What magazine is your business?

Why take the time to distill a client personality, when Condé Nast has already done it for you?

Developing a client profile is hard. Once we get the basic demographics listed it is a challenge coming up with the more nuanced needs, differences, and preferences that make your ideal client different from that larger segment of the population.

It’s still worthwhile. Our research shows that one of the habits of the firms that get the most referrals is how often they talk about the description of their target client. But what if there were a shortcut? Some way to at least get started figuring out your unique client profile.

Chip Conley found a unique approach. The author of Rebel Rules and Peak, Conley is the founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain. Unlike other franchises that aim to provide a uniform experience across their hotels in many locations, Conley’s objective was to create a collection of hotels each of which had a unique, often eccentric, character. His first hotel was the rock ‘n’ roll themed Phoenix. Not musical in a cartoon sense like Disney’s All-Star Music hotel with records and keyboards on the wall but an environment that was designed specifically for up-and-coming or declining rock ‘n’ roll acts. Loud, Caribbean colors, leopardskin chairs, and subtle musical references like the guitar playing frog statue. He attracted bands all right, and has stories about guests that reads like a Who’s Who of the 90s alternative and grunge scenes, but he attracted many other guests who identify with the rock persona.

He went on to create dozens of hotels each with its own personality. The business school description sounds like “Joie de Vivre’s product development strategy is based on a lifestyle-driven conceptual approach founded on customer psychographics.”[1] Mr. Conley expresses it like this: “[we] create an ‘identity refreshment’ where guests will find their own personalities echoed in the style and service at the properties… the words they would use to describe their favorite hotel are the same words they’d use to describe themselves.”[2]

He developed an interesting approach. As his team set to work creating a new property, they identified a niche magazine catering to the people they wanted to attract. The Phoenix, for example, was Rolling Stone. Thumbing through the publication, they could become acquainted with the tastes and preferences of their audience that would be hard to develop with a clinical case study.

The approach provides great guidance on how to develop a niche experience in a broad target market. (Remember, the niche is what you provide rather than the target market itself.) In demographic terms, the target market for many of Joie de Vivre’s first hotels was the same – the middle income traveler looking for moderately priced lodging, competing with Holiday Inn and Ramada. They created dozens of unique experiences each appealing to a small portion of that large target population.

If they are successful, the publishers of niche magazines pour lots of resources into understanding the specific tastes and preferences of its likely readers and has refined its product over time. And, while your services have probably not changed much over the past few years, magazines have to create something new for each issue. The cumulative learning after dozens of issues creates a deep and complex understanding of their customers we can learn from.

Segmenting your existing clients and developing a persona is still important. As an easier way to get started on creating your unique niche consider what publication represents your client. Travel and Leisure? Audubon? Wired? Guns and Ammo? How would you create a client experience that attracts the reader of that magazine?

Large publishers have spent millions on customer research to create a niche product. You can leverage all that work to get a head start on creating your own niche.


[1] https://www.hvs.com/article/4437/joie-de-vivre-and-the-art-of-the-hotel/

[2] Travel Agent Magazine, “California Theming: San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hospitality is Creating Boutique Hotels that Echo the Personalities of their Guests,” May 2002


  1. DominiqFebruary 21, 2019

    We use the exact same logic to map "niche" markets in social media. Actually, we have another step.

    1- collect examples of ideal prospects
    2- identify who they follow (markers)
    3- mine these markers followers and look for "memes" ( same location, occupation, wealth level) …


  2. Stephen WershingMarch 5, 2019

    Thanks, Dominique! Great idea.


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