Embracing the Party of One

How many people when they were 15 thought they would still be single at 33? Not many, probably. And while it seems very normal today, that wasn’t always the perspective a few decades ago. There are more singles than we have ever been culturally accustomed to, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. In fact, single-person households were the fastest-growing household type in the last census count.

People are placing a premium on education, are waiting to get married and are slowly shifting from the thought that one has to be in a family unit for societal security. When asked about marriage, Whoopi Goldberg maybe summed up this shift best, stating, “I don’t want somebody in my house.” Longer life expectancy, urbanization and opportunities for wealth also play a role. The result is that we are living on the precipice of a massive cultural shift, one that went from being driven by a family-centric unit of connection to digitally connected solitary living.

Today, there are roughly 36 million Americans who live alone, making up 28% of households. In 1960, only 13% lived alone, and in 1980, it was 23%, according to the United States Census Bureau. This steep increase in the number of singles is upending generations of negative assumptions and stereotypes about singlehood and the product development and marketing strategies that go along with them. Marriage and/or having children are no longer the bastions of cultural success they once were. Instead, for many singles, education and having a full-time job have filled those blanks.

What does this mean for brands? Singles have more disposable income and fewer ties that bind them. Brands have to look beyond the paradigm of the family of four that has become the norm in messaging and product strategies if they want to secure growth in the near- and long-term future.

Who are the singles?

Being single is no longer reserved for youth. Not only are the numbers of singles on the rise, but the number of people who get into their late 40s without ever marrying, as well as the increasing age at which people first marry, is on the rise according to the UN. Millennials are delaying or eschewing marriage and family building for higher education, career opportunities and personal goals.

On the older end of the spectrum, boomers continue to get divorced, as the concept has been normalized, choosing to cohabitate with someone new, live apart as a couple or quit the dating game entirely.

Single spending

What makes singles different from demographic groups of the past is that they are defined more by mindset than specific demographic details. And while the singles market is vast and varied, one thing is true across the entire segment: They’re spending on themselves.

Affluent urban millennials and Gen Xers are leading the singles trend spurred mainly by higher incomes and economic developments that have enabled the move to solo living. These groups are more active, self-focused and wealthy than their counterparts from generations past. Singles spend a higher percentage of their income on clothes, food, leisure and entertainment than their coupled counterparts, and research has shown that affluent, single-person households in urban areas are spending more per person than larger ones.

The high spending of this group is a result of their choice to indulge: 61% of singles choose to spend their money on treating themselves, compared to 43% of people in committed relationships. Singles are willing to pay more for convenience, custom products and brands that promise social benefits. And while spending ebbs and flows in parallel with the job market and U.S. economy—especially in the wake of COVID-19—singles are likely to rebound quicker than other groups as they have only themselves to take care of and spend for.

How to reach them

There are three key areas brands need to keep in mind when speaking to the single consumer:

  1. Personalization: It’s all about me
  2. Connectivity: Single, together
  3. Wellness: Health as a lifestyle

1. It’s all about me

The rise in singlehood is creating a need for a strong individual identity. Coupled with the broader trend of carefully crafting their personal brands, singles are more finicky than their coupled counterparts when it comes to fulfilling their needs with products, services and brands. They are decisive in their purchasing and are able to take action immediately without the need to consult a partner before making large purchases. As their demographic name suggests, singles only need to serve themselves with their purchases, not compromise to make acceptable purchases that will satisfy needs across their family unit.

With their decisiveness comes pickiness. They have the time, they have the money and they aren’t willing to settle. As doubt over the U.S. economy looms, the particularity of their spending will only heighten. That means singles won’t have the patience for brands that don’t understand who they are as individuals.

For brands targeting the singles demographic, personalization is a must. With the volumes of available data and utilization of AI technologies, companies are in a pivotal position to synthesize insights and amend products and messaging by subcategorizing their services and offerings into specialized niches that target singles’ needs.

To gain a competitive edge, brands can better utilize technology to track and tag audiences and create personalized and tailored content experiences grounded in current or potential customer preferences. Tech stacks also provide relevant data to turn insights into actions to help brands better serve the singles market by modifying their product or messaging strategies based on data and the “single nuance.”

If you want singles to connect with your brand, you need to make it about them. And that’s not “them” as in “the singles demographic”; that’s them as in “John Doe.” Personalize packaging, design and/or messaging strategies to a specific consumer along with AI-driven targeting to deepen the conversation and help address their individualized needs.

