Interview with The American Dream Composite Index Team – Chris Manolis, Greg Smith, Amit Sen

The American Dream Composite Index TeamOne of the challenges for improving the global strength of Brand America is identifying measures that will provide insight into opportunities for positive change.  As the saying goes – you tend to get what you measure.  I have been searching for reliable evaluative measures since I started the Strengthening Brand America Project.

I have been looking at the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index which purports to measure the “power and quality of each country’s brand image”.  I’ve been following FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index that “assesses the strength of a country brand in much the same way as other brands”.  Both indexes provide perspective that make you think, and I will continue to read their annual report scores.

But, recently I have become fascinated with the American Dream Composite Index as perhaps being the best measure of the authenticity of Brand America’s promise.  In the consumer package goods world, doing research among ‘heavy users’ was a classic way to better understand the strengths of your brand.  Nobody knows your brand better than the consumers who use it the most.  If they see an opportunity for improvement, then you better act fast before it is a full-blown three-alarm crisis.  The ADCI is similar, in my mind, because it asks Americans for their perspective.  Who should know America better than the people living there?  And, in my opinion, if they highlight an opportunity for improvement we should act on it to ensure Brand America’s promise remains relevant, competitive and authentic.  Admittedly, the ADCI is much more robust than my simplistic way of looking at it.  But, even on a simple level it is easy to see the potential power of the ADCI to provide actionable insights to guide choices that can make Brand America’s promise even more authentic.

It is with great pleasure I share an interview with the three creators of the ADCI.  They are brilliant academicians and I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with them.  I am hoping to collaborate with them moving forward to provide you with an on-going longitudinal assessment of the authenticity of Brand America’s promise.  I encourage you to learn more about the ADCI and begin chatting about it with your colleagues.

What is the ADCI?

ADCI or the American Dream Composite IndexTM is a measure of the level of satisfaction with all the dimensions of the American Dream among people living in the United States. The ADCI represents the first measurement that quantifies the American Dream in its entirety. A comprehensive and robust measure, the ADCI gauges our nation’s well-being as a function of the multifaceted American Dream. The ADCI takes into account all aspects of life in its calculation. The ADCI measures true aspiration of the people living in the United States and is based on a monthly survey of 1,000 people living in the United States. The results of the survey respondents are used to calculate the ADCI, and the five sub-indices (Economic, Well-Being, Societal, Diversity, and Environment).

What lead to its discovery?

The American Dream Composite Index project was started at Xavier University in early 2009 as a collaborative venture between the Center for the Study of the American Dream and the Williams College of Business. The research was conducted by three Faculty in the Williams College of Business: Chris Manolis, Greg Smith, and Amit Sen. The ADCI has been compiled since July 2011.

How is it interpreted?

The American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) can be thought of as a relative measure that gauges the fulfillment of hopes, dreams, and aspirations; it is a current snap-shot of one’s American Dream.  A score of 40 on the Index, for example, would suggest that, living in the United States (US) at the present time, we have on average realized roughly 40 percent of the Dream in all its varying dimensions.  The ADCI reveals the precise areas of our lives where the American Dream is being lived and realized as well as those areas of our lives where the Dream is deficient.

The various sub-dimension and individual construct scores of the ADCI can be interpreted similarly.  A score of 62 on the American Dream Economic Index, for example, would suggest that we have realized roughly 62 percent of the economic portion of the American Dream.  In other words, living in the US at the present time, we have reached roughly 62 percent of our desired economic-oriented hopes and dreams (e.g., finances, job, home ownership, health care, etc.).

Where do you think it will have its greatest impact?

