Wildfire study, they are driven to succeed. We also dispelled some myths, such as ‘wealth is white’. In fact, within the first category of our topenders, the ‘drivers’, 47 % are black.”

Most TopEnders live in Gauteng, about half those sampled, with 16% in the Western Cape and 13% in KwaZulu-Natal. There is a clear correlation between education and wealth, with 55% of the wealthiest segment having post graduate degrees. Three quarters of the respondents had a post-matric qualification. Simpson said if you’re wealthy, you are more likely to be working for yourself and have an entrepreneurial spirit. Wealthier individuals invest more than 10% of their earnings.

Racial composition of the segment is changing:

–       Nearly 40% of TopEnd are black

–       Around half of entry level TopEnders are black

–       Drops to 29% for the wealthiest segment

Simpson explained that within the sample researched, they segmented the respondents into three distinctive categories.

Drivers: Worth R100k to R1-million. 20% of TopEnd;
17% of spend;
Ave HH spend – R22 660; Black – 49%.

High flyers: Worth R1-milionl to R5-million. 51% of TopEnd.
46% of spend.
Ave HH spend – R26 850pm; Black – 33%

Astronauts: Worth over R5-million. 28% of TopEnd. 38% of spend.
Ave HH spend – R39 100. Black – 27%

Astronauts are floating. They can do what they like. Then there are the ‘scooters’ to the side. They want to be TopEnders. They model their behaviour on TopEnders. And they buy some of the stuff TopEnders do.

“Drivers,” he says, “are indebted. And they want to get rid of their debt. For high flyers, debt is a means to an end. Astronauts have little debt, but they use debt to accumulate more assets.” But the survey also reveals that half are “less inclined to use credit post-recession”.

Interestingly, said Simpson, the recession has changed the behavior of all segments. Over 80% say they are more cautious about spending and that their buying patterns have changed.

–       Nearly half are shopping around more post-recession

–       61% are buying fewer branded goods

–       Three quarters are buying movable assets less often (e.g. cars)

–       Only 11% have not cut back on luxuries


Simpson says that within the driver segment, there are two distinct types: newbies and settled. And this status drives their spending behaviour.


–       Function from a place of ‘deprivation’

–       Lack confidence about ‘wealthy’ behavior

–       Choose ‘familiar’ brands that demonstrate success

–       Less likely to experiment with brands


–       Acquire possessions to improve quality of life rather than for status – less conspicuous consumption

–       Characterised by caution and moderation

But drivers are open to advertising, the survey found. They still “trust advertising to a degree”. More black respondents (83%) claim to watch ads. They all believe the quality of ads has improved. They will shop around for bargains, and are the ‘mainstay’ of chain stores such as Woolworths and Edgars. Mr Price is also popular.

–       Still open to learning

–       Keenly scrutinise quality and value

–       Brands often an indicator of quality and success

And what do drivers do for fun?

–       Reading 59%

–       Movies and theatre (56%)

–       Music (54%)

–       Eating out (50%)

–       More likely than other segments to be out socialising


Black high flyers tend to focus on growing assets, buying more property and leaving a financial legacy while white respondents ‘attach more importance to retirement’. High flyers ‘peacock’, says Simpson. They’re in your face, screaming ‘look at me!’

The study found that financial institutions are NOT serving this segment well, with many respondents asking if they’ve done research into what they want.

For high flyers, the emphasis is all about building the right networks: “These are MY people”. The brand behaviour of successful, status-orientated friends becomes an important benchmark. They are prepared to pay high prices for high returns, but not for ‘undifferentiated products and services”.

High Flyers are willing to trade time and money to derive the maximum ‘status’ value from any purchase.

And what do high flyers want?

–       Acquire status possessions and consume conspicuously to:

–       Fill a ‘reputational void’

–       Separate themselves from the rung below

–       Close the gap between themselves and the astronauts

And what do high flyers do for fun?

–       Reading (53%)

–       Travel (48%)

–       Music (47%)

–       Movies and theatre (46%)

–       They are far more likely to
be DIYing or gardening than drivers

They let brands in on their own terms, and it’s what their friends say that is important. They enjoy humour and entertainment where ads are concerned, and an ad has value ‘if we laugh and talk about it”.


Astronauts are ‘content in the thought’ that  they are financially free and think ‘flashing it’ is unnecessary. Money has high value and that means you don’t ‘squander it’. Money is something to protect and money smarts is a key.


–       Protect own social status

–       Make concealed choices

–       Focus on experiences rather than things

–       Desire simplicity and authenticity

Astronauts believe they’re ‘unbrandable’ and that they’re not a target market for ads and marketing. They make their own decisions and believe they have nothing to prove.

–       Fierce rejection of conventional advertising

–       “I see the ad, then Google for more information”

–       “I would never watch TV without PVR because that would mean that I would have to sit through the ads”

–       “DStv catch up is the best thing that ever happened to TV

But…Astronauts are NOT above or beyond brands, the survey found.

–       From golf clubs to wrist watches, they purchase in a highly considered way and with great care

–       These decisions may not appear like brand choices but they are. The influences are subtle but nevertheless felt

And for fun?

–       Reading (55%)

–       Travel (54%)

–       Eating Out (51%)

–       Movies and theatre (43%)

–       More likely to be wine tasting and bird watching

All three segments list reading as their top activity. So TheMediaOnline asked RamsayMedia Research Solutions to give us insight into what publications TopEnders are reading.

The top 10 magazines:

CAR – 27%

Popular Mechanics – 23%

Getaway – 22%

Men’s Health – 20%

Garden and Home – 16%

You – 13%

National Geographic – 10%

Cosmo – 10%

Huisgenoot – 10%

Financial Mail – 9%

Top 10 newspapers:

Sunday Times – 45%

The Star – 24%

Beeld – 16%

Rapport – 14%

Business Day – 11%

Mail & Guardian – 9%

Cape Times – 9%

Sowetan – 8%

Cape Argus – 8%

Of course, among black readers there is a skew towards City Press, Sunday World and the Sowetan.

In terms of print vs, digital consumption, 46% of TopEnders read both in print and online, 39% read print only, and 11% read online only.

For a more on the body of research, contact: andrews@ramsaymedia.co.za