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How to Create Self-Actualizing Experiences for Customers: A Gensler Interview with Chip Conley 

Chip Conley founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality in 1987 in San Francisco, Calif., and under his leadership, which stresses a business model based on finding customers’ latent needs and addressing them, the company has grown to become the second biggest boutique hotel business in the United States.

Conley recently spoke with Gensler about the importance of strong client relationships and the ways that companies can create self-actualizing experiences for consumers, both of which are critical aspects of his unique business philosophy.

G: You've said boutique hotels are mirrors for the aspirations of their customers and they create an identity refreshment. How does this mentality apply to other industries?

CC: Joie De Vivre is not in the selling rooms business, we are in the identity refreshment business. We're trying to create an experience in which people can refresh their sense of who they are by staying in our boutique hotels. That's relevant to any company. Any company that's providing services can create an environment where people feel by buying the product I'm refreshing my sense of who I am in the process.

G: Explain how psychographics and demographics play a role in developing both a business and a branding strategy.

CC: When I first started using the world psychographics about 25 years ago, people thought I was psycho because they didn't know what it meant. Demographics are what we look like on the outside, and psychographics are what we feel like on the inside. Generally speaking we don't fit into the demographic boxes we used to because we are a little bit less predictable. So connecting with people psychographically means you're connecting with their worldviews, their perspectives of themselves, and we try to do that because by doing it we're connecting with a deeper place in them.

And it’s important in the era of the internet, because, if you're connecting with someone on a site you don't necessarily know their demographics but you know their psychographics because you know what's making their heart beat. So connecting with our customers on a psychographics basis is a way to create a deeper relationship.

G: You've described Joie De Vivre's business approach as "karmic capitalism." Can you explain the origin of this term?

CC: I've used the expression karmic capitalism to describe the type of business we do. Capitalism can be very short termed oriented especially for a public market company. It can be very quarterly earnings driven. But I believe the best companies have a long-term perspective, and karma is about as long term as it gets, it goes over many lifetimes. So karmic capitalism means a company, like Gensler, actually focuses on the long-term in their relationships and they just don't look at short term profits.

G: Why do consumers look for self-actualization when making a purchase?

CC: The expression self-actualization comes from Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It's the peak of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. It's the idea of being all you can be, and so a consumer or customer or client can focus on being at the bottom of the pyramid, which is the base needs that they have, or they can focus on the base needs as well as moving up the pyramid. And when you can move to the top of the pyramid and create a self-actualizing experience for a customer such that they can feel like they are being all they can be, that's about as good as it gets. And great companies who do that create evangelical customers.

G: How can brands communicate their own self-actualization to the marketplace?

CC: So the way that a brand can communicate self-actualization is to help people understand that the product is not a commodity, it is a vehicle for moving up the pyramid to create a self-actualizing experience. If you're buying a commodity from a company and you think of the company as a commodity, you're likely to just have a transaction with them and pay as little as possible. But if you're working with a brand that feels more like a self-actualizing brand, and that the brand promise speaks to the idea that it's going to help people move up the pyramid, then you're willing to pay more and you're more likely to be loyal. And at the end of the day, my model peak is all about how to create more loyal customers and a more premium product.

G: You identify meeting customers' unrecognized needs as the way self-actualizing companies do business. How does a company identify its customers' unrecognized needs?

CC: I believe that the best companies are like cultural anthropologists. They sort of understand the peak of Maslow’s pyramid which is the unrecognized needs of the customers. Beyond just the expectations or desires it is important to understand the things that the customer wants that they can't even articulate. Great companies do that, and there's four key themes that go into that process. I won't go into great detail about how you do that, but it has a little bit to do with helping a customer express themselves a little bit more fully or make them feel like they are part of a bigger cause or give them something they didn't even expect to get from the product.

If you do that well, what you've done is created this a-ha moment for a customer, where they say, "Wow, I didn't expect that." In my case, with my hotels, customers don’t always expect to have their identity refreshed and to have their identity feel more alive and to leave feeling more self-actualized.

Now customers don't necessarily talk that way, but they do feel that way, and if you help your customers feel that way, they're going to come back more and more and they're going to tell their friends.

Chip Conley is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joie De Vivre Hospitality

Beth Campbell is an entrepreneur's architect, combining her MBA with a passion for architectural design. Her core belief is that no problem exists without a solution being present; the fun is in linking the two. Contact Beth at beth_campbell@gensler.com.

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Reader Comments (1)

Finding your inner voice, experiencing Zen ...and why not Karma
01.3.2015 | Unregistered Commenterstefanie

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