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Irma Zandl

Irma Zandl specializes in the hip, cool, trendy and downright beautiful. Raised and schooled in Australia and Europe, she worked for a decade in the marketing departments of such cosmetics giants as L'Oréal, Revlon and Andrea Products in the U.S., quickly learning what appeals to consumers and why. Of all her beauty innovations, her favorite is a line of lip and nail products for Andrea Products, launched in the early ‘80s, called “Hey you! Watch this!� which used an edgy “girls rock� vibe to capitalize on the launch of MTV.

Today as president of The Zandl Group, the company she founded in 1986, Zandl applies her discerning eye to a broader range of trends for the under-30 market. Whether her client is Disney, General Motors or Bacardi, she uses less-than-conventional techniques to garner detailed consumer insight. She travels the globe — from London, England, to Eagle River, Wisc. — for several months a year on ethnographic projects, conducting “crib chats� (in-home interviews), shooting trend video documentaries and taking notes about her on-the-street lifestyle observations.

Unlike some forecasters who proclaim every five-minute fad as the latest trend, Zandl believes true trends are long-lived, with a minimum life span of 10 years. “Too frequently, companies pursue fads like they're going to be a real trend rather than finding something with longevity,� she says. She believes that having opportunities to seek out the trends with staying power is one of the best things about her job, adding, “I'm a constant explorer.�

In Her Own Words

In 1984, we first alerted our clients to the force that was to become hip-hop. At that time, our music sources tipped us to the new music being created in Brooklyn and the Bronx. By the mid- to late '80's, rap was already about far more than just the music — it was becoming a major social and lifestyle force influencing young people of all races; it was CNN for youth. Hip-hop culture was legitimized for mainstream marketers and their advertising agencies in 1988 when Yo! MTV Raps went on the air.

Over the next 25 years, driven by liberating new technologies, increasing social mobility and a very fluid sense of identity, we'll see more people — and businesses — reinventing themselves. In much the same way that people create new identities online or alter their appearance with cosmetic surgery or digital imaging, we'll see more people reinventing their whole personae — age, appearance, name, background, religion, career and lifestyle. With biogenetic engineering and cloning on the horizon, reinvention will reach a new level. Reflecting their new definition of reality, these dynamic consumers will permit businesses to reinvent themselves in the same way; company heritage will become irrelevant.

Harry S. Dent, Jr.

Harry Dent likes to go places before anyone else — or at least before hordes of other world travelers catch on. Having recently traveled to Java and Thailand, he's already planning his next trip to Africa and a visit to the Seychelles Islands. “You've got to see these places before everyone finds out about them,� he says.

Dent makes it his business to be ahead of the curve. Founder and president of the H.S. Dent Foundation, formed in 1995 in Moss Beach, Calif., he uses demographic research to help individual investors, financial institutions and such companies as AIM Funds, Van Kampen Funds and Ernst & Young understand and deal with change. His most notable contribution has been tying demographic drivers to economic activity, offering sunny forecasts to investors and institutions based on the tremendous influence of the Baby Boom. Indeed, he was one of the few voices to predict the astounding rise of the Dow during the 1990s while others were issuing forecasts ranging from caution to despair. “Since the 1980s, I've been looking at when people spend the most money, when they borrow and when they invest,� says Dent. “Because I saw that Boomers were moving into their peak spending levels, I was able to call this boom the way nobody else did.�

The author of five books — including Our Power to Predict (Business Media Resources, 1990) and his latest, The Roaring 2000s Investor (Touchstone, 1999) — Dent has written about economics, job trends, real estate, technology and investing. In addition to writing, consulting and public speaking, he is an advisor to the AIM/Dent Demographic Trends Fund and manager of the Dent Strategic Sector Fund. His next book, The Last Great Bull Market, will be published by Simon & Schuster within the year, and will bring more good news: Dent predicts the current downturn will end by then, with a continued boom through 2009.

Marita Wesely-Clough

Marita Wesely-Clough is as much a Hallmark institution as Hallmark is an American one. Though she has worked at the greeting card company in a variety of capacities over the past 27 years (she started as a card designer), today she is the resident trends expert at Hallmark, leading a team of three in a quest to keep their fingers on the pulse of — and just ahead of — the American consumer.

Wesely-Clough's daily tasks may include any of the following: browsing in stores, eavesdropping on conversations, reading social tomes, traveling or just generally observing American culture. If a new word enters the lexicon, a color becomes fashionable, a design influence hits the mainstream or — most dramatically — a lifestyle change becomes socially acceptable enough to become occasion for a card, she is on top of it. Demographic and attitudinal shifts factor largely in her work. For instance, the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in this country translated into her idea for Common Threads, a line of multicultural fusion Hallmark cards that debuted in 1994; Americans' obsession with bargains led to the introduction of Warm Wishes, a line of 99-cent cards, in 1999.

