When I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with my friend Isabel. She wore a simple dress and a really cute cotton hoodie. Ever since I got home, I’ve been trying to find a hoodie just like it.
So far, no luck. Why?
When I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with my friend Isabel. She wore a simple dress and a really cute cotton hoodie. Ever since I got home, I’ve been trying to find a hoodie just like it.
So far, no luck. Why?
I picked up a couple of Nancy Mitford novels while I was on vacation in Taos a few weeks ago. Mitford wrote acidly funny, impeccably observed novels about her own background, which was as a child of the minor aristocracy growing up in Great Britain between the world wars.
It’s probably a bad idea for me to read any of the Mitfords (there were six sisters, all brilliant, some nasty, each with her own brand of insanity), because I find myself wanting to refer to things as heaven, or begin sentences with Any Danube peasant knows better than to . . .
Nancy Mitford became notorious in 1954 for a semi-satirical essay she wrote about “U” and “Non-U” pronunciation, the “U” standing for upper class.
(She didn’t coin the term “U,” but she did make it ubiquitous. U vs. Non-U was still a rowdy discussion when I first went to London in the 1980s.)
She outlined the situation neatly in her earlier bestselling novel The Pursuit of Love, in which the family patriarch is outraged because a young girl who’s a friend of the family is learning to say note-paper at boarding school, instead of writing-paper, and mirror instead of looking-glass.
Like her female characters, Nancy Mitford didn’t attend school at all, and thus couldn’t go to university as she had very much wanted to do. But by damn, she would have endured torture before she said note-paper.
Mitford’s observations caused a lot of hand-wringing about snobbery and social class, which I suspect she found hilarious. She was born and bred to be a comic novelist, a brilliant observer but unable and unwilling to take anything very seriously.
What I find fascinating about it all is how fiercely tribal Mitford was, and how good she was at describing her tribe’s customs.
It wasn’t just about money. At various points in their lives, the real Mitford sisters lived on much more modest means than Nancy’s fictional characters did. (Money was a significant factor in the girls not going to school, for example.)
In fact, The Pursuit of Love details precisely the conflict between the rich middle class and the poorer (but in Mitford’s eyes, much more attractive) aristocrats and landed gentry.
Whether it’s rabid fans of a sports team, residents of a neighborhood, members of a social class, or just people who share an interesting obsession, every tribe has a language.
When you’re writing to persuade a particular tribe, you’ve got to find the language that they use every day. Every time you say note-paper when they expect writing-paper, you send a signal that you’re not one of them.
Develop the novelist’s habit of writing down scraps of conversation that you hear. Keep file folders of customer comments, and go through it looking for interesting turns of phrase. Don’t “clean up” client testimonials too much—leave the linguistic quirks and oddities.
Listen more than you talk, and read more than you write.
You don’t just have to stick with the tribes that exist already. Creating your own is one of the most effective (and fun) ways to build a business or project.
When you build a tribe, remember that every tribe needs its own language. (The six Mitford sisters had one just among themselves, in fact.)
Over on Copyblogger, we’ve started to use the expression Third Tribe to mean “smart, ethical business based on great content and solid direct response copywriting.”
When I write about audience there, I talk about each of us building a village of customers.
We define ourselves as content net creators, as opposed to the “harpooners.” (Defining “the other” is also a big part of creating a tribe. I try to do this with respect and without vilifying anyone.)
When we overcome objections and build trust with customers, it’s called killing trolls.
You don’t have to force this “secret language.” (In fact, trying to force it is probably a terrible idea.) But you keep your ears open for the ideas and metaphors your villagers respond to.
When you come up with a good turn of phrase, keep using it. Repetition is your friend.
How about you? What’s the secret language of your tribe?
Flickr Creative Commons image by aturkus
In the interest of protecting your eyesight, I’ve bumped up the font on the body copy of the blog by a couple of points.
It looks good on all the machines I can test it on, but if things look wacky on your machine, will you leave a comment on this post and let me know? Thanks as always!
