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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Religious Independents: God Without the Religion by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published December 17, 2009

This is the season for traditions: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, carolers on the doorstep, and the endless argument about the secularization of Christmas. This isn’t the usual complaining about the toy and greeting card companies commercializing the holidays, but a much broader trend involving the secularization of religion around the country.

We are still a nation whose coins say “In God We Trust,” where most witnesses in U.S. courts swear “so help me God,” and where our school kids pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God, indivisible.”

But God, as we have traditionally known Him, is evolving for more and more worshippers. Belief in the God revered by most mainstream religions — a highly specific, paternalistic deity with an agreed-upon history and behaviors — is on the decline.

According to the most recent American Religious Identification Survey, only 76% of Americans identify as Christians, down from 86% in 1990. But interestingly, while non-Christians are not choosing Islam or Judaism, neither are they choosing atheism. A poll done by Gallup in 2008 found that 15% of Americans – up from 8% in 1999– say they don’t believe in God, but they do believe in a “Higher Power” or “Universal Spirit.” More and more, Americans believe that the world was created by a spiritual being, but they reject the Torah, the Koran and the New Testament as the explanation for it.

These universal-spirit worshippers, or what we call Religious Independents, are defining a secular Third Way in religion. They are like political independents who vote but refuse to affiliate with a party. Consequently, attendance at Christmas mass may be declining, but celebration of Christmas and the holidays remains as high as ever. Paradoxically, overall belief in a God is rising, while participation in organized religion is declining.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: The Unemployment Cushion by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published November 18, 2009

Unemployment has hit double digits in the U.S., and in some areas of the industrial Midwest, it is approaching 16%. Joblessness in many parts of this country is destructive beyond belief. The Federal Reserve Chairman said he sees little prospect of immediate relief.

And yet, in other areas it is not nearly as bad as it could have been. One reason is that bringing home a paycheck, especially in upper-income households, is a shared responsibility today. That fact alone, in a recession, can provide a lot of families with a built-in backstop–an Unemployment Cushion–to the destitution that unemployment in a recession can cause.

In the last 50 years, job growth has far outstripped population growth. As a result, today’s 10.2% unemployment rate leaves a far greater proportion of the population at work than in the past. In 1961, for example, when we hit 7.1% unemployment, the record for that period, only a third of Americans had jobs. Today, even with 10% unemployment, nearly half the country, or 138 million people, is still at work.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: On the Web, Amateurs Rivaling Professionals by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published October 29, 2009

This is the age of the amafessional, when amateurs are rivaling professionals in opportunity, talent and the ability to produce quality work. It’s happening in virtually every field. In areas ranging from communications to medicine to simply making things with your hands, amafessionals are gaining in numbers and the ability to market their services.

Struggling amateurs used to want to become stars, and of course some still do, but this new phenomenon is different. Millions are participating just for the fun and challenge of it–-almost like running in a marathon. “Amafessionals” include both the amateur/professional hybrid and pajama professionals, who often work at home rather than the studio or the office.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: The Declining Soccer Mom by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published October 7, 2009

The soccer mom is in decline.

Married, middle-class but working suburban moms whose primary concern is how to enrich their children while they are away at work are declining in numbers, in influence and even as a key swing vote.

New preliminary 2008 census figures show that the percentage of households with their own kids under 18 has hit a record low of 30.7%. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in 1960, when nearly a majority (48.9%) of households had such children.

This is indicative not just of a decline in soccer moms, but in kids and population growth in general. Women are marrying later, developing their careers more, and having fewer children.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Grandparents to the Rescue by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published September 16, 2009

Grandparents are stepping up, and the American family may never be the same.

A few years ago, a key microtrend was the Working Retired — aging Americans who were so enjoying work and health that they either wouldn’t retire or were starting second careers altogether. One incidental effect was that grandparents weren’t around to help their adult children with the kids — putting a squeeze on those younger families, and giving a boost to daycare and nannies. New helicopter parents were increasingly reluctant to call upon their parents, and when they did their parents were often too busy or preoccupied.

