From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
OUTREACH TO COMMUNITIES OF CLOUT
“Some people define “multicultural” by targeting demographics of
individuals defined most often by race, language, ethnicity and
religion. Burson-Marsteller defines multicultural as “multiple
communities” and our multicultural offerings are borne out of a keen
understanding of a world that is becoming more and more community-
centric with communities built around a clear cultural identity,
common interests and shared values. When, how and why individuals
self-select to identify or join with a community has never been more
varied and it is typical for people to identify or join with more than
one community at any given time.
Because of the specificity of the “common ground” in these
communities, it is often difficult to engage with community members
through traditional channels. Our research-based approach to
identifying the motivations and drivers of these communities, coupled
with our knowledge of digital and grassroots outreach, enables us to
shape programs with the specificity and relevance necessary to
generate receptivity, motivation and action.”
BY Tim Lott / 11/10/2007
who reviews Microtrends by Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne
Along with such recent publishing hits as The Long Tail and The
Tipping Point, Microtrends is a book that develops our vision of how
societies work at a time when they are becoming so complex as to be
The central premise is that the US, and much of the world, is no
longer driven primarily by a few large-scale forces, but by a
multitude of small, elusive criss-crossing tendencies, groups and
These exert a disproportionate influence through their intensity of
interest, the fact that they are growing and the fact that their needs
are as yet unmet by the commercial and political policy-makers.
Thus, although we can all cite globalisation, turbo-capitalism and the
communications revolution as large-scale trends, it is a patchwork of
smaller trends appearing ‘off the radar’ that gives significant clues
as to where the world is heading and offers opportunities and cues for
those who seek to hook up with both voters and consumers.
This picture is complex and contradictory but it is real and it is
significant. Furthermore, it is counterintuitive – Mark Penn believes
that with the speed of change in the modern world and the multiplying
currents of ‘mass individualism’, gut feelings based on common sense
are increasingly misleading.
These emerging markets and groups do not have to be that large, Penn
claims, to exert an important influence. He cites a figure of one per
cent of the population as constituting a microtrend. He never quite
succeeds in making it clear why this number is so magical outside of
his own specialist area (political polling where a small group of
swing voters are so crucial).
Can it really matter that there are seven million archers in America?
Or that there are one and a half times more Umbandans (a religious
group) in the world than there are Jews? Or that a phone poll asking
young Californians what they were going to be doing in 10 years time
revealed that a full one per cent of them (which turns out to be a
grand total of six) said they wanted to be snipers?
Likewise Penn ‘identifies’ trends that feel like common knowledge. We
all know that long-distance or ‘extreme’ commuters are on the rise
(particularly in the UK). And the fact that caffeine consumption is on
a massive spike is neither a microtrend nor a fresh insight.
But the beauty of this book is that it brings all the fibres of a
complicated tapestry into a focus that makes it susceptible to
discrete analysis. And it produces a picture of the world that
confounds preconceptions. The book delivers jolt after jolt on this
Were you aware that in the US women outspend men on technology by a
factor of three to two? Or that more women buy cars than men? As Penn
points out, you would never guess from the male-message-loaded
I was shocked that double the number of people aged 20-44 took
sleeping pills in America in 2004 than in 2000. That eight out of 10
dog owners buy birthday gifts for their pets. That there are three
million straight spouses left behind by ‘Late Breaking Gays’. That one
third of African women are not malnourished but overweight. That the
average age for video and computer game users is not 15 but 33.
These figures come – to me, anyway – out of the blue. But Penn also
gives shape and substance to many ‘common sense’ perceptions that turn
out to be only half formed.
We are all aware, for example, that women have made advances but who
would have known that, in America at least, 70 per cent of PR
employees are women, along with 57 per cent of news anchors, analysts
and journalists and more than of half of law school graduates.
Women’s control and mastery of words (Penn dubs them ‘Wordy Women’)
explains why the news agenda has become relatively feminised, with
abortion, childcare and sex-discrimination stories all working up the
Even more illuminating is a statistic Penn quotes about voting
behaviour. He points out that, contrary to popular expectations,
holders of PhDs are much more emotionally driven when making decisions
on how to vote than the blue-collar workers are. Why? Because they are
not at the cutting edge of changes. They are insulated against swings
in policy in the way that those at the economic and social coal-face
This turns conventional wisdom on its head and explains why political
commentators on both sides of the Atlantic so often get it wrong. A
‘satisfied élite’ is driving media perspectives – in a misleading
direction. Hence, in this country, the absurd surprise of the
commentariat at the success of Gordon Brown when he was so supposedly
voter unfriendly and disconcertingly unBlairlike. It was the economy,
One of the pleasures of the book is that you will also inevitably
recognise yourself – as I did (a Do-over Dad, a Snowed Under Slob, a
Stay At Home Worker, and a 30-Winker). I am not alone – and neither
The greatest compliment I can pay this book is that it made me want to
go and start a business, so rich is its suggestion of untapped,
unidentified social realities.