Growing up in the Minnesota farming town of Owatonna, Wesely-Clough says she never expected to end up spotting trends for a living. “There was no title for this job when I graduated from college,� she says. “But since I'm naturally curious, it's a good fit.� Her one occupational hazard, however, is that she ends up working even when she's officially off-duty. “When my teenage daughter comes home with friends, I'll always ask them questions, and finally my daughter will say, ‘Mom, this isn't research! These are my friends.’�

Neil Howe and William Strauss

For William Strauss, the pivotal era that launched his career was the Vietnam War. Fresh out of Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, he narrowly missed the draft and began working at the Ford White House. Strauss wrote his first book about what was then referred to as the Vietnam Generation (now better known as the Baby Boomers). It was his first of six books about American generations, the last four cowritten with historian, economist and demographer Neil Howe, who has his own double degrees (from Yale, in history and economics). For Howe, the road to generational studies began by studying the preceding GI generation, the history of entitlements (such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare), and long-term fiscal policy.

From their first book together, Generations (Morrow, 1991), to their latest, Millennials Rising (Vintage, 2000), Strauss and Howe have become the go-to people for generational knowledge. Today they run a consulting firm, LifeCourse Associates, in Great Falls, Va., that helps companies and organizations understand how present and future generational trends may impact their businesses and policies.

When not contemplating generational issues, Strauss directs The Capitol Steps, a successful satirical comedy troupe based in Washington D.C., and writes musicals about the Millennials. Howe is a senior advisor to the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that advocates fiscal responsibility to ensure entitlements. Howe is also a senior advisor to the Blackstone Group, an investment bank based in New York City. “I'm kind of a policy wonk,� he says.

In Their Own Words

In 1991, we forecast the emergence of a new generation of American youth, born after 1982, whom we then named the Millennial Generation. We said that as Millennials passed through adolescence, they would be very different from Generation X. By the year 2000, we wrote, ‘the child's world will move toward greater protection,’ and ‘teen pathologies — truancy, substance abuse, crime, suicide, unwed pregnancy — will all decline.’ We forecast a downturn in teen employment, an upturn in homework, scouting, and community service, and a new ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘excellence’ of youth with an ‘optimistic and team-playing attitude.’

Over the next 20 years, while Gen Xers will be moving into midlife, Millennials will be moving into young adulthood, transforming everything they touch. On campus. In the workplace. In the military. In families. In culture. In politics. In all these realms, we foresee higher standards, improving behavior, more social cohesion (even conformity), closer attachments to parents, more institutional trust, longer-term life planning and greater collective optimism about the future. Millennial young adults will vote more heavily, and be far more engaged in mainstream politics, than Gen Xers were at that age. In careers, they will take fewer risks, display more teamwork and usher in a new wave of union organizing. They will marry and have children at a younger age. As culture creators and consumers, they will overwhelm today's X-oriented post-modern media genres, first in music (whose large corporations will lose their long battle against file-sharing), then in movies and TV, eventually creating new forms of Web-based entertainment that would be unrecognizable today. In the larger marketplace, as consumers, Millennials will be attracted to big brands, friendlier and safer products, more middle-class messages and a quest for a balanced life. They will receive far more positive attention than Gen Xers ever did.

Peter Schwartz

There are certain instances when one hopes Peter Schwartz's predictions won't come true. The author of several futurist tomes, Schwartz has also served as a consultant on such doomsday films as Minority Report, War Games and Deep Impact. “In Minority Report, they used our ideas on how advertising would function in the future — the way eye scanners read the identities of individuals, how the cereal box talked, and how the newspaper changed headlines in real time,� he says. “All of that came from us.�

But Schwartz's influence extends well beyond Hollywood. For more than two decades, his expertise in scenario planning — the brainstorming of alternative perspectives of the future in order to develop strategies — has helped corporations and institutions prepare for a changing, uncertain world. Both as the director of the Strategic Environment Center at SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., and then as head of scenario planning for the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies in London during the 1980s, his visions enabled companies to navigate through storms in the global business and political climate.

Schwartz is now the chairman of Global Business Network in Emeryville, Calif., a worldwide membership network of strategists, business executives, scientists and artists that he cofounded in 1988. Working in areas ranging from aerospace to the environment, financial services to national security, telecommunications to entertainment, Schwartz offers strategic consulting services to companies such as Ford, Boeing and Nissan, among others. In addition to his extensive consulting work and speaking engagements, Schwartz has written and cowritten six books, including The Long Boom (Perseus, 1999), which forecasts a new era of prosperity. Up next: Inevitable Surprises (Gotham Books, 2003), which will discuss “what surprises lie ahead and what you can do about them now,� he says.

one to watch

Ryan Mathews

Ryan Mathews, founder and CEO of Black Monk Consulting, a strategic planning and communications consultancy based in Eastpointe, Mich., advises a broad range of companies and ad agencies (including Procter & Gamble, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and Grey Advertising) on the development of product, service and business process innovations. He is a futurist, speaker and writer on many topics, from technology to retail to global consumer trends. Ryan is the coauthor with Fred Crawford of The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best at Everything (Crown Business, 2001) and the coauthor with Watts Wacker of The Deviant's Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Crown Business, 2002). Ryan's third book, again with Crawford, tentatively titled A World of Values, will put forth a new model of branding for the elusive global consumer.

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