But now all that’s turning around with a new countertrend. While many are still working later and later, others are sharing the new family burdens of the economic crisis. With unemployment at nearly 10%, and layoffs increasing for both the young and the old, the terrain of intrafamily dynamics is shifting again. And while more togetherness can be complicated for many families, one group that’s coming out on top is the grandkids.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Phoneless Homes by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published September 9, 2009

I took my daughter to college this week, and as I watched her set up her off-campus apartment along with her roommates, I had to return a call. So I asked “Where’s the phone?” In response, she held up her cellphone and said, “Ah dad — here it is.” There was no landline phone, and there wouldn’t be. She looked at me like I’d asked where the VCR was.

She and her roommates were getting TV and the Internet, and between them they would have three cellphones. But while they would each have personal communications devices, her household of three adults was a microtrend that is quickly becoming a macrotrend — a phoneless home. The very idea of a “home phone” is becoming obsolete.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Glamping: Its Time Is Coming by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published August 23, 2009

Europeans love touring churches and museums, but when it comes to vacations, Americans have always loved the great outdoors. Fishing, camping and just driving around are great American pastimes.

But now, welcome to the early stages of the era of “glamping” — glamorous camping. It’s a visit to the outdoors, but updated and upscale. While it’s just starting to take off, it’s likely to grow significantly based on emerging travel and vacation trends.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Boss Nation by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published August 3, 2009

It’s a common lament in America that we spend too much time working for “the man.” But these days, more and more of us are the man.

According to the Census, more than 10 million Americans are self-employed, up from about 8 million in 1980. Even more telling, the number of “non-employer firms” — businesses with no payroll — recently topped 20 million, up from 15 million in the late 1990s. A lot of people with jobs also have businesses on the side they hope will become big enough to support them.

And so the term “boss” today applies to a lot more of us than ever before.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Lifestyle Inequality: The Habits of American Elites by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published July 16, 2009

There’s always been lots of talk in this country about income inequality, but very little about lifestyle disparities, differences which are pulling American elites farther and farther away from mainstream America.

These disparities can be as profound as any class distinctions related directly to income; they go beyond having a bigger house, a nicer car or fancier vacations. America has always frowned on the idea of an “aristocracy,” but American elites today are increasingly creating their own separate world of activities, removed from the everyday pursuits of average Americans.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Smartphoniacs: Addicts of the Information Age by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published July 7, 2009

Among everybody from our leaders to our teenagers, no habit is spreading faster than being connected 24/7 via a smart phone.

Its penetration in the U.S. is estimated at 18%, and it seems that everywhere you turn, people are using their smart phones in new ways and in new places. Samsung recently estimated that it expects 500 million global smart-phone users by 2012. Actual phone calls are becoming extinct compared with handheld texts and email messages — whoever thought people would prefer typing to talking? But the evidence appears to say they do.

This has also given rise to a group of people — the top 10% of smart-phone users — who just can’t stop. They are the smartphoniacs, the true addicts of the information age.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Doomsayers by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published June 17, 2009

Doom and gloom are in, optimism is out.

The fact that the stock market appears to have righted itself after the steep declines late last year seems out of step with the daily water-cooler talk about what is going to happen next. Fear about the future abounds, along with theories of how things could get worse. Behind these theories is the persistent (and perhaps correct) belief that there is another shoe to drop. Just as people start to get more comfortable, it is all going to come tumbling down again. While a few “doomsayers” were once the outliers among a widely optimistic populace, today there are millions of new pessimists talking up calamity and catastrophe as never before.

In just a few short years, we have gone from President Clinton’s oft-repeated “the best is yet to come” to fears that the “the worst is yet to come.” Hope reigned through most of 2008, but fear does in 2009.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Guys Left Behind (GLBs) by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published June 1, 2009

Guys are simply falling behind these days.

We may not yet have the first woman president, but a look at what is happening with the next generation shows that women are succeeding in an ever-widening range of areas, while there is a statistically significant and growing group of guys who are just not going to make it.