As a ‘Snowed Under Slob’ I probably won’t be bothered, but even so,
Microtrends gave me a picture of the world that surprised and
challenged me. It is also internationally relevant, not only because
the world tends to follow the US, but because Penn has included panels
that fill in the global picture (did you know 82 per cent of Italian
men aged 18-30 still live with their parents?)
The book is like Schott’s Miscellany without the irrelevance. That is,
it is not merely fun to read but bursting with essential, and almost
certainly profitable, information for policy-makers, businessman,
pundits and punters alike.
BY Rachel Sylvester / 19/09/2007
who gets to grips with Mark Penn’s ‘microtrend’ voting categories
Mark Penn argues that the world is increasingly made up of “societal
atoms”. These are, he says, “small trends that reflect changing habits
and choices.” Often, they are counter-intuitive. By analyzing polling
data, he has identified 75 “microtrends”, categories of people who
might just change the world. Although most of the research in his book
is based on American polls, many of the findings are replicated in the
1. Sex-ratio singles. Around three per cent of women are, according to
Penn, now left on the shelf because there are not enough straight men
to go round.
2. Cougars. Women who date younger men. The number following the
example of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate has more than trebled in the
last ten year.
3. Office romancers. According to one recent survey nearly 60 per cent
of Americans have mixed business and pleasure.
4. Commuter couples. The number of people who live in separate cities
has doubled in the last fifteen years.
5. Internet marrieds. Couples who meet on line are more likely to
cross class and race barriers.
6. Working retired. The baby boomers are refusing to give up their
jobs at 65.
7. Extreme commuters. The number of those who travel at least 90
minutes each way to get to work has doubled in the last ten years.
8. Stay-at-home workers. Up 23 per cent in the US since 1990.
9. Wordy women. It’s not just JK Rowling. Females have a rising
profile in language-based professions such as the media, PR, law and
10. Ardent Amazons. Women are also increasingly going into jobs that
demand physical strength, such as the military, fire-fighting,
plumbing, sport and building.
11. Stained glass ceiling breakers. The number of female vicars has
trebled in the last twenty years.
12. Pro-Semites. According to Penn: “Jew-loving is a bit of a craze.”
13. Interracial families. More than one per cent of couples in the US
are mixed race.
14. Protestant Hispanics. Latino immigrants are a powerful lobby group
and those who are Protestant, rather than Catholic, are a surprisingly
15. Moderate Muslims.
16. Sun-haters. Those who are turning against tanning are “early
adopters” of a trend that Penn believes will soon spread.
17. 30-winkers. Margaret Thatcher survived on four hours a night, and
the number of people who sleep fewer than six hours is rising fast.
18. Left-handers. The number has doubled in a generation and will
continue to rise, thanks, Penn thinks, to more liberal teaching and
19. DIY doctors. We are all researching, diagnosing and curing
ourselves via the internet.
20. Hard-of-hearers. The number of people with hearing loss doubled
between 1970 and 2000.
21. Old new dads. Fathers having children in their 40s and 50s, up
dramatically. Pet parents.
22. Not only are people having more animals, they are also treating
them more like children.
23. Pampering parents. Nurture, not discipline, is the order of the
24. Late-breaking gays. Those leaving heterosexual marriages for gay
relationships. One study found that one in five gay men were past 40
when they had their first homosexual experience.
25. Dutiful sons. Although the bulk of those caring for elderly
relatives are women, the number of men is rising.
26. Impressionable elites. Wealthy and educated people who are now
more obsessed by personality, rather than issue-based, politics than
their working class counterparts.
27. Swing is still king. The non tribal centrist voters will still,
according to Penn, determine elections.
28. Militant illegals. In the US, illegal immigrants are increasingly
taking to the streets to demand more rights.
29. Christian Zionists. Christians who support Israel outnumber Jews.
30. Newly released ex-cons.
31. Mildly disordered. Conditions such as attention deficit disorder
are on the rise.
32. Young knitters. The fastest growing group of people who knit are
in their teens and 20s.
33. Black teen idols. There is a new class of black super-achievers
graduating for the first time.
34. High school moguls. The internet and eBay make teenage
entrepreneurship easier than ever.
35. Aspiring snipers. The most bizarre fact Penn has discovered is
that one per cent of young Californians told a pollster that they want
to be snipers. “Stealth,” he says “is in openness is out.”
36. Vegan children. The younger generation is turning off meat in a
37. Obese adults. There are an estimated 300 million obese people in
the world, compared with 200 million in 1995, with all the
implications for health policy.
