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Pollster's Book IDs Society's 'Microtrends'


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

What do vegan children, extreme commuters and married couples who met on the Internet all have in common? Very little, except that each is part of a microtrend, according to the poll taker and political strategist Mark Penn. Penn is a top advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign. And as CEO of the powerhouse public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, he advises a long list of Fortune 500 companies.

T: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes." He's identified some 70 microtrends with labels such as snowed-under slobs, aspiring snipers, pet parents, protestant Hispanics and archery moms.

I asked Penn if by putting his thoughts to paper, he's giving away the secrets of the Clinton campaign to anyone willing to pluck down on $25.99.

MARK PENN: Well, my publisher says I should say sure to that question.

NORRIS: And what was the real answer?

PENN: The real answer is this is a book about America and how it's changing. It doesn't really have the campaign strategy in it.

NORRIS: So how America is changing and these microtrends? What constitutes a microtrend?

PENN: Well, we define a microtrend as roughly one percent of the population. So if three or four million people are doing something, we classify that as a microtrend. And the big idea in this book is that these small trends that we find can remain small and yet be extremely powerful in changing society.

NORRIS: Now, you have the picture of a magnifying glass on the cover of your book. So if you hold the magnifying glass up to society, what trends have you spotted that everyone else seems to be missing?

PENN: Well, I think that you always have to look at the opposite of where everybody is looking at. You know, in 1996, I focused on the soccer moms and how important they had become and how they weren't really being addressed by politicians at the time. Well, now, you almost have to look at some of the dads. Dads are now spending more time with their kids than ever. And yet, daddy and me is something you almost never see. Or a new group of dads is what I call the new older dads. They're going to be 70 years old at high school graduation. Nobody has written a handbook for them.

NORRIS: Are there certain metrics or statistics that you comb through on a daily or a weekly or a monthly basis just to get a read on society?

PENN: Well, I'm always following the polls, of course. But I really think you have to read behind the polls. And you also have to look for the counter- trends. You know, if there's a huge surge in people drinking water, well, not everybody is going along with that. There's also a big surge in people drinking caffeine. And so what we're really seeing is a change from the, what we call the Ford economy, where the whole idea was to do everything uniformly. You could have any color that you wanted as long as the car was black. To the Starbucks economy, mocha, frapuccino, skim, with sweetener.

NORRIS: Half-caf.

PENN: Half-caf. Right, so a world of choice. And so what happens now is, what I try to look for are places where those choices are coming together or significantly forming so that they're 1 percent.

NORRIS: I'm intrigued by one particular chapter in your book. It's called the uptown tattooed. You have these wonderful names for most of these cohorts. Tell me about this cohort.

PENN: Well, we found that there is a tremendous number of people, maybe as many as 30 million, getting tattoos, and that the biggest trend is people, you know, higher income, higher educated just getting a little body art. But I point out that on a marketing basis, well, you know, the tattoo parlors, most of them look a little grungy.

NORRIS: So there's an opportunity there for someone who wants to serve maybe a little bit of chardonnay with their tattoo?

PENN: Well, where's the McDonalds or the Elizabeth Arden of tattoos?

NORRIS: What about the way that people age? There's been sort of a very narrow definition of ageing in America and their habits. How does that play out in life? And how does that play out on politics?

PENN: Well, I think one of the big things in this book is that the old model of orthodoxy(ph) is of basically stopping, even their surveys at age 49 has to be thrown out the window. The people 50 and above are beginning whole, new lives. So the age bracket of 50 to 64 I think is got a renewed interest should be by marketers, who should be looking at it much more than they have been in the past, and by politicians to realize that that vote really could be the critical swing vote this year.

NORRIS: How do you take these microtrends and apply them to a presidential campaign?

PENN: Well, I'm not sure that this book directly will have any application in the presidential campaign. I just think it's always important to kind of look at the world as it's changing. And oftentimes, we're changing in big trends. In this time, I think we're changing in small ways that requires our political figures to really value, this value of tolerance, and to really understand what's happening.

NORRIS: Mark Penn, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much for coming in.

PENN: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Mark Penn, his book is called "Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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