In April 2008, as editor of Senior Market Advisor magazine, I served on a task force with my publisher, marketing director and circulation manager. We would gather weekly in our Idea Room, a comfy area of our office filled with books, magazines, original artwork, Nintendo and a Foosball game. The room served its purpose—to brainstorm, spitball, get new ideas. And to play Foosball. 

Our task force had a specific reason for meeting: we wanted to better know our reader. Wait, that may not do justice to our true purpose. We wanted to “know” our reader. I mean, really know him. (I use the masculine pronoun here because we found in our research that men made up 85 percent of our readers, but that doesn’t deter the impact women have made to our publication in their small yet powerful 15 percent; it merely reflects the best depiction of our general reader.)

So, amid the impressionistic paintings and armless foosball players found in our Idea Room, we set out to know our constant readers’ education, years in business, production, licenses, designations — all the basic circulation information you might expect. But we wanted to go beyond that as well. If we could gather it, we wanted to know the car he drove, the clothes he wore, even the brand of gum he chewed.

After months of meetings and data mining, a man took shape. We called him Marty. On my desk, I have pictures of my family. Particularly fond am I of the photos of my daughter, watching her grow from baby to toddler to “kid.” For years, next to her first grade picture sat a photograph of Marty. 

Due to our intel, we were able to give Marty a face. In the picture, Marty wore a starched, blue button down shirt, but no tie or jacket. He was clean-shaven and had whitewall sideburns not unlike those of Reed Richards, nee Mr. Fantastic, the flexible leader of The Fantastic Four. Marty stared out from the photograph as if viewing an unknown horizon. He could have been taking in a breathtaking sunset; he had that kind of look in his eyes. But when I looked at the photograph of Marty with his eyes cast upward, I knew what he saw and admired—a billboard of himself, of that other, bigger-than-life Marty, watching over his clients and prospects.

Other observations on Marty: in the photograph he stood before a Mercedes. He didn’t chew gum. Instead, he popped an Altoid’s mint in his mouth before meeting with clients. And one other thing: he smiled. In fact, through years of building relationships with generations of clients in his tight-knit community, Marty smiled a lot. And Marty had much to smile about. With more than 10 years in the insurance industry, Marty had a well-established, independent practice, with an executive assistant, a marketing director and a junior advisor to take on the overflow business.

As we made the transition this January from Senior Market Advisor to Retirement Advisor, I reached among the photos of my daughter and grabbed the one of Marty. As I placed the picture in a file folder, I felt as if I were saying goodbye to an old, dear friend, even if he was an imaginary one.

Marty had to go. He was too connected to Senior Market Advisor. With our dual-licensed emphasis at Retirement Advisor my new go-to guy is Martin. I don’t know Martin yet. Not the way I knew Marty. I’ll get to know him over the next few months through research and through our Advisor of the Year nomination process as I search for my favorite Martin.

For more from Daniel Williams, see:

25 best insurance movies: 21-25

Don’t stop believin’

9 of the best business quotes ever