38. The thinning thousands. There are meanwhile thousands cutting
their calories to near-starvation levels in an attempt to lengthen
39. Caffeine crazies. Starbucks and Red Bull are taking over the
40. Long attention spanners. 50 million Americans do jigsaw puzzles,
best-selling books are on average 100 pages longer than 10 years ago –
and Penn believes politics is moving from soundbites to issue-based
41. Neglected dads. The man who discovered the Soccer Mums thinks
advertisers, and politicians are now ignoring fathers.
42. Native language speakers. The number of people living in
households where no-one speaks English well has increased by more than
50 per cent in recent years.
43. Unisexuals. After metrosexuals, we have unisexuals, people to whom
as Penn puts it “the binary gender classification system is arbitrary,
limiting and oppressive.”
44. Second home buyers. Middle income earners are the fastest growing
group of those buying rural retreats.
45. Modern Mary Poppinses. Well-educated, well-heeled women are
increasingly becoming nannies.
46. Shy millionaires. There is a significant group of rich and super-
rich who live below their means. Penn calls them Secret Succeeders and
47. Bourgeois and Bankrupt. In America personal bankruptcy filings
have climbed nearly 350 per cent in the last 25 years.
48. Non-profiteers. The number working for charities and non-profit
organizations has soared.
49. Uptown tattooed. High earners are now more likely than low earners
to have ‘body art’.
50. Snowed under slobs. One in ten people identify themselves as ‘very
messy’ – and they are almost twice as likely to be Democrats as
51. Surgery lovers. There has been a huge increase in cosmetic surgery
and nearly half of surgeons say they have treated teenagers.
52. Powerful petites. According to Penn, ‘little women are big
53. Social geeks. Computer nerds are now more sociable than their
54. New luddites. A dedicated band who refuse to logon.
55. Tech fatales. Women spend a third more on technology than men.
56. Car-buying soccer moms. Although you would not guess it from the
adverts, they are also the majority of car-buyers today.
57. Archery moms. Niche sports – such as archery – are taking over
from mainstream ones such as soccer.
58. xxx men. There are 4 million pornographic websites worldwide,
about 12 per cent of the total, and one in four search engine requests
on an average day is for pornography.
59. Video game grown ups. Mothers over 45 are one of the fastest
growing group of computer game players.
60. Neo-classicals. Classical music is growing in popularity.
61. Smart children left behind. Middle class parents are increasingly
holding their child back a year, so they are the oldest not the
youngest in the class.
62. The home-schooled. A growing band are abandoning mainstream
63. College drop-outs. Although college enrollment has gone up college
graduation rates have stayed about the same.
64. Numbers junkies. Science is failing to attract enough students.
There are only 77 maths students at Harvard, out of over 6,700
65. Mini-churched. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia,
there are nearly 10,000 distinct religions in the world with two or
three new ones being created every day.
66. International home buyers.
67. LAT couples. One million couples in Britain live apart – but are
68. Mammonies. In Italy 82 per cent of men age 18-30 are still living
at home with their parents.
69. Eurostars. Although Americans are reproducing at a rate of 2.1
children per woman of child-bearing age, European women are having an
unsustainable 1.5 children each.
70. Vietnamese entrepreneurs. Vietnam is one of the most successful
71. French teetotalers. No country has cut its alcohol consumption
more than France in the last 40 years.
72. Chinese Picassos. Between 1993 and 2005, China’s premier art
auction house nearly quadrupled its annual sales volume.
73. Russian swings. Russians who, in the 1990s, swung towards
democracy are now swinging back.
74. Indian women. An increasingly powerful force.
75. Educated terrorists.
Why There’s Strength in Small Numbers
By HARRY HURT III / September 16, 2007
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
“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.
The thesis of Mr. Penn’s book is that “you can’t understand the world
anymore only in terms of ‘megatrends,’ or universal experience. In
today’s splintered society, if you want to operate successfully, you
have to understand the intense identity groups that are growing and
moving, fast and furious, in crisscrossing directions.” In the United
States, he notes, these society-changing “microtrends” can involve as
few as three million people, about 1 percent of the population.
So how does Mr. Penn identify the 75 most important microtrends of the
current age? By numbers, largely those obtained through polls and
“Americans claim to be a ‘gut’ nation – which is kind of a bodily term
for what we roughly term our ‘values,’ ” he declares. But according to
Mr. Penn, the advice we get from our guts is “lousy” most of the time
because it is inexact and often contrary to statistically determined
facts. Numbers, he believes, do not lie. ”Numbers will almost always
take you where you want to go if you know how to read them,” he
Except perhaps for the fictional math genius in “Numb3rs,” few people
are better at gathering or reading numbers than Mr. Penn.