2. Single, together

While singles are choosing to live alone, that does not mean they want to experience the world alone. According to Psychology Today, singles have more friends and bigger social networks than married people do and work harder to maintain their relationships. They rely on friends and their like-minded communities to provide support and camaraderie in their day-to-day lives as well as in times of need.

Recent advancements in technology have made it even easier for singles to connect with others, and thanks largely in part to dating apps, the group has become more adept than other demographics at interacting online. By prioritizing connectivity features and community engagement throughout product design, brands will better align with the lifestyle values of the single audience.

While not every brand could or should get into the online dating game, that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for your brand to help fuel the connection this group is in search of. Insert your brand into communities of passion that resonate with the single segment. Leverage technology applications to connect like-minded consumers using messaging to showcase connectivity features to the singles audience. More than facilitating connection, these communities allow brands an insider look into the segment and a way to keep track of (and then meet) their evolving expectations.

3. Health as a lifestyle

It turns out marriage is not as beneficial to health as it was once thought. Due in part to the fact that singles can focus mainly on themselves, they place great value on self-care, personal success and holistic wellness. A study by the Journal of Women’s Health found that single women had lower BMIs, waist sizes and risks associated with smoking and alcohol than those who were coupled. Those healthier habits like an increase in exercise also hold true for single men. Additionally, the group is more likely to focus on personal growth, mastery of a subject and self-determination along with a preference toward self-sufficiency.

Singles are leading lifestyles catered to their personal well-being to support their health-minded goals. They are spending money on a holistic approach to wellness that encompasses nearly every aspect of life. Looking great, feeling good and sleeping well are the new luxuries these customers want to flaunt, and the general trend toward wellness has only been accelerated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Brands that embrace their single customers’ wellness needs and frame value messaging through a wellness lens will reap the rewards in affinity, sales and loyalty. Speak to and feature singles directly to showcase opportunities for transformation, personal growth, improvement and exploration that don’t require a partner or counterparts. The focus doesn’t always have to be one-dimensional or on the physical—opportunities for expanding mental or emotional growth are equally as important.

Challenges to overcome and the opportunities they present

Demographically, single people are more powerful than ever before, and brands should do what they can to attract, engage and build brand equity with this powerful group. The importance of consumer loyalty cannot be overstated, and singles represent a challenging but rewarding segment to go after.

Challenge: For generations, consumer products have been designed and packaged for multiple users. Family plans were once the cream of the crop, the products that got customers through the telecom doors. And for a family of four, having discounted access to multiple lines and data is great. Likewise, on a cruise line, sharing a room with a significant other brings the per-person price down. For the single? Not so much. Singles often get stuck paying more just because they are alone, but it’s easy to see why that isn’t so appealing.

Opportunity: Rethink the business model and create products, packages and pricing structures with the single consumer in mind.

Challenge: Brands aren’t speaking the single language. Brand messaging often falls flat with singles because language and value proposition aren’t resonating. Recently, celebs like Emma Watson have been bucking the trend, identifying with the latest buzzwords in singlehood, like “self-partnered.” The trend isn’t exactly new—Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City famously declared that she was getting married to herself and “registered at Manolo Blahnik.” And she had a good point. Why does the reason for a consumer to engage with your brand have to be centered around more traditional life events like a wedding shower? The answer: It doesn’t.

Opportunity: Leverage the cultural zeitgeist and incorporate “single positivity” language in brand messaging, staying cognizant of the choice consumers have made toward single culture and lifestyle.

Challenge: Don’t confuse “single” with “young.” The young and reckless mentality is not one that defines the single demographic at large. Brands often represent singles as teenagers or the bachelor/bachelorette type. The truth is that for many singles, life is not defined by going home to an empty apartment with a half-eaten slice of pizza in the fridge or still reporting to mom and dad. Moreover, the goal is not necessarily to get married and have a family. Many singles are perfectly happy in their professional and put-together lives. And while there is an emphasis on urban living, singles span all life stages, ages, cultures and backgrounds. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the singles demographic or in marketing to them.

Opportunity: Singles come in all forms. Represent them accordingly in your marketing, and don’t pigeonhole a senior or divorcee into what you assume a teenager wants to hear.

A large part of marketing to singles is simply including them in your message, product and, ultimately, brand. Give them what they want, and you’ll create a powerful brand evangelist for the long haul.

Written by Sarita Dan

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