Mark Penn’s 2007 book Microtrends received considerable acclaim for its assertion that “quiet changes within narrow slices of the population” can have as much impact on our future as broad societal trends in business, politics and culture.
In his new book, Microtrends Squared: The New Small Forces Driving Today’s Big Disruptions, Penn proposes that microtrends have become more influential than ever. With increasingly partisan media sources presenting beliefs and opinions that seem to carry greater weight than real numbers and facts do, Penn was prompted to research “new forces that are emerging and converging now to upend our society in ways that seem inexplicable on the surface.”
While the original book presented microtrends as a relatively new phenomenon, Microtrends Squared posits that the last decade has seen an explosion of hundreds, if not thousands, of new microtrends. Penn offers an overview of 50 different microtrends across six different sectors. Here are a few examples:
Love and Relationships: Second-Fiddle Husbands have emerged as a distinct group as their working wives bring home increasingly substantial paychecks.
Health and Diet: Pro-Proteiners have embraced ranchers and fisherman over farmers as the Atkins and ketogenic diets have led consumers to abandon carbohydrates.
Technology: No-PCers have abandoned their desktop computers (and now their laptops) in favor of the increasing functionality of tablets and smartphones.
Lifestyle: Armchair Preppers are stockpiling gold, guns and apocalypse supplies in response to the 9/11 attack, the 2009 banking crisis and a perceived rise in natural disasters. For them, it’s not a matter of if but when.
Politics: Old Economy Voters have turned their backs on promises of future prosperity in favor of a return to nationalism over globalization.
Work and Business: Microcapitalists are on the rise as people seek to earn money either as a “side gig’”or a full-time occupation. Whether it’s selling crafts on Etsy, trading on eBay or importing goods to sell on Amazon, the cost to join these platforms is lower than it has ever been.
Taming Our Microtrends
Penn has clearly come to respect microtrends as a potent but disruptive force, citing numerous examples where the dynamic is “simultaneously pulling society in different directions, often diametrically opposed.” For example:
The rapid consolidation of ownership of media channels has produced new media titans who are facing increasing questions over partisan programming.
The increased availability of choice has led us to make fewer choices. We may have left the Ford economy behind (any color you like as long as it’s black), but the Starbucks economy of overwhelming choice has led us to pick a favorite drink and stick with it.
The increased availability of technology has given us more ways to connect with the world, but few of those connections are deep or lasting.
Consumer data has become a more valuable commodity than gold or oil, but we are woefully unprepared to regulate the collection and ethical use of that data.
The author raises multiple concerns about the misuse of consumer data –– both by those collecting it and selling access to it as a revenue source (telecommunications and social media companies) and by those purchasing the data for increasingly targeted and partisan agendas.
Penn’s proposal of a fee-based model where customers can opt for a private, ad-free version of such services is a logical one, but the research confirms that more than 60 percent of customers would likely accept the status quo. The long-term consequences of such a casual acceptance of a loss of privacy have still to be fully explored.
Microtrends Squared makes a deliberate choice not to offer a “simplistic explanation” for the current disruptions or confusing future ahead. By starting with facts rather than opinions, Penn delivers a comprehensive analysis of the microtrends developing in the world today and clarifies their likely impact on business, politics and culture.