In a world where even the ring of a phone is individualized, it makes sense that the megatrends movement sparked by a best seller 25 years ago has now been sliced and diced into microtrends.
One man behind this shift to the niche is pollster Mark Penn, CEO of the PR firm Burson Marsteller and a chief adviser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. You have him to thank for the term “soccer moms,” a group he identified as pivotal swing voters while working for Bill Clinton in 1996.
In his decidedly macro-size book, Microtrends, Penn and co-author E. Kinney Zalesne have waded through polls, studies and surveys to ferret out 75 new pockets of humanity — from Extreme Commuters to Sun-Haters to Shy Millionaires. It’s subsets like these, comprised of as little as 1% of the population, that are shaping the future of society, Penn hypothesizes.
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Until this month, not many people knew that Viagra use was rising faster among men under 45 than among those over 45. Or that women in America buy more cars than men. Or that alcohol consumption has fallen faster over the past 40 years in France than anywhere else in the world.
Nor was it widely known that a million British couples live under separate roofs even though they claim to be in long-term monogamous relationships, or that fully 1 per cent of Californians aged 16 to 22 want to be snipers — trained killers in uniform — when they grow up.
Mark Penn’s author bio bluntly states he is “widely regarded as the most perceptive pollster in American politics.” Not the more common “one of the most,” but the quite unequivocal “the most.” When you invent the phrase “Soccer Mom” and it goes on to define a presidential election, modesty doesn’t come easy. Still, as CEO of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, Penn is well-positioned to both influence and observe the American public. So it’s worth looking past the bluster.
In Microtrends, Penn identifies and quantifies 75 fads that can be defined by national polls, web surveys, personal and business acquaintances and the U.S. census. Most of Penn’s microtrends describe less than 1% of the population (the traditional threshold for getting marketers’ attention). Chapters on “Newly Released Ex-Cons,” “Late-Breaking Gays,” and “High School Moguls,” examine trends expressed by fewer than 3 million people in the world (.01% of the population).
Still, these are the little things that folks will wish they’d noticed–because Penn argues every microtrend he’s found is growing. Penn claims his microtrends can save or improve businesses, help entrepreneurs create new markets and swing elections.
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Mark J. Penn still revels in the moment 11 years ago when he identified what became known as Soccer Moms. He was working with President Bill Clinton as a pollster at the time and looking for voters who had not yet made up their minds. Busy suburban working mothers may not have been a huge group in terms of raw numbers, but they were affluent and influential—at least in the political arena. Now Penn, currently worldwide CEO of public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller (WPP ) and chief adviser to the Presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), has gone in search of other intriguing niche groups. The result is the delightful and fast-paced Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes.
The human psyche finds something supremely reassuring about numbers. Just ask my 9-year-old son. His favorite prime-time television series is CBS’s “Numb3rs,” spelled with a digit in place of the third-to-last letter. The show features an F.B.I. agent and his math-genius brother solving crimes with the aid of formulas like Bacon’s Cipher and the Knapsack Algorithm.
“There’s no way the bad guys can win,” my son assures me each time we watch the show together. “They can’t do the math, Dad.”
Mark J. Penn and his co-author, E. Kinney Zalesne, profess a similarly deep-seated faith in the power of numbers in their new book, “Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” (Twelve, 448 pages, $25.99). Mr. Penn, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, is a longtime pollster who is chief political adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton. He won fame for identifying “soccer moms” as a crucial constituency in President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.
Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It is a truism of modern politics that one person who feels strongly about something has far greater influence on what happens than the 10 people who mildly disagree.
In Microtrends, Mark Penn, one of the US’s foremost political consultants and architect of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, takes this axiom to imaginative new levels. Sometimes compared to Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s “boy genius”, whose brilliant microtargeting made all the difference in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, Penn comes from a more esoteric background.
Whereas Rove’s resumé is about winning elections for Republicans (again and again, until recently), Penn has offered his services to multinational corporations and foreign political parties, not all of them ideological bedfellows. Alongside Tony Blair, whose letter of thanks is proudly framed on Penn’s office wall, he has worked for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – hardly the Italian counterpart of Penn’s Democratic party.
Thus Penn is as much a business consultant as he is a political junkie – a symbiosis that helps explain why so much of his book is so original.
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The woman reading over my shoulder on the subway was clearly drawn to a chapter about Cougars, or “women who date younger men.”
“What’s the name of that book?” she suddenly demanded.
So I showed her: “Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” by Mark J. Penn, the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
My fellow commuter told me she herself was a Cougar, age 50, dating a man of 34. She seemed delighted to be part of a certified trend.
Small, offbeat trends can change the world
While Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” explores how a trend emerges from obscurity to the mainstream, a new book says even small trends can have big effects.
College-educated nannies, home-schooled children, spouses who are together only at weekends and home-buyers with bad credit all have the potential to change society, according to “Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” (Twelve, $29.99).
“By the time a trend hits 1 percent, it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best-selling book, or new political movement,” says author Mark Penn, who is credited with identifying soccer moms as a key to Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign and who is now an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Microtrendies are taking over world
ARE you a geek, obsessed with the latest gadgets, yet consider yourself cool and have hundreds of friends? An extreme commuter, whose long journey is turbocharging the caffeine industry? A single woman, who is surprised to be on the shelf but has lots of gay friends? Or a Lat, part of a couple who “live apart together” in separate households?
If so you are part of a microtrend with the power to shape society, according to the polling guru Mark Penn.