Have You Hugged a “Whale” Today?

“Whale” clients can be critical to your niche media business!

No, I’m not asking you to take a trip to Sea World and wrap your arms around Shamu. For us niche publishers, “Whales” are our most engaged and enthusiastic audience members. They usually only make up about 5% of our customer base, but they are critical to our long term success.

I decided to use the term “Whale” when I read about how Steve Wynn built his casino empire. In gambling, the highest rollers are nicknamed “Whales.” Wynn started by focusing on Baccarat Whales, which make up less than 0.2% of the gambling universe. Steve created an experience suited to their wants and needs. They came and brought their money and cachet along with them. Other gamblers followed. Wynn now makes over $5 billion per year!

Three Reasons Focusing on Whales Is Important

First, your Whales are so deeply immersed in the niche, that they will help you spot trends before your competitors do. This will help steer your content and products in the right direction.

Second, your Whales are respected by your other customers (your Dolphins, Sea Bass, etc.??). So, once the Dolphins see the Whales are engaging with your brand (though word-of-mouth, social media, etc.), they will want to join in as well.

Third, it’s a good business practice because of the “80-20 Rule” or “Pareto Principle.” In any business, it’s usual to find that a small percentage of the customers make up a large percentage of total revenues. For example, in mobile gaming, 19% of the customers make up 88% of the revenue. You need to make sure that those who are most willing to pay are satisfied by your offering.

How Do I Find My Whales?

You could hire a data scientist and they could perform a “cluster  analysis” and tell you. If you don’t have the budget to do that, here are three simple ideas:

  1. Use the Lead Score feature in your email marketing software. For example, in MailChimp, each name gets a star rating from 1-5. Your 5’s are your Whales.
  2. Check out this article about segmentation – your Whales are the ones who engaged most recently and frequently – and spent money with you over the past 12 months.
  3. Look for people who shared or commented on at least 3 different pieces of content. (Likes don’t count – sorry, it’s just too easy to press like.)

Take the Whale Challenge

Each day next week, call one Whale. In addition to expressing your appreciation of their loyalty, ask them questions like:

  • Why is this niche important to you?
  • What are you needs within this niche topic area / what do you care about?
  • How are your needs met today? (What do you buy, how do you use it)?
  • How do these products make you feel?
  • How could these products better meet your needs?
  • What needs are not being met by these products?
  • What else (not directly related to this niche) do you care about?

After talking to just five Whales, themes will emerge. You’ll be inspired with ideas on:

  • New types of content
  • New types of features, both in print and online
  • New products
  • How to better communicate your value proposition (online and in marketing copy)
  • How to better differentiate yourself from the competition

Take the Whale Challenge and post your insights in the comments below or email me what you learn!


Rob RistagnoBW is the CEO and Founder of The Sterling Woods Group, a firm that builds new revenue streams for media companies and publishers. He is an expert in direct monetization of content. Prior to creating The Sterling Woods Group, Rob served as a senior executive for several niche media and e-commerce companies. He most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of America’s Test Kitchen, considered to be the gold standard in the niche media world for building diversified – and often digital – revenue streams.


Niche Media has created super niched-out events specifically for magazine publishers for over 12 years. Next up? The Niche Digital Conference in Denver, Sept. 19-21. We’ve helped pave the way for the era of boutique events that connect specific audiences and provide great educational, friendly and super-fun environments! Plus, Carl Landau – Niche Media’s Grand Poobah – is launching the all new Super Niche Event, March 27-29, 2017. Check it out!

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