Tome tracks our trends, from tattoos to snipers

In a world where even the ring of a phone is individualized, it makes sense that the megatrends movement sparked by a best seller 25 years ago has now been sliced and diced into microtrends.

One man behind this shift to the niche is pollster Mark J. Penn, CEO of the PR firm Burson Marsteller and a chief adviser for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. You have him to thank for the term "soccer moms," a group he identified as pivotal swing voters while working for Bill Clinton in 1996.

In his decidedly macro-size book, Microtrends, Penn and co-author E. Kinney Zalesne have waded through polls, studies and surveys to ferret out 75 new pockets of humanity — from Extreme Commuters to Sun-Haters to Shy Millionaires. It's subsets like these, comprised of as little as 1% of the population, that are shaping the future of society, Penn hypothesizes.

Take tattoos. As of 2006, Penn writes, more than 30 million Americans have them. And it's not just for sailors anymore: A Harris Survey found the best-represented income group among tattooed Americans (22%) are people making over $75,000 a year — or as Penn dubs them, the Upscale Tattooed.

That's all very interesting, but the strength of the book lies in Penn's analysis of the implications and opportunities of each microtrend. With clientele like that, he wonders, where are the upscale tattoo parlors? Why no national tattoo chain? Where is the McDonald's of tattoos, he asks, a standardized brand, safety assurances and national advertising?

Inevitably, he adds, the rise in body art will force changes in workplace policies, as well. Ford, Wells Fargo, and Yahoo already allow body art, but it's still a no-no at other organizations such as Starbucks and many police departments.

The Upscale Tattooed fall under Penn's "Looks and Fashion" section, alongside Surgery Lovers and Powerful Petites.

Other categories run the gamut of life, from politics to religion and from work to leisure. Among some of the more eyebrow-raising microtrends:

•Aspiring snipers. Late last year, 600 Californians ages 16 to 22 were polled by cellphone and asked the open-ended question, "What do you think you will most likely be doing in 10 years?" Six responded they would most likely be snipers. Yes, that's 1% of responses, enough qualify as a microtrend.

•Working Retired. Today, there are 5 million people 65 or older in the U.S. labor force, almost twice as many as about 30 years ago. And Penn writes that a 2005 survey indicates that more than 3 in 4 boomers have no intention of a traditional retirement, preferring to keep mentally and physically active and to stay connected with people. Financial necessity drives some to stay on the job, as well.

Penn writes that the working retired mean huge things for America, ranging from younger workers waiting longer for their turn at the top to a glut of golf clubs. And if enough people keep working well past 65, Social Security may not collapse after all.

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