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do get to the gym a few times a week, generally right when Oprah is on. (Could be a lot worse. Jerry Springer, for example.)
A few weeks ago, she had some of the old contestants from the reality show The Biggest Loser. This is, to me, vastly more interesting than watching the actual show could be.
It’s one thing to lose tons of weight while at a ranch where there’s nothing to do all day long but work out and get yelled at by trainers. (Still an incredible and impressive amount of work. But not reality.)
It’s another to make the choices every day to maintain a healthier weight and lifestyle.
One gentleman in particular made a big impression on me. “For 15 seconds, I weighed 182 pounds and won a game show,” he said. His weight has gone up quite a lot since then, although he’s still managed to consistently stay 100 pounds below what he weighed when he first appeared on the show.
He understood (intellectually) what to do. He knew all about working out and nutrition. And he wanted to be thin.
But his mindset didn’t match his temporarily sleek exterior. And as soon as he wasn’t in the hyper controlled environment created by a TV show, he started to revert to what his mindset told him was his “true” nature.
I’ve been working for the past few weeks with a money coach. (Actually, Gary’s more of a financial and business and lifestyle and happiness and freedom coach.)
A lot of what we work on is getting me to get what I already know. Internalizing it. Making it real. Strengthening my self reliance. Weakening my tendency to be cheap with myself. And knocking holes in the idea that Nice People Don’t Make Money.
You need good-quality information about ways to create success. (There are lots and lots of ways to do it. You just need to focus on one that suits you, and to make sure the information you’re getting is reliable.)
You need the will and the ability to translate that information into action. If you’re locked in Guantanamo, you won’t be able to do much to create the results you want. That’s true even if your Guantanamo is mainly psychological.
And you need a mindset that won’t set off little booby-traps to undermine all your work.
The thing about working on mindset is, if you get it in the right place, the first two become a whole lot easier.
Of course, you still need to take action. It’s not the Law of Attraction or magic beans in any way. It might look and feel like the universe is shifting around to take care of you, but actually it’s just what the world looks like when you get out of your own way.
As we weather the massive “economic climate change” that’s occurring all around us, we’re going to need to think about the world very differently.
We’re going to need to unlearn the mental habits we picked up by working for companies. Even good companies.
We’re going to need to re-evolve, from cube dwellers to hunter/gatherers on the open plain.
It’s more fun. It’s more stressful. It’s more difficult. It’s more dangerous. It’s more rewarding.
I don’t believe it’s optional, personally. The corporate cube isn’t the safe haven it was even a year or two ago. We need to find our true self-reliant nature again.
My coach, Gary, has a new group program available with really excellent introductory pricing. If you’re looking for someone who can help you gently but effectively shift your thinking, I can highly recommend him.
This isn’t an affiliate link. I don’t make a nickel, whether 1 person signs up or 100 do. I’ve just gotten so much out of working with him, and I’d love to see more people benefit from what he has to offer. Max Life Coaching
I’m going to be Gary’s first guest speaker, so if you want to hear our call on the real way to use social media in your marketing, that’s how you would do that.
Gary and I are also working with a terrific designer to make his site look less generic and show more of the warm, nice, generous person he is. So if the design makes you think it might be too corporate or business-y or “not you,” keep that in mind.
The self-serving bit for me, of course, comes when you have a killer financial mindset and are ready to start or grow your business. Then you’ll be in a great position to buy lots of marketing information from me. So really it’s all about me and my needs. Pretty sneaky of me, eh?
Those of you who saw me at South by Southwest this year know that I’ve dyed my hair pink. *
Along with What do you do?, I find Why did you dye your hair pink? an unanswerable question. But if I can’t answer it. I might be able to address it.
(By the way, if you’re newish here, the babe in the photo is not me. She sure is cute, though, isn’t she?)
The simplest answer is that a head of pink hair signals to any and all that I don’t work for a Real Company.
No cubicle. No 401K. No HR department. No chain of command. No receptionist. No big-name agency to work with. No meetings. No set schedule.
