My head is not a drum. Treat it as though it is and it will become a war drum in a battle waged against those drums-for-brains types who think clients, guests or customers must have service in the form of non-stop skull-pounding pop-music.

Either the Edinburgh staff at the niche hostel where I am writing this thinks I am already deaf or nuts, or they don’t care whether they will make me so. Most importantly for this analysis, they also apparently think that “niche marketing” is fundamentally an exclusive, rather than inclusive concept and practice (in a sense to be explained below).

Because of this painful (for me) niche-marketing policy, I will be fleeing this hostel in about two hours, after having become a distressed exile, and a hearing-diminished one at that—but not before having warned the staff here that there is a very wrong way (and a very right way) to manage and define their niche market, or, for that matter, any niche market.

In the process, I have had to march to my own drummer and declare “war” on them, this analysis being my parting shot across the bow, so to speak.

Missing Nervous System?

Because it is a self-described “party” hostel (a fact of which I was made aware only after arrival), with a mostly young clientele, despite no “youth” in its name, this otherwise very pleasant place has gotten on the niche-market rock-bandwagon in a big way.

So, it pumps skull-pounding rave-level painful drum-driven rock, techno, trance, punk, bleating braying boy-band and other noise—from 7 AM until midnight, whatever softer respites from it, e.g., the rare guitar Bach (played only at my insistence), being merely the peaceful eye of the endless noise storm.

Haven’t they heard (of) Enya? She’s from the UK, you know (and can, unlike almost everybody else in 2012, sing without banging drums).

Unfortunately for people like me, who like to listen to the “Dead Germans” (including near-German Austrians), e.g., Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Handel, or almost anything else—anything at all—without pummeling drums, there is no accommodation here, except for the bed space.

It’s as though the staff assumes that every one of the hostel’s guests has only half of a peripheral nervous system, that somehow everyone between 18 and 25 has no parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) branch (or that it is activated only when they sleep, if ever).

They seem to think that their guests possess only the action-oriented high-energy sympathetic (“fight or flight”) branch, hence the presumed indifference, unresponsiveness or aversion to soft, sentimental music (or merely because their parents like it).

One staff member, in a moment of careless candor, confessed, and said that she chooses pre-dawn pounding music because “it gets me up in the morning”—to which I replied that the music is supposed to be for us paying guests, not for employees like her.

Anyway, I’ve become an exile, forced to retreat from the common room to whatever sanctuary I can find (which, today, was none). Yesterday, the kitchen area, although unheated and chilly, sheltered me for about nine hours, allowing me to get some work done. Today, the brain-banging “music” has somehow spread to the pantry.

The hearing impairment? Well, currently I am sitting in the common room (with no alternative, since the rooms have no WIFI and the “quiet room” is generally anything but), with my ears jammed with wet tissue paper, perhaps in time to prevent further damage to my eardrums and morale. I’m also learning to read the lips that have been telling me that musically the staff have to meet the needs of “the average (i.e., young) guest”.

Exclusive vs. Inclusive Niche Markets

What makes this sorry episode worth recounting is the cautionary tale and lesson that follow for companies that buy into niche marketing, especially generational: When catering to a niche market, determine not only whether or not your clientele will want what you are marketing, but also whether they will hate (or tolerate) anything else in the same broad genre, but outside your specific niche.

You see, there should be two concepts of the “niche market”:

  1. A sub-market defined by tastes that are exclusive, i.e., intolerant of any otherwise similar competing product or service outside the niche. An example: the luxury car market; usually a Bentley buyer won’t consider anything less than outrageously luxurious cars. The hostel staff seem to assume that, being mostly young, their backpacker guests will hate anything older than themselves and therefore require exclusive niche-marketing.
  2. A sub-market defined by tastes that are inclusive, i.e., tolerant, if not actually welcoming, of any otherwise similar competing product outside the niche. An example: any ethnic food take-out shop that, although specializing in, say, shawarma and kebabs, peacefully coexists not only as a business with complementary competitors in other niches, including right next door (which can help define the neighborhood as attractively “multi-ethnic”), but also in the minds and tastes of its patrons who will have sushi or chop suey other days of the week. Musically, this translates into loving dub-step and not minding, or even possibly liking, folk or soft jazz.

This hostel seems to operate on the assumption that although its clientele may have broad tastes in cuisine, their musical tolerances are exceedingly narrow (despite the fact that the paying guests include large numbers of Asians, not known for any craving-for-raving).

At least the staff, if not management, appear to assume that from pre-dawn to midnight (“dawn-to-yawn”), guests want to hear nothing or very little without heavy percussion, a lot of whiny boy-band guitar bangers, and plenty of pumped-up-pumped-out endlessly repetitive hypno-trance droning.

Before jumping on that exclusionary generationally-biased bandwagon, a smart manager catering to a niche market will determine whether his or her niche is or should be primarily exclusive or, instead, inclusive.

Any hostel snack counter or supermarket that has soy milk and goat’s milk is taking the inclusive route in allowing that these two niches it serves can tolerate each other’s presence and accommodation by the vendor, suppliers and consumers, even allowing that many customers that prefer one will not hate the other, some liking both niche products and patronizing the business because of its multi-niche marketing.

The Challenge of Niche Coexistence

The first main point here is that competing or complementary preferences need not be situated on the “love-hate” polar extremes of a scale.  The second is that it is smart to create or fill niches that can coexist in the same service venue, as dairy and soy do in most supermarkets.

With music, coexistence is trickier, for several reasons. Different kinds of music, unlike drinks, cannot be presented simultaneously in the same space.  That’s just way too jarring, unless there are separate rooms for competing tastes (which, although posing space-allocation issues, is a sensible idea).

Alternating, as one might by having soy milk on alternate days, dairy milk on the rest, is risky, if both niche clientele—the soft-minded and the head bangers—hate the other’s music, which would create a worst-case scenario, with everyone hating something at some point in the day.

However, there is one solution the hostel may want to consider that is entirely feasible—one that doesn’t force a choice between exclusive and inclusive music niche-marketing.

Free earplugs.


Note: After this was written in the run-up to Xmas, Michael went to a much more peaceful Edinburgh hostel, with, in fact, no music of any kind (not even carols), which, as he describes it, gave him a few truly “Silent Nights”.

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