The drive to get ahead. To do better – than the rest, than yourself. To become a better person, and make sure everyone sees it. That impulse is as old as human nature, and ultimately driven by the eternal quest for social status. And it’s not going away.

Indeed, in 2017 the global aspiration race is only a fraction of the size it will be in the coming decades. That’s because of the rapid emergence of a truly global middle class: people across the globe whose basic needs are met and who will turn their attention to the status race. And the majority of people joining this new middle class? Hundreds of millions of newly-affluent consumers in China and India.

The Growth of a Truly Global Middle Class



In 2017 the status race isn’t just becoming bigger – it’s also becoming more intense. One big driver here? A global brain that ensures that every connected person has an Instagram-window on the most desirable lifestyles on the planet. Comparison is the engine of ambition – and now all 2.5 billion people with a smartphone can see that 19-year-old Kylie Jenner just bought her fourth mansion ;)

Indeed, the emergence of this kind of global lifestyle comparison has given rise to a momentous shift. While past studies famously found that poor countries were on average just as happy as rich countries, today that is no longer true. More recent studies, including a 2014 study by Pew, find that happiness now does strongly correlate with national GDP.

One reason? Connected consumers in less affluent countries have stopped comparing themselves with their neighbours and started comparing themselves with the richest people on Earth. From Boston to Beijing to Bogotá, the aspirations of the global middle class are increasingly converging around a shared vision of the best lifestyles on the planet.


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The Fragmenting Statusphere

In affluent markets especially the status race isn’t just intensifying – it’s morphing into something new. For millions in these markets, symbols of material wealth just don’t carry the status weight they once did. The result? Status is shifting away from markers of material wealth – what I have – and becoming about who I am as a person. That shift has been massively amplified by social media, which has turned personal achievement into an instantly shareable currency.

That means a status race to prove I am:

Healthier. In 2017, that means healthy in the broadest sense: physically, mentally, emotionally.

Smarter. Think the acquisition and display of new knowledge, skills and expertise. ‘What, this authentic Vietnamese/Colombian/Ethiopian dish? I just knocked it up in a spare moment.’

More creative. Thanks to the internet, creative people can share their work with a global audience. And besides, online everyone can be a creator. And global fame is only one successful meme away.

More connected. Knowing the right people, having the most followers, getting the most likes, and on and on…

More entrepreneurial. Innovation has been democratized, and startup culture has turned entrepreneurs into the new rockstars.

…and that’s just the start! And why shouldn’t people expect as much, given the wealth of new tools, platforms, and ways to connect to needed information, ideas and people?

In 2017, excellence has been democratized. Millions expect as standard the ability to start something, become world class, and share what they’ve done with the world.

One glimpse? Remember 28-year-old Kenyan Julius Yego, who taught himself to throw a javelin using just YouTube videos – and then became world champion. It’s that sense of limitless opportunity that lies behind StartUp Britain reporting that a record 80 businesses per hour were founded in the UK in 2016.

And last, remember those who currently feel left out of the status race, and left out of the affluence created by globalization. They too have sky-high, Instagram-fueled expectations. In 2016, they roared. They want an equal shot at material success and status.

Ready to fuel 2017’s race for status? First, take inspiration from these brands and startups already grounding their innovation in the truth that is aspiration.


Innovation Examples

Featuring Tiger Beer, Dyson, Telefônica Vivo and more…

Take Action

The intensification of the status race – and its shapeshifting to encompass ever more about who I am as a person – is an epic direction of travel that is not going away.

The key question, then, for brands? How can you ground your next product, service, campaign or business model in this powerful truth?

Start your next team planning session with this powerful question: where does our organizational expertise overlap with the status race that our customers are running? In other words, where are we best placed to help our customers be the people that they want to be?

Whether it’s economic, physical, spiritual, social or creative aspiration you’re helping with, remember, it’s about the individual you’re speaking to, not your brand. Indeed, sometimes the most powerful answers lie in connecting people to each other, not to you.