“Microtrends” is a diligently researched tome chock-full of
counterintuitive facts and findings that may radically alter the way
you see the present, the future, and your places in both. The book’s
15 main chapters group microtrends in virtually every area of life,
like “Love, Sex, and Relationships,” “Politics,” “Technology,”
“Education,” “Food, Drink & Diet” and “Looks and Fashion.”
“Microtrends” is the perfect bible for a game of not-so-trivial
pursuits concerning the hidden sociological truths of modern times.
Suppose, for example, you were asked to name an American subculture
that marries at a rate of 70 percent and registers to vote at a rate
of 82 percent. Chances are you wouldn’t guess that group is the
“moderate Muslims” identified by Mr. Penn. Likewise, with all the
stories about poverty breeding political unrest, you probably wouldn’t
figure that the Muslim terrorists who perpetrated acts like the 9/11
attacks were mostly middle class and college educated, as Mr. Penn
Let’s say you want to elected president of the United States with the
help of the soccer moms Mr. Clinton charmed last decade. Better take a
fresh look at your target electorate.
According to Mr. Penn, most of the soccer moms of the 1990s have
already sent their children off to college; many of these mothers are
now seeking personally fulfilling leisure activities. Archery ranks as
the nation’s fourth-fastest-growing sport behind skateboarding,
kayaking and rafting, and snowboarding – so go after those “archery
What should you do on the educational front if you have a child with
an aptitude for numbers, as mine does? Both of you had better get
cracking, because American college students are studying less math. As
an example, “Microtrends” says Harvard has only 77 math majors out of
6,700 undergraduate students.
The math story is different in China and India, which are graduating
as many as 950,000 engineers a year. Granted, both nations are far
more populous than the United States, but that is a lot of engineers.
Mr. Penn notes that a 2001 bipartisan commission “said that the
greatest threat to American national security – behind only terrorist
attacks – was the threat of failing to provide sufficient math and
science education in America.”
If Mr. Penn’s array of microtrends is unrelentingly fascinating, the
sheer number is a bit much to digest in one or even several sittings.
As an admittedly “impressionist” portrait, a statistical snapshot
frozen in recent past time, it is also a bit lacking in a coherent
vision of the future. Mr. Penn predicts that “the explosion of
individual expression” will also make it much harder for autocracies
to flourish in China and elsewhere. But in the next breath, he warns
that the “weakness of a world driven by personal choice is that mass
collective action” against those autocracies will become “more
difficult to organize and sustain.”
THAT said, the book’s numbers offer a measure of reassurance about the
future of politics that is almost on par with the reassurance my son
gets from watching the math genius and his F.B.I. agent brother defeat
the bad guys on “Numb3rs.”
Mr. Penn says in the last chapter that “it is only a matter of time”
until either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party breaks
apart. “As of the spring of 2007, the Democratic Party is energized
and showing greater unity,” he writes. “The Republican Party, on the
other hand, is losing membership and arguably its identity, and is
probably more ripe for breakup.”
Is it to much to hope that with the continuing “explosion of personal
choice” both parties might go under at the same time? Stay tuned.
Mark J. Penn, Worldwide President & CEO
Office: New York
Email address: markjpenn [at] bm [dot] com
“Mark Penn is worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and President of
Penn, Schoen and Berland. As CEO of Burson-Marsteller, Mark oversees a
global network of 94 offices and 1600 employees that brings world-
class public relations to companies around the world. As President of
PSB, a position he has held since 1975 when he was an undergraduate at
Harvard, Mark focuses on providing research-based communications
strategy to political figures, corporations and crisis situations.
Mark has been called “Master of the Message” by Time Magazine; “The
king of polls” by the London Times; and an “incandescent intellect” by
the New York Times. On his wall are notes saying “you were brilliant”
from Tony Blair after his historic third win and “thanks” from Bill
Clinton after his impeachment acquittal along with photos of Mark
working with CEOs including Bill Gates and Bill Ford, Jr. The
Washington Post, in “Politics and Policy by the Numbers” summed up his
influence in the White House and the corporate boardroom as a “unique
vantage point: adviser to the preeminent innovator of the past decade
in the realm of politics, Bill Clinton, and the preeminent innovator
in the realm of business and technology, Bill Gates.”
The techniques applied to these political and corporate battles were
honed from early major corporate experiences with AT&T, Texaco and
others. In “The Guru of Small Things” the New York Times explains how
he has combined innovative techniques of micro-targeting, issue-based
messaging and visual message testing to win major corporate, marketing
and political battles.