Sure, most leadership positions are still filled by men, and there are lots of super-achieving men out there. But on the other end of the spectrum, serious problems are brewing for the future of men. You see it in statistic after statistic. Some of these have been true for a long time — others are new and a growing part of the times. But while women have shown some dramatic improvements in health, education and income, men at the bottom end are facing problems that are as bad as ever — and in some areas getting worse.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Don’t Call Me Middle Class: I’m a Professional!

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published May 14, 2009

Not long ago, everyone in America wanted to be a member of the “middle class.” In fact, as many as 53% of Americans described themselves that way to pollsters.

But with the information age and the rise of two-career incomes, being just middle class is a little old hat. The new aspiration for most Americans is to be a member of the new professional class. Rising numbers — as high as 64% — report that they consider themselves “professionals.” The census shows a significant rise over the years, from 4% being professionals and skilled workers in 1910, to 36% today. The numbers have doubled since just 1980.

These new professionals, whose incomes were rising steadily until the financial crisis, have been at the heart of reshaping the country’s economic and political life. Barack Obama more than any other president represents this shift and has uniquely appealed to these Americans. Everyone today wants to be a professional and most people believe they are.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Where Are the Republican Hybrid Buyers?

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published May 1, 2009

A closer look into the accelerating trend of buying hybrid vehicles

Unless you are willing to buy a windmill, the biggest green purchase out there is buying a hybrid car. Recently, the 1 millionth hybrid in the U.S. was sold, out of 135 million cars on the roads today.

That makes hybrid-buying a microtrend, and it is an accelerating one. While constituting less than 1% of all cars, hybrids represented approximately 2.5% of all new cars sold in March 2009 (21,000 of 858,000 cars sold). And it is up from 15,000 a month in March 2006 when overall car sales were a lot higher.

Hybrid buyers are far from typical car consumers. They also are far removed from the image of the budget-conscious motorist buying a hybrid to save some hard-earned scratch. I know one Prius owner who has two cars — a hybrid and a stretch limo — and carefully chooses which car to use, for an evening out or a trip to the mall.

Early hybrid buyers have been buying the cars less for their fuel efficiency than to make a statement about who they are. Just as owning a Mercedes used to scream luxury and refinement, so hybrids have been about forgoing luxury and making sacrifices to help save the planet. Sometimes that statement has been a sincere effort by environmentally concerned citizens who are spending more than they have to help us cut down on carbon emissions. Other times people buy hybrids just for the panache of it.

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Mark Penn posts follow-up to his Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: America’s Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column

Mark Penn Responds:

People have raised questions about the calculations on the numbers of bloggers for hire. First, I was surprised at how few studies there are on this and I believe there definitely should be more. So perhaps in the future I will do some original research, but for this piece we took the best we could find and referenced every number so people would know where they came from.

There is no question that the blogosphere, fast-growing as it is, has yet to nail down one way to measure itself or gauge its activity. But the most comprehensive sources we could find, conducted by reputable professionals, say there are over 22 million bloggers out there; and that 2% of bloggers are making their living blogging. Do the math, and you get roughly 450,000. It’s a fast-growing group and we ignore their needs, and influence, at our peril.

As far as the $75,000, the Technorati report says that of those bloggers who had 100,000 or more unique visitors, the average income is $75,000. True, it’s not the median, but it is the average. We can quibble about how easy it is to make this kind of money — but the point is, the huge potential is there.

Read more details on the sources and calculations

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: America’s Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published April 21, 2009

In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers, firefighters or even bartenders.

Paid bloggers fit just about every definition of a microtrend: Their ranks have grown dramatically over the years, blogging is an important social and cultural movement that people care passionately about, and the number of people doing it for at least some income is approaching 1% of American adults.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Fearless Freddies: Bungee-Jumping in the New Economy

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published March 30, 2009

In these uncertain times, most people are seeking protection and safety from the prospect of even more economic turbulence. But another group is going bungee-jumping into the middle of the financial crisis — bravely increasing their investments even as the markets and the financial system collapse and gloomy predictions abound.

