Mark Penn is Sen. Hillary Clinton's, D-N.Y., chief strategist, and he's been called "the most important man in Washington that no one has ever heard of." Penn's famous for identifying "soccer moms" as the swing vote in 1996, and now he's back, talking about the importance of swing votes and small trends. In his new book "Microtrends," Penn writes about how small movements can be the most effective of all. Read an excerpt below.
In 1960, Volkswagen shook up the car world with a full-page ad that had just two words on it: Think Small. It was a revolutionary idea -- a call for the shrinking of perspective, ambition, and scale in an era when success was all about accumulation and territorial gain, even when you were just driving down the street.
At the same time, as America was becoming the world's superpower, growing the dominant economy and setting the pace for global markets, the Beetle took off as a counter-culture rockstar – representing exploding individuality in reaction to the conformity of the 1950s.
America never quite got used to small when it came to cars. But ask two-thirds of America, and they will tell you they work for small business. Americans overwhelmingly favor small, reasonable ideas over big, grandiose schemes. And they yearn for the lifestyles of small-town America. Many of the biggest movements in America today are small -- often hidden for but a few to see.
Microtrends is based on the idea that the most powerful forces in our society are the emerging, counterintuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow right before us. With so much of a spotlight on teen crime, it is hard to see the young people who are succeeding as never before. With so much focus on poverty as the cause of terrorism, it is hard to see that it is richer, educated terrorists who have been behind many of the attacks. With so much attention to big, organized religion, it is hard to see that it is newer, small sects that are the fastest-growing.
The power of individual choice has never been greater, and the reasons and patterns for those choices never harder to understand and analyze. The skill of microtargeting – identifying small, intense subgroups and communicating with them about their individual needs and wants -- has never been more critical in marketing or in political campaigns. The one-size-fits-all approach to the world is dead.
Thirty years ago sitting in Harvard's Lamont Library, I read a book that started out, "The perverse and unorthodox thesis of this little book is that the voters are not fools." Its author, V. O. Key, Jr., made an argument that since that day has guided how I think not just about voters, but consumers, corporations, governments, and the world at large. If you use the right tools and look at the facts, it turns out that the average Joe is pretty smart, and making very rational choices.
Yet almost every day, I hear experts say that voters and consumers are misguided scatterbrains, making decisions on the basis of the color of a tie. That's why politicians pay consultants to tell them to wear earth-tone suits. That's why many commercials feature pointless stories with no relation to the products. Too often, candidates and marketers don't believe the facts or the issues matter that much. Oftentimes, it is they who are the fools. I bet at least two-thirds of all communications are wasted with messages and images that only their creators understood.