Today, Mark serves as strategic consultant to several Fortune 500
companies and CEOs on a wide range of image, branding and corporate
reputation issues. His client relationships include Ford Motor
Company, Merck, Verizon, BP, McDonald’s and Microsoft. He has been a
key adviser to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer since 1998, helping
Microsoft affect a complete corporate turnaround from anti-trust
scandal to Most Trusted Company (Wall Street Journal).
In 2007, Mark published a ground-breaking book, Microtrends: The Small
Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes that has been compared to The
Tipping Point by Kirkus Reviews and has received praise from President
Bill Clinton and Bill Gates.
Mark has helped to elect over 25 leaders in the United States, Asia,
Latin America and Europe. Most recently, he served as advisor to Prime
Minister Tony Blair, helping achieve an unprecedented third term win
for the Labour party in the United Kingdom. He is also well known for
serving as President Clinton’s pollster and political adviser for the
1996 re-election campaign and throughout the second term of the
administration. Currently, Mark serves as a key strategic advisor to
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. He has worked with Mrs. Clinton for
over six years, since he ran the polling and messaging for her
successful election to the US Senate in 2000.
Mark won the Pollster of the Year award, given every 4 years, in both
1996 and 2000, the top honor in his profession, from the American
Association of Political Consultants. Mark has written for
publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post, and
has appeared frequently on networks including CNN and Fox News.”
“I do not have any formal public relations training. How then do I
move into the industry?”
We suggest you visit any one of the following Web sites for general
information as well as career advice. (links)
* Canadian Public Relations Society
* European Association of Public Relations and Communications
* European Public Relations Confederation (Confederation
Europeenne des Relations Publiques)
* Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication
* Institute of Public Relations of Singapore
* Inter-American Confederation of Public Relations
* International Association of Business Communicators
* International Communications Consultancy Organisation
* International Labour Organization
* International Public Relations Association
* Latin American Association of University Careers of Public
Relations (Asociación Latinoamericana de Carreras Universitarias de
* Public Relations Consultants Association of India
* Public Relations Consultants Association
* Public Relations Institute of Australia
* Public Relations Institute of New Zealand
* Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa
* Public Relations Society of America
* Public Relations Society of Japan
THE MAN WHO DISCOVERED SOCCER MOMS
EXCERPT of Microtrends
by Mark J. Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne
In fact, the whole idea that there are a few huge trends that
determine how America and the world work is breaking down. There are
no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead,
America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of
choices, accumulating in “microtrends”-small, under-the-radar forces
that can involve as little as 1 percent of the population, but which
are powerfully shaping our society. It’s not just that small is the
new big. It’s that in order to truly know what’s going on, we need
better tools than just the naked eye and an eloquent tongue. We need
the equivalent of magnifying glasses and microscopes, which in
sociological terms are polls, surveys, and statistics. They take a
slice of the matter being studied and lay it open-bigger and clearer-
for examination. And inside, you will find yourself, your friends,
your clients, your customers, and your competition, clearer than you
ever thought you might.
Working for President Clinton in 1996, I identified the under-the-
radar group that became known as the Soccer Moms. (I like to think I
did something for the youth soccer movement, although I really didn’t
mean to. The phrase was just meant to get at busy suburban women
devoted to their jobs and their kids, who had real concerns about real
presidential policies.) Until that campaign, it was generally thought
that politics was dominated by men, who decided how their households
would vote. But the truth was, in 1996, most male voters had already
made up their minds by the campaign. The people left to influence were
the new group of independent Moms, devoted to both work and their
kids, who had not yet firmly decided which party would be good for
their families. They, not their husbands, were the critical swing
voters. To win them over, President Clinton initiated a campaign to
give them a helping hand in raising their kids-drug-testing in
schools, measures against teen smoking, limits on violence in the
media, and school uniforms. These Moms did not want more government in
their lives, but they were quite happy to have a little more
government in their kids’ lives to keep them on the straight and
In retrospect, a profound political change was spawned by this bit of
trend-spotting. Previously, almost all Democrats had targeted
downscale, noncollege workers, particularly in the manufacturing
sector. But union membership and manufacturing jobs were shrinking,
more people were going to college, and almost the entire electorate in
the U.S. was calling itself middle class. If Democrats missed the key
trends, they would miss the boat.
Now candidates enthusiastically target Soccer Moms-although someone
may want to let them know that trends move fast, and Soccer Moms, too,
have moved on. Now, a decade later, their kids are getting ready for
college, many of them have been through a divorce, and their own
financial security has become as big an issue for them as raising
their children was ten years ago.
