Across the ages, human beings have had different markers for success and to indicate their levels of status.
In the late Middle Ages, for example, the Crackowe – a long pointed shoe with a tip of anywhere between 16cm and 60cm – was a powerful status symbol that indicated the wealth of its wearer.
In the 17th and 18th centuries pineapples were an important status symbol. The equivalent value of a homegrown pineapple would be R100,000, so these weren’t even eaten – they were put on display for months, irrelevant that they began rotting.
Status symbols have evolved since then (thank goodness!) and in modern times are more along the lines of the neighbourhood in which you live, the car you drive, and the school your kids go to.
These are some of the current status symbols that are seen to elevate your reputation.
The car you drive and your insurance
Before you say “cars have always been a status symbol”, it’s not just about driving a fancy brand, or how big your car is. The type of car you drive shows the kind of person you are and what you do. It’s a signal of more than your bank balance – but also your lifestyle, your priorities, and the level you’ve reached in life.
For example, a man driving a big Land Rover 4×4 indicates that you’re a rugged, outdoors-type, who is self-sufficient and can stand his ground in any situation. Meanwhile driving a slick Mercedes AMG GT 63 S E could indicate that you’re a high-powered corporate executive.
According to digitally-based motor insurer MiWay Blink, the trendy Gen Zs are increasingly embracing the human-machine symbiosis by linking these innovations to their daily activities in some shape or form.
For example, their exercise routines are monitored digitally, and are synchronised to heartbeat monitors on their watches, which then synchronise the data with their music selections – and so it goes on.
There is also a charm in adding their driving to their Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) profile. Linking smart telematics and motor insurance in one’s 4IR profile were by design made to be appealing to busy and active customers, who find paperwork tedious.
A smart device links their cars to a mobile app from their insurer, which then builds their driving profile and rewards them according to their driving behaviour. For instance, the less they drive, the less they pay on their insurance premiums.
Owning a home
Property is a resilient asset class but specifically for Gen Zs, being able to say they own their own home has even more cache. It implies that they have their finances in order – bond approval includes a credit check and therefore implies a healthy credit score – and means that they will have a tangible asset that increases in value over time, which underlines their financial security.
Gen Zs have considerable buying power, says Carl Coetzee, CEO of BetterBond. “Our data for the 12 months ending September, shows the average purchase price of homes for buyers aged 20 to 30, has grown by 3.89%.
“So, whether they invest in a trendy lock-up-and-go apartment in the city, or a secure sectional title unit in a development that offers desirable lifestyle amenities, Gen Zs know that having a home to call their own is a sign that they are financially secure with bright prospects for the future.”
Having the latest-greatest technology is high on the list as status symbols go. Upgrading your phone to the latest model as soon as it becomes available can shoot your status level into the upper leagues, or having a super high-definition big screen TV or branded sound system. These items give the perception that a person is ‘on trend’ and worth admiration.
This is where the value of the subscription model shines. Being able to subscribe to trendy appliances at an affordable monthly rate, as opposed to a heavy once-off purchase payment, opens up the access to status symbols to the average consumer who, let’s face, also wants to be seen as ‘cool’ and upmarket with the latest trending stuff.
Access providers like Teljoy open up this possibility for individuals who may not have big cash injections to purchase a high-ticket item, but are able to afford smaller monthly installments.
No, this isn’t a fancy Italian gelato machine. It’s actually the term given to people who are able to perform a complicated or difficult task effortlessly, with confidence, and with ease.
For example, stepping up to the fancy multi-function printer at work that’s glitching and no-one can get it to work, then pressing a couple of buttons at it works smoothly, will instantly gain the respect of your colleagues – and likely up your standing as the go-to person for solutions.
For centuries, wealth (and status) was often displayed through people buying glitzy, usually unnecessary, items that showed they had the money to burn when they felt like it. While this still rings true today, a more recent display of higher status is called conspicuous production.
This is basically a person who overtly shows that they are working harder, and longer hours, than others. In many companies, a person may feel that they are seen as more dedicated, committed, and adding more value if they are working longer hours than their colleagues. And unfortunately, in many more traditional company structures, this is true.
One positive thing that the COVID-19 pandemic and the remote work culture have brought about is more awareness of output and delivery of work, as opposed to hours spent in the office.
Being ‘seen’ by senior management spending extended hours in the office can’t be used as a ‘status symbol’ anymore – the evolution of the remote, and even the hybrid, workplace structures have made this redundant. But delivering quality output from wherever you are – that’s what is driving respect and admiration.
Keeping it authentic
A powerful status symbol is authenticity. Individuals embracing their individuality – their roots, their likes and dislikes, their signature dress sense – is gaining momentum as people re-evaluate their priorities and what’s really important to them in life.
And authenticity gains immense respect amongst peers, especially if partnered with solid convictions and beliefs. The same is true for brands. Brands that embrace and live their real story, and are authentic with their audiences, take a massive leap forwards in reputation and esteem.
This is a generation of people who’ve grown up being able to do everything online. “Their first experience of a bank probably wasn’t going into a physical branch, but having their parents set up an account that they’ve always been able to access digitally. Some may even have only ever used their bank’s smartphone app.
“The same is true for almost everything else in their lives, be it music, gaming, or communication. Why should their approach to investment and savings be any different?” asks Tony Mallam, MD, upnup, Africa’s first passive micro-investing app.
So, when an app comes around that lets them instantly trade shares, flip sneakers, or convert their digital pocket change into cryptocurrencies, they’re going to embrace it. Mallam adds that by taking a tech-first approach, it allows people to take control of their savings and finances remotely via digital apps, and building a savings culture becomes much easier.
Gen Zs are a worldly and informed generation, who are very much aware of themselves and their places in the world and in society. They want to be perceived a certain way, and make many decisions based on how they will make them look and feel.
Status symbols are no longer linked to just wealth and assets – they are also being driven by the perceptions of a society that places status power on things like authenticity, intelligent financial planning, and quality output in the workplace.