A Market Segment Overlooked – The Singles are Coming
Neglecting $600 billion in spending power
As companies try harder, and often fail to connect with millennials, most are shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring the largest and fastest growing demographic in the U.S. and around the world: Singles.
Not only are companies overlooking singles; many are actually going out of their way to create and exploit false fear and shame about being uncoupled.
Singles now outnumber married couples in the U.S., according to data from retail marketing consultant TPN, and possess more than $600 billion in spending power. But corporate advertising still tends to focus on marriage as the norm or the goal that 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 advertising for travel and leisure, financial services, real estate, automobiles, home entertainment, health care, etc.
Surprisingly, 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 often 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 the 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 Economist article pointed out that Brazil saw annual sales of ready-made meals more than double 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 purely by your generational status really has no emotional pull. In fact, most young people will have a negative reaction to being pigeon-holed by the term. Being single, on the other hand, represents a much stronger emotional string that resonates not only with millennials, but across multiple generations.
More than 60 percent of millennials are single. Regardless of age, 100 percent of married couples were once single. 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 – 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 within this group. The implications would be far-reaching, impacting multiple facets of society.
By speaking the language of singles, companies, whether 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.
Devon Kerns is co-founder and chief visionary officer of The Social Capital (SoCap) Agency, a full-service marketing and consulting firm that helps organizations connect with and build community around millennials.