And with all of the attention being paid to those Moms, Dads-suburban-
based, family-focused, office-park-working Dads-are all but neglected
in politics, advertising, and the media. In the twenty-first century,
Dads spend more time with their children then ever in history. Has
Madison Avenue adjusted? Are Dads ever the target of back-to-school
There could be as big a shift ahead in marketing as 1996 saw in
The art of trend-spotting, through polls, is to find groups that are
pursuing common activities and desires, and that have either started
to come together or can be brought together by the right appeal that
crystallizes their needs. Soccer Moms had been there for a decade or
more-but they became a political class only when they were recognized
as a remarkably powerful voting bloc in America.
Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of
communications, and the global economy are all coming together to
create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming
our society. The world may be getting flatter, in terms of
globalization, but it is occupied by 6 billion little bumps who do not
have to follow the herd to be heard. No matter how offbeat their
choices, they can now find 100,000 people or more who share their
taste for deep fried yak on a stick.
In fact, by the time a trend hits 1 percent, it is ready to spawn a
hit movie, best-selling book, or new political movement. The power of
individual choice is increasingly influencing politics, religion,
entertainment, and even war. In today’s mass societies, it takes only
1 percent of people making a dedicated choice-contrary to the
mainstream’s choice-to create a movement that can change the world.
Just look at what has happened in the U.S. to illegal immigrants. A
few years ago, they were the forgotten Americans, hiding from daylight
and the authorities. Today they are holding political rallies, and
given where they and their legal, voting relatives live, they may turn
out to be the new Soccer Moms. Militant immigrants fed up with a
broken immigration system just may be the most important voters in the
next presidential election, distributed in the key Southwest states
that are becoming the new battleground areas.
It’s the same in business, too, since the Internet has made it so easy
to link people together. In the past, it was almost impossible to
market to small groups who were spread around the country. Now it’s a
virtual piece of cake to find 1 million people who want to try your
grapefruit diet, or who can’t get their kids to sleep at night.
The math can be not just strategic, but also catastrophic. If Islamic
terrorists were to convince even just one-tenth of 1 percent of
America’s population that they were right, they would have 300,000
soldiers of terror, more than enough to destabilize our society. If
bin Laden could convert just 1 percent of the world’s 1 billion
Muslims to take up violence, that would be 10 million terrorists, a
group that could dwarf even the largest armies and police forces on
earth. This is the power of small groups that come together today.
The power of choice is especially evident as more and more Americans
make decisions about their own lives. For example, the population
growth in America has slowed to .9 percent, but the number of
households has exploded. Between people getting divorced, staying
single longer, living longer, and never marrying at all, we are
experiencing an explosion in the number of people who are heads of
households-almost 115 million in 2006 compared to about 80 million in
1980. The percentage of households consisting of one person living
alone increased from 17 percent in 1970 to 26 percent in 2003. The
proportion of married-with-kids households has fallen to less than 25
All these people out there living a more single, independent life are
slivering America into hundreds of small niches. Single people, and
people without kids at home, have more time to follow their interests,
pick up hobbies, get on the Internet, have a political debate, or go
out to movies. By all rights, no one should even go to the movies
anymore-you can get movies practically as fast by downloading them or
using pay-per-view-but for people with a free Saturday night, movies
are such a solid preference that theaters are raising their prices,
not lowering them. More people have more disposable resources
(including money, time, and energy) than ever before. They are
deploying them in pursuit of personal satisfaction like never before.
And as a result, we’re getting a clearer picture of who people are and
what they want. And in business, politics, and social-problem-solving,
having that information can make all the difference.
This book is all about the niching of America. How there is no One
America anymore, or Two, or Three, or Eight. In fact, there are
hundreds of Americas, hundreds of new niches made up of people drawn
together by common interests.
Nor is niching confined just to America. It is a global phenomenon
that is making it extremely difficult to unify people in the twenty-
first century. Just when we thought that, thanks to the Internet, the
world would be not only connected but ultimately unified around shared
values favoring democracy, peace and security, exactly the opposite is
happening. We are flying apart at a record pace.
I recently went bowling and, contrary to another popular but misguided
idea, no one was there alone. But actually, the people hurling the
balls down the lanes weren’t the clichéd pot-bellied, beer-drinking
bowlers, either. In fact, there appeared to be no similarity at all
from one group to another. In one lane was a family of Indian
immigrants, including the grandparents. In another lane was a black
Mom with two adolescent kids. In a third lane were four white teens,
some with tattoos, some with polo shirts. And two lanes down, a
Spanish-speaking man and woman were clearly on a bowling date,
smooching between spares.
With the rise in freedom of choice has come a rise in individuality.
And with the rise of individuality has come a rise in the power of
choice. The more choices people have, the more they segregate
themselves into smaller and smaller niches in society.