Some of those things are good and some bad, and most a mixed bag. I had a lot of good years working with companies, and I’m not knocking it. But pink hair is a very visible signal that I’m not doing that right now.
There’s a huge category of things you can’t do in a Real Company because it Wouldn’t Be Professional.
Some of these make sense, like No Getting Smashed at Lunch, or No Sexually Harassing Adorable Eddie in Accounting, Even Though He Is Admittedly Extremely Cute.
Some of them don’t really have any logical underpinning at all. Like No Having Pink Hair.
Of course, I’d be allowed to have pink hair if I just told people it was an incompetent dye job. That I was trying for red hair, but my hairdresser is an idiot.
I could probably get away with that for years, explaining to new managers as they came in, “Oh, no, it’s not pink. It doesn’t look pink to you, does it? It’s red.”
So I could have pink hair if it wasn’t my intention to have pink hair.
This is getting at the reason(s) why I don’t want to work for Real Companies any more.
This is the real reason: I like having pink hair because pink hair is bright and pretty and special. It makes my little boy especially happy. It’s our own little bit of Sesame Street right at home.
Pink is a pretty color and now I get to have it all the time. And if I feel like a change of pace, when the pink wears off I can have turquoise, or sky blue, or violet.
Of course it does, silly!
If you can’t dye your hair pink at the moment, you can still write like someone who does.
Sorry to go dark like that for ages and ages here on Remarkable Communication. I was, let’s just say, insanely busy with the Marketing for Nice People course.
(Which is going AMAZINGLY. Tip: when you define your customers as nice people, that’s what you get. Our students are a giant stack of awesome.)
But the major huge chunk of work is done and I’ll be around more regularly, at least until the next insanity rolls along. I miss you guys so much when I don’t hang out with you here.
Footnote: * Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m dyeing it pink, as no one seems to sell permanent pink hair dye. Which is sort of fun as I can try out different variations of pink and find the one I like best. Right now I’m sporting a sort of cherry coke color with hot pink highlights. Most enjoyable.
Flickr Creative Commons image by kalandrakas
So yesterday I gave a talk at Naomi Dunford’s membership site, SpeakEasy. (SpeakEasy is closed to new members now, but I’ll let you know if/when it opens up again. I’m a member myself and I think it’s an amazing value.)
I got to talk for an hour about all the things I’m a total dork about. Then I got to answer questions for another hour and a half.
This is pretty much like saying “I got to have an ice cream sundae and then homemade raspberry croissants and then chocolate cream pie.” It’s a good thing.
It really made me think about what a wonderful job this is. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you about that.
Seriously, it’s an amazing feeling when someone asks a question, you think, Cool, I have a really good answer for that, and you can share your experience with them and get them moving again.
It’s not at all about being some kind of creepy guru. It’s just about having done a bunch of stuff and seen what works and what doesn’t, and sharing that experience with someone who can use it.
It rocks. So much.
I’m reluctant to even start listing names here, because there are so many amazing people I’ve met since I started blogging.
Brian, of course, who has taught me so much. Naomi, who was one of the first people who started hanging out here, and who I fell in love with at first sight. Jon, who knocks me out daily. Dave, who wants to save the world (and is so productive that I think he might). Charlie, a magnificent wall of support and wonderfulness. Joanna, with her gimlet eye and her wise, warm voice. Pace and Kyeli, who believe the world is awesome, and make us believe it too. Karen, the world’s most reliable source of sunshine. Janice with her panache and the color in her words. Michael, the cranky un-guru who makes me laugh. James, my pesky little brother (big brother? I can never keep track) who I love. The other James who is so damned smart and who helps me to remember to be optimistic. Jeff, who has been so kind and so generous. Brogan, the most big-hearted guy I’ve ever met.
Shit, I’m forgetting people, and I think someone is going to cue the Oscar music.
(If you’re not on the list, it’s because my brain just melted from gratitude and amazement and I couldn’t think of any more names. But I love you too!)
Seriously, the people in this thing are amazing. Every day I meet smart, funny, active (hyperactive), kickass people who are doing something. Some of these folks are rich and some are still working on it, but all of them are working every day to help other people.
