Companies operate within a business environment that is constantly changing and evolving. This activity changes needs and the demand for products and services, both positively and negatively. Demographic, legal, technological, economic and social forces influence these changes. Social forces tend to be more slow-moving and affect general cultural and social traditions, norms and attitudes. Some are short lived but affect society in their time. Others will affect society for many generations. Companies must study and respond to these social forces, as they significantly affect what consumers are buying.

The Changing American Family

We no longer live in a world where the model of mom and dad getting married and having children early, with dad as breadwinner and mom as homemaker, is the core American family. Mom and dad may now both work, or mom may work with dad staying home with the children, changing the way nightly dinner is prepared and increasing daycare needs. High divorce rates create many single parent homes, requiring more trade services. Couples live together outside of marriage. Both marrying and having children may be delayed for years so new parents are financially stable and can afford upscale baby items and better health care. Gay and lesbian couples now legally marry and adopt children.

Increasing Diversity

Another social economic force that marketers must contend with is the vision of national culture. The traditional view was that immigrants came here and worked hard to assimilate and become American -- the "melting pot" that blended many different backgrounds into a common one. Today, many immigrants choose not to assimilate, retaining their unique culture and increasing demand for products unique to them. The country has more immigrants every year than newborns. Hispanics are now the largest single minority, creating strong demand for Hispanic oriented products. Whites will soon be a minority. The United States is becoming a nation of subcultures, requiring multiple target marketing strategies rather than one mass market strategy.

New Income Streams

The United States started as an agrarian economy, morphed into a manufacturing economy and today would be considered a knowledge economy. Future job growth is expected to be in white collar and high-tech jobs, driving the need for new, related products and services. Education may still be critical, but the forms in which people learn are changing, driving the need for new educational formats like online education. Those that can’t make it in the knowledge economy increasingly look to the government for their financial stability, with the social safety net requiring businesses to pay more attention to mainstream value oriented products.

Population Shifts

We are seeing a steady migration away from the Northeast and Midwest, with corresponding growth in the Southwest and South. While the U.S. had seen previous shifts from rural to metropolitan and then to suburbia, it now features a shift from suburbia to micropolitans, small cities just outside the major metro areas that require different housing needs. A different type of population shift is our aging population. Baby Boomers, the largest segment by age, are reaching retirement age, driving the need for services like assisted living facilities and more health-care services. The healthy Boomers are creating a new market for active leisure activities.

Lessons to be Learned

When consumers experience a change in their culture or norms, they develop different needs and buy different products. Single-parent families have different needs than the traditional family. High tech workers look for different products than a manufacturing laborer. A couple who moves from Boston to Orlando will buy different products. Subcultures buy different products. All of these changes present outstanding opportunities to the company smart enough to recognize them.