These “Fearless Freddies” are the ones who had the stomach to invest in Citigroup when its share price dipped below a dollar. They are the ones buying oil (and oil stocks) as it hits new lows. They are down in Florida looking for condos and checking out the foreclosures. They are either the smartest people in this changed economy — or the dumbest.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Value is the New Green

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published March 13, 2009

Until recently, being green was the best way for companies to demonstrate a sense of social responsibility, and for consumers to feel good about their purchases. Healthy food, hybrid cars, energy efficiency — these were the attributes that burnished brands.

But now green is taking a back seat to a new core value — value. Green hasn’t gone away, but companies are having to consider their “value” equation to try to serve the millions of consumers who either can’t afford premium experiences, or just don’t want them anymore.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Laid-Off Lawyers and Other Professionals

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published March 2, 2009

With all the concern about America’s manufacturing sector losing jobs, it is easy to miss that the newest phenomenon is the wholesale loss of professional jobs, the very jobs that fueled America’s economic resurgence and political realignment over the last decade.

America has been losing manufacturing jobs for decades. The rest of the world has, too, including China, mostly because automation has made manufacturing more efficient. In the meantime, we have had huge growth in America’s professional class: engineers, software writers, lawyers, doctors — even licensed massage therapists.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Green Workers

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published February 19, 2009

Presidents and politicians no longer talk about simply creating jobs — now they are creating “green jobs.” Just in the stimulus bill alone, there are said to be four million new green jobs. It’s a great term — it conjures up neatly dressed employees working under compact fluorescent lights, and factory workers in white and green helmets huddled over solar cells and wind turbines. These aren’t boring office jobs or repetitive manufacturing plant jobs — no, they’re socially useful and rewarding jobs. And they’ll save the planet, too.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Committed Cohabiters

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published February 3, 2009

With all the stimulus ready to go into more broadband, bigger tax cuts and infrastructure, some of America’s most expensive societal investments are also on the decline and in need of a bailout — getting married.

Marriage in America is on the rocks. People skirt the issue, talking about how career women delay marriage until it’s too late, or about how men marry younger the second time around. But the truth is, except for the highest-income Americans among us, fewer and fewer of us are getting married at all.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: New Info Shoppers

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published January 8, 2009

With so much attention on psychological marketing these days — finding new ways to tap into people’s heads — perhaps the single most neglected trend out there is the move towards more hard-nosed information-based shopping and purchasing.

While elites were busy shoveling money into Madoff’s black box these past few years, strapped consumers have been poring over product spec sheets, third-party reviews and expert blog sites. This past holiday season they watched every dollar. A special kind of consumer has taken a major role in the marketplace — the new info shopper. These people just can’t buy anything unless they first look it up online and get the lowdown.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Quasi-Government Workers

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published December 24, 2008

Just as more people in China are working for firms that are privately owned, more workers in America are waking up to find themselves working for companies that are — at least for now — state-owned.

This new class of workers and executives in newly state-owned businesses is getting a crash course in what and what not to do as a quasi-government worker. Risk is out. Bonuses out. Off-site conferences out. Job security in. Paperwork in. Accountability in. Political limelight in.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: The Impressionable Elites Get Snookered

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published December 19, 2008

For most of this century, con men and hucksters preyed on the uneducated and the elderly who couldn’t read the fine print. Some still are.

But now we learn that the real mother lode for con artists is not composed of uninformed dowagers who were left an estate they don’t know how to manage, but rather the Impressionable Elites* of country clubs, and the rarefied hedge fund managers of Wall Street and Greenwich.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: The Mattress Stuffers

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published December 10, 2008

As the financial crisis swept across the nation these past few months, one of the first microtrend groups to emerge is the New Mattress Stuffers — people who have lost their trust in the financial world, and are preparing for the next meltdown.

Just as 9/11 created a vast industry in building security, so the recession could create a big industry in personal financial security — a new kind of survival kit. New Mattress Stuffers don’t care about the 10% interest rate on GE preferred stock that Warren Buffett snapped up; they care about making it through if hard times get even worse. As a result, firms which can offer ironclad guarantees of safety will appeal to this new group. These are people who have lost their faith in the housing market, the stock market, their bank, their big corporate employer, their auto company, and their last president. What is left but themselves?

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