Cameron Day: the UK’s growing number of singletons are still neglected by marketers

As an industry we like to whip ourselves up into a frenzy by jumping on the next marketing innovation bandwagon, sharing content relating to technology advancements and discussing at length the IPO strategies of various platforms we are championing.

We are progressing from the old model of mass communication into an approach based around much more informed one-to-one relationships with consumers powered by information feeds and algorithms and the connective tissue of the web. The field of play is more open then it ever has been, but parts of our world remain slow to progress and shift despite the undeniably relentless pace that impacts us all.

Despite the advancements in data and the fragmentation of media, the traditional audience segmentation model continues to be used to help plan new product life cycles, build communication platforms and provide focus for marketing efforts. Phrases like “Empty Nesters”, “Millennials”, “Shopper Mums” and “Early Adopters” remain as the mainstay of the majority of marketing communications plans and the opportunities appearing in the changing world around us are being ignored by too many brands and agencies alike.

It isn’t that these traditional segments are now wrong or obsolete but they have been developed at a time when an overall media plan looked very different and depended largely on traditional advertisements ticking the awareness box and everything else falling in line. If we were to disregard this and start again based on what we know today, our approach would be considerably different. Focusing in on people. The three major macro trends of note that are going to influence marketing approaches significantly are the growth in urbanisation, the ageing population/extended family and the rise in single households.

Recently at The Marketing Store, we completed a study into the latter of these segments – entitled “Two’s A Crowd” – which explores the opportunities for brands related to the rise of single life.

COM_20131001_OPI_024_29115495_I1We highlight the change in attitudes towards singledom, the significant gender and age differences, the role technology and communications plays in this and detail the potential for marketers and brands.

First, the top line findings. Our research shows that more people are staying single and are happy to do so, indicating that the single economy is on the rise. However, many singletons still feel stigmatised, so it’s high time for a shift in attitudes towards singles.

The number of single households in the UK is on the rise and as a nation the number of people who are choosing to remain single as a lifestyle choice is increasing (over 60 per cent of people surveyed are single for five years or more). More people are remaining single and are happy to do it because they identify the benefits in clear and definable ways. This element of choice and willingness to see the positives makes the single segment a potentially important audience for marketers.

Our research, of 1,000 single people, carried out by One Poll, also highlighted important gender differences. Women are more likely to feel there is still a stigma to being single than men – 38 per cent compared to 29 per cent. Nearly half (43 per cent) of singles feel they have faced discrimination for being single, with complaints including being forced to cover for colleagues and being given bad tables in restaurants.

More than one in three (35 per cent) of all single people still feel there is a stigma to being alone and only one in five said they were proud to be single. A clear opportunity for brands who recognise this to steal an advantage over rivals by behaving in ways that are more understanding to singles.

However, a third (33 per cent) of singletons aged 55 and over are proud to be single – more than double the rate for 25 to 34 year-olds (15 per cent) or 18 to 24 year-olds (13 per cent). A finding worth considering for those developing marketing messages for the over-55 market.

Certain days are more difficult for single people than others. The research found Valentine’s Day is the worst day to be single (24 per cent) followed by Christmas Day (19 per cent) and New Year’s Eve (17 per cent). With this in mind, perhaps there is an opportunity for marketers to create a standalone day for singles to feel empowered and upbeat? The upside for brands could be particularly noticeable for retailers with ecommerce operations because singles are especially active online.

The survey highlighted that one in three singletons (35 per cent) do as much or more socialising online as they do in person (13 per cent do most online and 22 per cent do equal online and in person).

With this in mind, why not create retail shopping experiences for single people, make them feel valued, especially around the online experience given the high levels of social interaction online?

The opportunity here could be significant for UK brands. Just take a look at China, where last year its largest commerce retailer, Alibaba, took a reported $5.75 billion in sales from single men on the unofficial “singles day” of 11 November, which has become increasingly popular among singles in China. A similar event in the UK is just one possible outcome from the research.

The potential is there, it’s just a case of thinking beyond the standard communication plan and recognising that societal shifts and people’s behaviour is as vital to communications as technology and platform evolution.

unnamed-4Cameron Day is a director of The Marketing Store.

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