The Explosion of Choice
At the Boston Tea Party in 1773, there was probably only one kind of
tea hurled overboard-English Breakfast. Today, if Americans staged
that rebellion, there would be hundreds of different teas flying into
the harbor, from caffeine-free jasmine rose to Moroccan mint to sweet
You can’t even buy potato chips anymore without having to pick from
among baked, fried, rippled, fat-reduced, salted, or flavored-with
flavor subcategories including barbeque, sweet potato, onion and
chive, and Monterey Pepper Jack.
We live in a world with a deluge of choices. In almost every area of
life, Americans have wider freedom of choice today than ever in
history, including new kinds of jobs, new foods, new religions, new
technologies, and new forms of communication and interaction.
In some sense, it’s the triumph of the Starbucks economy over the Ford
economy. In the early 1900s, Henry Ford created the assembly line so
that mass consumerism could take place-uniformly. Thousands of workers
turned out one black car, millions and millions of times.
Today, few products still exist like that. (One that does, ironically,
is the personal computer, which has made it to every desk in every
home in essentially the same form. There is some customization around
the edges, but if you go to a typical CompUSA to buy a computer,
you’ll have fewer options than you do choosing lettuce in the
By contrast, Starbucks is governed by the idea that people make choices
-in their coffee, their milk, their sweetener-and that the more
choices people have, the greater satisfaction they feel. (And in just
those simple choices, you can see the unpredictability of the consumers
-some are avoiding caffeine, fat, or sugar, and others are happily
ordering them all.) Starbucks is successful because it can be all
things to all people-it makes no bets on one set of choices over
Whereas in the Ford economy, the masses were served by many people
working to make one, uniform product, in the Starbucks economy, the
masses are served by a few people working to make thousands of
customized, personalized products.
The Starbucks model seems to be winning. iPods are popular not because
we can carry around music-we could do that with the Walkman in the
1980s. They are popular because they let us pick and choose our own
songs. Personal technology has become personalized technology, and now
we can have exactly what we want in almost every consumer area. You
can even have a made-to-order car delivered in less than a month-
longer than it takes to get a pizza, but still an amazing feat made
possible by technology.
The triumph of personalization and choice is a boon for coffee-
drinkers and car-buyers, but it’s a nightmare for trend-spotters. As
choices get more and more finely sliced, you have to look all the
harder to see how choices change.
But remember the terrorists, or realize that the best-selling car in
America is bought by barely 300,000 people. Unlike any other time in
history, small trends can make a big difference. So while it is harder
than ever to spot trends, it is also more important.
Small groups, drawn together by shared needs, habits, and preferences,
are on the rise. They are powerful, and they are hard to find. This
book aims to pin some of them down.
The Power of Numbers
There have been some very good books in recent years that claim that
America is moving in a couple of big directions. This book contends
the opposite. America is moving in hundreds of small directions. At
once. Quickly. It’s part of our great energy and part of our looming
Because small trends pay very little deference to one another. For
every high-profile group of young, urban chic in America, there is
another group of older, old-fashioned churchgoers. For every group of
Gadget Geeks, there are the people who say turn the technology off.
Americans are dieting more than ever, but the steak houses have never
been more full. Politics is split to the extremes with “red states”
and “blue states,” but there have never been more voters who call
For thirty years since reading V. O. Key, I have used the most
reliable device I know of to spot trends, or the shifts and evolutions
in these groups: numbers. Americans claim to be a “gut” nation-which
is kind of a bodily metaphor for what we roughly term our “values.”
How many times do you hear that the right thing to do is to follow
Most of the time, though, that advice is pretty lousy. If you want the
safest form of transportation, get on a plane; don’t go near a car. If
you want to lose weight, count calories; forget the cranberry juice
and flaxseed. Numbers will almost always take you where you want to go
if you know how to read them.
In general we love numbers-a hit TV show these days is even called
Numb3rs. But we also fear them. In part because we’re less well
trained in math and science than we are in language and literature. As
a country, we suspect we’re not that good at numbers. They scare us,
almost as much as public speaking. At the same time they fascinate us.
Many of us have a healthy mistrust of numbers, because some people, in
an effort to advance an agenda, misuse them. Do you remember the Y2K
scare? Every computer-user on earth worried that their files were in
jeopardy as the millennium turned over. In fact, only one-third of the
world’s computers were ever even susceptible to Y2K errors-and in
those, hardly any problems materialized. Or avian flu. In late 2005,
it sped around the world that out of 140 or so human cases of avian
flu reported in Southeast Asia, more than half had resulted in death.
Reporters somberly concluded that the mortality rate for avian flu is
more than 50 percent. Terrifying! But in fact the sample those numbers
came from was only the very sickest people. People who contracted the
flu and never went to the hospital never even made it into the
calculations. I call these reported numbers “scaretistics.”