I’ve never experienced that before, at least not to this degree. It’s completely exhilarating.
Um, way better than corporate life. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Specifically, the kind of stress.
When you’re in a big organization, your stress tends look like this:
I know this idea would rock and make money and not cost a lot and make our customers love us. I also know that it will die a premature death because someone who makes 20x what I do will veto it for a reason we will all agree makes no sense whatsoever.
My forehead has permanent dents in it from crashing it against the wall of my (admittedly nice) corporate office.
When you do what I do now, your stress looks more like this:
Oops, that thing worked completely differently than I thought it would. Now I need a new sales letter, new sign-up page, new autoresponder, new order form and new blog. In the next four hours. Fire up the espresso machine, mama needs to kickstart those brain cells.
The stress in this gig is fun. Still stressful, but fun.
When I left corporate life, people wanted to know, “Aren’t you worried about security?”
You know what? I’m not going to lay myself off.
If my business model quits working, I have a dozen more models I can implement. I know a hundred ways to give value to other people, and a hundred ways to get paid for that.
That’s security. Or as close to it as you get in this world, anyway.
If there’s anything I miss about corporate life, it might be working on a team with incredible people. I had my share of frustrations, but I also have to say that I’ve worked with some people who just took my breath away. (You guys know who you are.)
But, hey, I can still have that!
When I talked with Naomi at South by Southwest about doing something together, she said “Yes” so fast it made me a little dizzy.
(OK, the dizziness may have been aggravated by the margaritas.)
Since then we’ve been talking on the phone and by email, cooking up really juicy stuff for our nice people. (I’m hoping this will be the first of many. Naomi is way fun to work with, and we feed off each other’s energy. And people seem to find us entertaining. Or maybe it’s just my attempt to keep up with Naomi’s cursing that they find amusing.)
Yesterday on the SpeakEasy call, we announced the first project in what we’re calling Marketing for Nice People.
If you’ve been waiting, yep, this is the Third Tribe. It’s marketing reality, not just marketing ideas. It’s what works now, even in this bizarre economy and crazy sea of marketing clutter. And it won’t make you want to put your eye (or other body parts) out.
This is about a business that pays your mortgage and feeds your heart. At the same time. Go figure.
We’re kicking it off with some good free stuff to get you rolling. One piece of which is the recording of the SpeakEasy call, which was about “non-sleazy copywriting.” It was a terrific call and people seemed to get a tremendous amount out of it. (Caveat, the audio quality is not great. Sorry. Working on it.)
If you want to get that teleclass and some other high-quality goodies, you can sign up for them here. And no, we’re never going to spam you with a lot of creepy high-pressure sales messages. That would be pretty lame.
I want to thank everyone who reads this blog and Copyblogger. And more thanks to the lovely people who follow me on Twitter.
Thanks for your time and attention, thanks for letting me go on about my passions, thanks for buying our products and letting us share what we know.
I hope you find as much fulfillment, excitement and connection on your own path. Something tells me you will.
We’re just getting started.
(5/8/09 P.S., duh, can’t believe I forgot to point you guys to the Sonia and Naomi interview on Copyblogger. It’s got entertainment value, at least, but also some pretty smart advice from the asterisk queen.)
You know what makes selling really annoying? When people don’t buy.
Man, is that irritating.
Those pesky customers have reasons they’re not buying from you today, and salespeople call these reasons “objections.”
This is post four in a series talking about what, as copywriters, we’re going to do to blast those objections into zillions of harmless smithereens.
Once we’ve captured a potential customer’s attention and brought up a problem that they’d like to have solved, we have to answer an important question.
Why should they work with us, instead of all the other things they might choose to do about this problem? (Never forget that doing nothing is one of their options.)
Why not the big, name-brand retail store? Why not some free resource they find on the internet? Why not your closest competitor?
What have you got to offer that solves their problem in a different way? And what makes that way better?