This is a difficult question to answer precisely owing to the purposefully broad nature of the American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) — the Index was created to measure the American Dream in its entirety and assesses 35 dimensions covering a variety of economic, personal, social, and cultural aspects of present day American life.  One place the Index will likely prove impactful is the marketplace.  Because the dimensions measured by the ADCI influence directly the product decisions made by consumers, businesses and organizations (for-profit and non-profit alike) will be able to use the Index to not only gain a more thorough understanding of consumer buying behavior but also predict certain consumer actions and reactions.  In a similar fashion, the Index has powerful public policy implications.  Governments, lawmakers, and politicians can use the Index to gauge and fully appreciate public sentiment regarding a whole host of important issues, ultimately creating healthier, more democratic societies.

What do you feel a “good” score would be for Brand America, and what would a “great” score be?  What are the key barriers to moving from status quo to “good” and then “good” to “great”?

At the moment, it is difficult to ascertain successful score levels of the American Dream as our survey has only been run in times of significant economic stress.  However, if we use the January 2012 ADCI value of 63.96 as a baseline “average” score, we could look to two other broad-based benchmark demographics for “good” and “great” scores.  To start, the subset of respondents who were either employed full-time or retired scored approximately 3 points higher than “average” in the ADCI with significant increases in the economic and well-being areas (sub-indices).  We would consider this a move from “average” to “good”.  Next, the subset of respondents who earned at least $100,000 in the previous year scored approximately 5 points higher than “good” in the ADCI with significant increases in all areas (sub-indices).  We would consider this a move from “good” to “great”.  So, a segment that is 3 points above “normal” in any month would be considered a “good” score and 8 points above normal would be “great” score.  Scoring for the ADCI is always relative, but, as shown, it is easier to move from “average” to “good” as improvements need only occur in a few dimensions, but to move from “good” to “great” it would require improvements in most, if not all, major areas of the American Dream.  This heuristic is being tested each month across a wide range of demographic segments.

What were some of the more surprising barriers the study uncovered that are hindering Brand America performance?

There is a perception that when the financial markets do well and other economic indicators provide a positive outlook, we as a nation are doing relatively well.  However, the ADCI captures non-economic aspects of our lives such as personal well-being, society, diversity, and the environment that are important aspects of our lives and help us realize our American Dream.  Our survey results over the past seven months show that we as a nation are approximately 36 percentage points away from fully realizing the American Dream. In particular, we find that we are considerably far from achieving the desired level of satisfaction in the following aspects of our lives: financial security, job benefits, civic participation, education quality, trust in government, just society, trust in business, trust in people, and safety in travel.

In 2009 Northwest Mutual Insurance Company commissioned a national study that looked at how the American Dream has changed as a result of the recession.  The published interpretation of the data suggests the American Dream has been redefined.  Focus has shifted from wealth accumulate to personal relationship building.   Is this consistent with what you have seen since launching the American Dream Composite Index?

First, the American Dream has not been redefined.  In fact, the dimensions of the Dream are rooted and have been so since the first phrasing of the term American Dream.  It’s where we place our priorities or where we are struggling at the moment which changes.  Second, it’s not so much that the focus has shifted away from wealth accumulation, it’s that this aspiration is, in many ways, being muted at the moment.  Imagine that all the dimensions of the American Dream are cups that need to be filled.  At the moment and in our current economy, it is quite difficult for many to fill the cups associated with wealth accumulation.  However, the cups associated with personal relationships are not seeing a restriction.  In fact, their fill levels may not have changed at all from pre to post recession.

So, it’s not that a change or shift has occurred, it’s that our dream in one area has simply become harder to achieve making the success of other dreams more noticeable (even though they may not have experienced any change).

If people want to know more about the American Dream Composite Index, what is the best way to learn and to get involved?

To learn more about the American Dream Composite Index, supporting sub-indices and dimensions, you can visit us at www.xavier.edu/adci or follow us on Twitter (@xavieradci).  A monthly webinar which highlights the current month’s results and their potential impact is held near the end of each month.  Details on the webinar can be found on the ADCI website.  In addition, the ADCI team frequently blogs about the American Dream at xavieradci.blogspot.com.  For specific questions, the ADCI team can be reached at adci@xavier.edu.