The Latest On Microtrends: An interview with Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller

Size matters. But perhaps not always the way we think it does. When politicians and marketers around the globe spend their resources trying to uncover the next big thing, they may be overlooking something even more valuable–the next “microtrend.” That term was coined by Mark J. Penn, chief executive officer of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and president of the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, and author of the best-selling book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes…

Forbes spoke with Penn to find out about what some of the next microtrends might be.

Forbes: What exactly is a microtrend?

Penn: A microtrend is a small–but growing and passionate–group of people that is changing the face of society. A microtrend may never grow larger than 3 million people, or roughly 1% of the U.S. population, but those people have unmet needs that they are passionate about. And 3 million passionate people are by far enough to make or break a business, tip an election or trigger social change. So if businesses, politicians and others who would move society want to be on the leading edge, they need to pay attention to these small, growing, counterintuitive groups.

Why should we care about something that represents just 1% of the population?

When you hit that 1%, you can drive a tremendous amount of change. The top-selling car in America makes only about 400,000 sales. If you sell a couple of hundred thousand books, you have a best-seller. Consider that only about 3 million people gave money to President Obama’s campaign. That demonstrates the enormous impact that a small group acting on its passions can have. And that’s just in the U.S. Think about what happens if you sell to 1% of the Chinese population. Or to 1% of India. In these mass societies, and in our globalizing economy generally, 1% of the marketplace is an enormous opportunity.

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