(If you don’t know what a USP is, it’s a Unique Selling Proposition. If that makes you barf, think of it as a unique promise. That’s the great Gary Bencivenga’s term, and I think it’s a great way to frame the question.)
Havi is a big fan of the Sing with Your Own Voice USP, and so am I. It’s the one thing no one can steal—your personality, voice, and style.
But when you’re thinking about making a unique promise, it’s helpful if you add a little more. “I promise to be myself” is kind of cool in a New Age Self Help way, but that potential customer would also like to know what they’re going to get out of this.
I like Bencivenga’s “promise” approach because it covers two sides. The “unique” part you can cover by being a unique human being. But you’re not done yet.
That word “promise” gets us thinking about our friend the customer. What are we going to do for her? How are we going to help? How will her life become better when she does business with us?
Let’s say you run an adorable little independent bookstore. You’ve got the unique thing down. You’re singing with your own voice. You’ve got your mom making her killer chocolate chip cookies for the café, you’ve got tables recommending all your very favorite books, and you’ve got your ancient friendly cat sleeping in the shop window.
No one’s going to mistake your place for a boring chain. It’s got your personality all over it.
Half down, half to go.
Let’s face it, the thing that will make or break your bookstore is how well you compete with Amazon.
So what can you promise customers that Amazon can’t?
After you’ve answered that question, you also need to figure out what you uniquely promise that the other bricks-and-mortar bookstores in your town don’t. So you go through the same exercise.
Repeat until you run out of significant competitors.
You can see how the unique promise comes at a wonderful intersection.
Between you—who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you can uniquely offer, and your customers—who they are, what they’re passionate about, and what they uniquely desire.
If you don’t make an interesting promise that triggers your customers’ “ooh, nifty” response, there’s not much hope for the success of your business.
1. You have to promise something that people in fact want. Not what you think they should want, but what they actually want.
You can figure this out by talking with customers, spending time in forums in your topic, running surveys, or hanging out on Twitter and in your comments and listening for what’s frustrating people.
This one kills a lot of businesses, so be really stern with yourself about it.
2. As a copywriter, you also want to make that promise vivid. Let the person see, feel, hear and taste what it’s going to be like when you deliver the promise. Use your full toolbox of great creative writing tricks to make the promise come alive in your readers’ mind.
3. A good promise feels intimate, one-to-one. All great copywriting speaks to one person.
Who believes mass advertising, or political promises? Nobody. They’re delivered to the millions, they’re cold and impersonal. But a promise whispered in our ear alone (or a promise that feels that way) gets our attention.
4. And of course, it’s only a good promise if we believe it. That’s why proof is such an important part of good sales copy (or good face-to-face selling, for that matter). So proof comes next in our series.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
~Dean Hunt &, apparently, Oscar Wilde
I was chatting with the smartest marketing princess on earth the other day, and we were talking about how few products and services are actually unique.
All marketing advice is basically rehashed John Caples and Claude Hopkins, sometimes with a few Gene Schwartz refinements tossed in.
House painters are house painters. Web designers are web designers. PR people are PR people.
Absolutely, there’s a spectrum of “seriously good” to “seriously incompetent,” and we all have our specialties. And that’s significant, I don’t mean to downplay it. It’s well worth your time to carve down your own little corner of the universe and make it perfect.
But there’s a more important differentiator.
Let’s take it as a given that you’re very good at what you do. If you aren’t, either get better at what you’re doing, or do something you’re better at.
We’ve all been given amazing gifts, and we can all study and improve, so I am 100% confident you can be superb at something.
(Something useful. I’m not belittling your career as a nose-flute virtuoso, but you’ll also need to do something that’s of use to other people.)
With that as a given, what can you add that would take that “very good” to a magnificent new level?
What can you offer that’s dazzling? How can you find a unique message in the cacophony of advertising that’s deafening us all?
How do you find your own village of loyal customers who love you more than anyone else, and will support you in style for the rest of your days?
I have two friends who help people get unstuck.
They both do great work for clients. They’re both incredibly dedicated and committed. They both speak with an authentic voice.
