All the single ladies (and gentlemen)
Nobody seems to care about uncoupled customers, overlooking $600 billion in spending power
As companies try harder, and often fail, to connect with millennials, most are missing out on what is the largest and fastest growing demographic in the U.S. and around the world:
Not only are companies overlooking individuals on their own, many are actually going out of their way to create and exploit false fear and shame about being uncoupled or unmarried.
Singles now outnumber married couples in the U.S., according to data from retail marketing consultant TPN, they have more than $600 billion in spending power. Yet, it might be hard to tell from corporate advertising, which still tends to focus on marriage as the norm or the goal everyone seeks. It is perhaps most evident in jewelry ads; but the desire to establish, entertain or secure a family is a frequent theme in marketing for travel and leisure, financial services, real estate, automobiles, home entertainment, health care, etc.
It is not just consumer advertising. The focus on married couples and family is a familiar refrain in the hallways of the nation’s employers. Companies are constantly touting and receiving recognition for being family-friendly. Their policies and benefits packages skew toward keeping married employees happy. Even sales incentive programs tend to feature rewards that will be enjoyed more by a married couple, such as the all-expenses trip to Napa Valley.
It should be no surprise that millennials, more than 60 percent of whom are single, do not feel inclined to stay with an employer for more than two years.
However, as unemployment rates continue to fall around the country and talent becomes more difficult to attract and retain, employers can no longer afford to ignore the singles demographic. In 2016, 51 percent of the 35,530,000 25- to 34-year-olds in the civilian labor force never married, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is up from 27 percent in 1987.
Keep in mind those figures are nationwide. The percentages of unmarried workers in the labor force are likely to be much higher in metropolitan areas that have attracted large portions of millennials and singles, including Denver, Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles and New York.
The explosion of singledom is not isolated to the U.S. A 2012 article in The Economist cited data from research firm Euromonitor, which estimated that the number of solo residents around the world would increase 20 percent or 48 million by 2020.
The trend is already impacting consumption patterns. The same article noted that Brazil saw annual sales of ready-made meals more than doubled between 2007 and 2012 to $1.2 billion. Sales of soups tripled during the same period.
Unfortunately, many companies are going to miss the opportunity to capitalize on these trends because they are too focused on millennials. But, being labeled a member of this generation really has no emotional pull for people being grouped in this generational category. In fact, most young people will have a negative reaction to being pigeon-holed by the term. Singles, on the other hand, represents a much stronger emotional string that resonates not only with millennials, but across generations.
More than 60 percent of millennials are single. Regardless of age, 100 percent of married couples were once single, and a growing number of married couples are becoming single again. It is not just a word that describes one’s relationship status. It is a lifestyle. It is a state of mind. And, for many, it is a choice.
Yet, employers, advertisers, family members, and even friends, treat being single as if it is an affliction. Now, imagine a society that, instead of shaming these individuals, actually found ways to unite, empower, and focus the pent-up energy of this group. The implications would be far reaching, impacting multiple facets of society, including social, political, economic and philanthropic.
By speaking the language of singles – we call it Speaking Singlish – companies, whether they are selling products and services or trying to hire and retain talent, will greatly improve their chances of connecting with millennials, as well as Gen Xers, Generation Z and boomers who have been, are, or could once again be single.
Those companies that continue to overlook or, worse, impose fear and shame upon the largest and fastest growing demographic in the U.S. and around the world, do so at their own peril.