America is undergoing a significant values shift that is just beginning to be grasped in popular culture. It is not only changing the face of Middle America, but moving all Americans into a new normal.
No longer defined simply by income level or mailing address, Middle America is a state of mind and is distinguished by traditional American values like working hard, honesty, and helpfulness as well as emerging values like authenticity, balance, and belonging. Values such as individuality and self-reliance are slipping below more collective values like community, helpfulness, and social good.
In an increasingly unpredictable political and economic climate, people are beginning to redefine their innermost values, causing more of us to move into the middle and question how we’re living our lives. In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans (86%) of varying income levels and across different geographies define themselves as being "in the middle," creating a dynamic new demographic for organizations and brands to engage with, according to GFK Roper.
This broad yet distinctive group is not just focused on self-improvement, but on how discrete improvements can directly benefit the communities in which they live. In uncertain times, they focus on what is possible. In challenging times, they focus on what can be fixed, and in frightening times, they work to secure a promising and optimistic future for their families and communities. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re finding the good they can enact by stepping away from the edges and coming together in the "middle."
Many marketers gravitate to the edges because those voices are the loudest and easiest to define. However, most people don’t live on the left or the right; they fear the edges and are seeking strength in the middle. The appetite for uniting in the middle is strong, even if it does not appear this way on cable news shows, in comment sections of online news sites, or in our social media feeds.
This new group of Americans, born from a new reality, are taking on the best of what has traditionally been known as "Middle America," but that looks like a unified and more "mighty middle" in what they can accomplish. The opportunity is to capture the attention and loyalty of these "mighty middlers," who are ever more selective about the brands and organizations they choose to join.
The mighty middle prioritizes lifestyle over income goals; having the freedom and resources for a better life is more important than what they can have or afford to buy. Armed with a healthy self-image, this new demographic is solution-focused, and this raises the stakes for institutions and brands and helps to explain a growing impatience in our culture. They are demanding and will engage brands that live up to their own personal values, hopes, and aspirations. Brands have an opportunity to integrate themselves into the lives of this group by connecting to their values and appealing to their need for simplicity, practicality, and purpose. It’s clear this group is on the search for products that can improve their lives, sharpen their sense of identity, and fit seamlessly into the carefully curated experiences in which they invest their time.
The mighty middle is emerging as a silent majority; invisible to many, misunderstood by others. More research is needed to become a trusted partner to this group. Establishing a genuine emotional connection is to align with these individuals who are the most important and emerging group of our time.
Therese Caruso is head of global strategy and insights at Zeno Group.