They don’t offer the exact same services, but even if they did, you’d never need to ask how to decide which one to work with. The answer is obvious.
Havi is for Havi-people and Gary is for Gary-people.
So yes, work on your positioning. Work on your USP. Understand your relationship to your market, find your winning difference or your purple cow or your rightful share of customer.
But don’t let any of those slow you down.
Because beyond what you know and what you’ve learned and how you specialize, what you have to offer is you. It’s as simple and as complicated and as wonderful as that.
P.S. (Speaking of the smartest marketing princess on earth, we’re cooking up some coolerosity for you. Stay tuned.)
“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking bad moods.
Sometimes you just want to go ahead and let yourself feel foul. There’s no law that says we have to be Cheery Mary Sunshine every day, and who would want to be?
But when you’ve got stuff to do, a crummy mood doesn’t help. It burns up all your energy and it ties up your mental bandwidth. You spend all your focus on the injustices you’ve been subjected to, and none of it doing your Big Magnificent Project.
When I had a day job, I had the luxury of cultivating my crappy moods. I could nurse a funk for days or weeks, keeping little lists of how screwed up They were and how deliciously righteous and correct I was.
But when someone else isn’t paying for that, it just gets in my way. Mama’s got work to do, and that ain’t helping.
I found myself in just such a mood last weekend, when I needed to be planning my
world domination work week. I didn’t have a lot of time to indulge the horribles, so here’s how I kicked them to the curb.
Let’s face it, you’re in a crappy mood for a reason.
Probably not the reason you think, but a reason.
So before you try to fix anything, break out some paper and your favorite pen and start complaining.
Write about why you think you’re feeling so foul. Write about what pulled your bad mood trigger. Write about what made you angry. Write about what hurt your feelings. Write about what’s got you frustrated. Write about who you hate even though you’re supposed to love (or at least like) them.
The most important instruction is Don’t be reasonable. You do enough of that already. Hush the voice in your head that tells you to quit being a crybaby. Go ahead and whine the blues.
Take it a little over the top if you want to. Or a lot over the top. Compare your bad haircut to nuclear holocaust. No one can see you, so wallow as much as you want to.
(P.S., remember, none of this works if there’s any chance in the universe that someone will see your ranting and raving. So be sure you keep your journal 100% secure from other eyes. Burn the pages if you have to.)
You can read more about the fine art of journal writing/tantrums right here.
I won’t call it exercise, in case that’s a bad word for you.
But get your body moving. Get your heart beating a little bit faster than it usually does.
You can do this with the
door stop exercise machine in the basement. If the weather’s ok where you are, you could just take a nice walk around the block. Go for a bike ride. Dance to silly music. Do Taebo kicks. Practice your pole dancing. Whatever.
Don’t think about all the advice about how exercise is good for your heart and lungs and skin and prevents Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure and reduces the incidence of virtually every kind of disease by about half. Even though that is true, it’s just going to make you feel worse.
Get moving because it feels good. If it’s not feeling great, maybe you’re pushing it a little too hard. Slow down. Notice the way the blood feels when it’s racing around in your body. Notice that your legs and butt actually like moving around. Enjoy.
If you can manage it, try not to think about anything other than what it feels like to move.
You don’t have to do this forever. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes. If that’s scary, you could make it 10.
Whether it’s the Jonas Brothers or ABBA or The Chipmunks, I won’t tell.
Listen to something that made you really happy when you were 10. Or to something that makes you feel like you’re 10 now. Anything that puts a goofy smile on your face will work. It doesn’t have to be dumb, but you get a few bonus points if it is.
Conveniently, you can do this while you’re moving around. It makes the time go really fast.
You might even be inclined to move around for 5 more minutes. If you really want to, go ahead. If you’re just doing it to be virtuous or to shrink your gigantic thighs, though, don’t.
All this is about taking care of the part of yourself that still has tantrums, even though you’ve learned to call them something else.
The journaling part is about putting your feelings into language. Some of us got good at that when we were children; most of us didn’t. When we can’t express our feelings, they back up on us and gunk everything up. So express.
