How to Capitalize on Microtrends

Last Updated Aug 29, 2007 2:43 PM EDT

How to Capitalize on MicrotrendsIf your product appeals to 1% of people, that's not good news, is it? Writing in Forbes this week, Mark J. Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller, reminds us that 1% of 300 million Americans is still 3 million customers, "enough to generate a new social movement, a successful product, a best-selling book, a new religion or a significant political force."

Penn dubs these ultra thin slices of the population "microtrends" and warns business people not to underestimate them. Creating a successful products these days is often less about building something for a broad swath of the American populace and more about honing your pitch to appeal to a certain segment of the population. Penn explains,

We are moving swiftly from the Ford economy, where the idea was to mass merchandise on a low-cost, standardized basis, to the Starbucks economy, where the organizing principal is to improve personal satisfaction based on the niching of America.
In order to capitalize on microtrends you need to be able to spot them first. No problem, says Penn, just look for the opposite of any received wisdom. "In today's culture, some people rebel and choose the opposite of almost every major trend--and do so deliberately, with real fervor. If drinking purified bottled water is off the charts, certain others will turn to new high-caffeine drinks in record numbers."

Among the top microtrends to watch according to Forbes:

  1. Extreme commuters -- those who travel greater than 90 minutes each way, 3.4 million people
  2. Old new dads -- 1 in 18 births is now to a man aged 50 or older, up from 1 in 40 in 1980
  3. Second home buyers -- 40% of residential home sales are second homes
  4. Sex-ratio singles -- 109 million straight women to 98 million men, single women were the second largest group of new home buyers in 2005
  5. Tech fatales -- women influenced more than 57% of technology purchases in 2006, about $90 billion in consumer electronics sales.
Even if your product is unlikely to appeal to any of these groups, the principle -- tailored marketing to a small but passionately like-minded group -- remains the same. If your company is stuck in the old Ford model, a look at Forbes special report on trendsurfing, which includes Penn's article, could help you move forward into the Starbucks economy.

(Image of old Ford by Danimal_Inc, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.