How we sell in 2002 will also be important. "Hard sell and excess hype are passé," says Smith. "We need to temper our message so it's in line with these priorities."

BOTTOM LINE: Find ways to help people build relationships, forge friendships, strengthen family ties, and create neighborhoods (all have been eroded by modern life), and you'll find business opportunities.

THE GRAYING BABY BOOMERS
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Milken Institute, an economic think tank, says 2002 will be a major predictive year because the forward edge of the baby-boom generation will turn 55. "That age is a magic line for retirement products, age-restricted communities, downscaling. ... How the first baby boomers respond will be predictive of the coming, larger wave of boomers."

Compared to preceding generations, baby boomers are more educated, have fewer children, are more likely to be divorced, and are more diversified. Frey doesn't see them walking the same path as their parents. "I think they'll reinvent their careers, stay in the workplace longer, turn hobbies into businesses, be more active in their play, get more involved in the service sector. … And rather than moving to Sun City, I think many will settle in smaller university towns."

Frey is prepared to be surprised. "The baby boomers have always charted their own course and 2002 will be an important year to see where they are headed next."

BOTTOM LINE: Track the leading edge of the boomers this year and apply what's learned to the 10-year wave that's coming. Also, watch where Americans are headed, in general, by monitoring demographic information that continues to be released from the 2000 Census (www.census.gov).

THE CUSTOMER ECONOMY