My job, in thirty years as a pollster, has been to separate the wheat
from the chaff when it comes to numbers. In working for different
kinds of clients, from Bill Clinton to Bill Gates to Tony Blair, I
have learned to pierce through remarkably stubborn conventional
wisdom, finding counterintuitive trends in society that can help solve
substantial challenges. Imagine for a moment that you are a powerful
leader. Eloquent advocates tug at you every day, and the press gives
you its opinions. Your advisers chime in. It becomes hard to make the
right choice unless you also have the missing ingredient: the numbers.
My job was to wade through all the opinions and offer a solid,
quantitative view of reality based on the numbers, so that leaders had
a true picture when they made their decisions. In my view, words
without numbers are as meaningless as numbers without words-you need
the right balance, so that eloquent arguments are backed up by reality
as depicted by numbers. Later in the book, we talk about rising crime
in America-a very difficult subject that has been the focus of
countless treatises and theories on everything from unemployment to
permissive parenting. But when you understand that the number of
felons being released from jail has lately escalated to 650,000 people
a year, you instantly have a model of a new threat on the streets and
are pointed to a new set of solutions.
In my role as pollster and strategist, I have helped generate winning
counterintuitive strategies that follow the numbers. Going after the
Soccer Moms in 1996. Helping soon-to-be Senator Hillary Clinton in
2000 look for votes in upstate New York, where Democrats had not
traditionally found many. Breaking the mold on advertising for
companies by having them pitch their ads to older people, not young
ones. Advising the winners of fifteen foreign presidential elections
in languages I could not even pronounce, let alone understand, because
I stuck to the numbers and not local biases. Often, people are just
too close to the situation to see the real facts-and it takes an
objective look to tell them what is really going on. Leaders can be
even more isolated, often captive to their staffs, and hearing only
what local journalists say is going on. Numbers can cut to the chase
in any language.
I remember one day telling the new president of Colombia that his
people were ready for an all-out war on drugs by an overwhelming
percentage. They did not, as most people thought, want to turn a blind
eye but wanted to modernize the country. The president was silent on
the matter-but finally his chief of staff said, “Mark, you are right,
but we would all be killed.” He taught me the limits of the numbers
that day, but eventually both that president and the country did
decide to make war on the drug lords, and risk their lives in the
This book is about the power of numbers and how they drive America and
the world. Rarely are things what they seem on the surface, and
nonquantitative, conventional wisdom is usually not wisdom at all.
Hidden right in front of us are powerful counterintuitive trends that
can be used to drive a new business, run a campaign, start a movement,
or guide your investment strategy. Even though these trends are
staring us in the face, we often don’t really see them.
Trend Spotters in Context
I am part of a proud line of trend-spotters. Alvin Toffler, who wrote
the Future Shock series, and John Naisbitt, who wrote Megatrends, were
some of the first thinkers in the modern era to look at the huge,
changing world of human behavior and try to make some sense of it with
facts and data. They got it right that the Information Age would
But one thing in particular that it changed was the nature of looking
at trends themselves. As we’ll see throughout this book, you can’t
understand the world anymore only in terms of “megatrends,” or
universal experiences. In today’s splintered society, if you want to
operate successfully, you have to understand the intense identity
groups that are growing and moving, fast and furious in crisscrossing
directions. That is microtrends.
It is very different, however, from what most people do when they
“spot trends”-which is itself a growing trend. Lately there is
something of a cottage industry of marketers and sociologists who will
tell you the Ten or Fifteen Things You Must Know to get through the
next two or five or ten years. They define and refine the world around
them with ever cuter and cleverer names for the consumer, cultural,
and personal changes going on in society. Yes, I aim for some sticky
labels in this book, too. But in this book, a trend is not merely a
“development,” like the declining use of cash. It is not simply a
“shift” in how people do things, like more women taking their
husband’s name. It is not just an evolving “preference” for a product
or activity, like the growing use of GPS systems. A microtrend is an
intense identity group, that is growing, which has needs and wants
unmet by the current crop of companies, marketers, policymakers, and
others who would influence society’s behavior.
In Microtrends, we will look at seventy-five groups who, by virtue of
their daily decisions, are forging the shape of America and the world
both today and tomorrow. While some groups are larger than others,
what they have in common is that they are relatively unseen-either
because their actual numbers are small or because conventional wisdom
hides their potential in the shadows, sometimes even emphasizing the
In some of the groups, you will see yourself or your friends, your
clients or your constituents. Some groups will seem wildly remote.
Some funny. Others tragic. Occasionally, I have documented
diametrically opposing trends. Taken together, they are a kind of
impressionist painting of America and the world.
At the end, we’ll take a step back and look at the portrait. No longer
the sum of a few master strokes, America and the world are now a
collection of fine dots, to be examined one by one. We’ll see what
image emerges at the end, and what it means for our future.