(Maybe language isn’t your main way of expressing yourself. It might be paint or tattoo ink or interpretive dance. If you’re not a writer, use the medium that works for you.)
The movement part is about being a physical creature. You evolved to move while you were processing thoughts and feelings, and your brain works better when your body’s doing something. Plus shaking your booty produces endorphins and all that, which just feels good.
No one’s asking you to be Lance Armstrong here. Don’t kill yourself. In fact, a nice slow walk works fine.
The music part is about playing and being silly and making a joyful noise. Whether it’s Aretha or the Wiggles that make you happy, music can take you to another place.
(I’m partial to classic disco. It’s hard to feel bad when It’s Raining Men, at least for me.)
If you like this post, please link to, Tweet or Stumble it!
The quote at the beginning of the post is from Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Image from I Can Has Cheezburger?
I wish I could remember who turned me on to Nancy Boy.
I’ve never been to their shop, never met them in person, although I have every plan to make a pilgrimage one of these days.
All I can remember is that someone said, “You like all that email newsletter stuff, you have to get Nancy Boy’s. It’s . . . well, it’s amazing.”
And it is.
Here’s a quote from their most recent edition:
But the most excruciating social prevarication occurs during the dental hygienist interrogation. “You signed under oath in 1987 that you brush twice a day with prescription toothpaste, floss after each meal, use the Proxabrush and Stim-U-Dents nightly and gum stimulator every other night do you still swear it to be so?” My eyes roll back in my head as I dimly recall meaning to buy floss at duty free when we went to Martinique in 2002 but I smile brightly and exclaim, “Now I’m doing the gum stimulator EVERY night,” a bootlicking lead-in to the nitrous score. Yes of course just for the cleaning for anything serious like a cavity I have Madonna’s private anesthetist.
You may be thinking, wow, that’s wordy. And kind of insane. And it uses the word prevarication, they’re gonna get some unsubscribes with that one.
It’s a little like horehound candy, or stinky goat cheese. A lot of people don’t like it. Maybe most people don’t like it.
But the people who do absolutely crave it.
Nancy Boy sells soap. Well, soap, lotion, shaving cream, that kind of thing.
Nancy Boy, in other words, is competing with about half the universe.
Everybody sells soap. Safeway sells a hundred different kinds of soap, with billions of dollars in advertising to get you to pick Dial over Dove. Whole Foods sells expensive pretty stuff by the pound, funky little chunks that smell good. Boutiques sell it wrapped in adorable packages, or in the shapes of robin’s eggs, in beads and bombs and bath fizzies.
There is too much soap. The market is entirely saturated. Even if you have the fanciest organic handcrafted virgin yak-butter soap on the face of the planet, there’s too much of the stuff.
No one needs another vendor of soap. No one.
Even worse, the Nancy Boy retail shop is in San Francisco’s trendy Hayes Valley. There are probably eight stores on their block alone where you can buy fancypants soap.
And soap isn’t like a dinner in a good restaurant. No matter how much you like it, you still don’t buy it 30 nights in a row.
Soap is the worst business in the world.
Unless you’re Nancy Boy.
That’s an old Gary Halbert formula for product success.
Nancy Boy has a good story, about an advertising exec who vowed never again to shill cosmetic products that needed their 900% markup to pay for their advertising.
They have a good solution—a high-quality, locally produced collection of products.
But what Nancy Boy really has is a star, in their newsletter writer, Eric.
Eric takes nice soap and turns into a cult. Eric is Nancy Boy.
If you’re into Eric’s writing style, reading his newsletter is exactly like getting a personal email from a witty and insane friend. It’s likely to involve anxiety attacks, mood-altering substances, public humiliation, jokes that are so bad they’re good, and an attitude that is euphemistically called “very San Francisco.”
It may be a euphemism, but it’s not inaccurate. Email from Eric makes me miss home.
And, of course, I forward Eric’s email to my friends. Who forward it to their friends. And everyone buys soap.
When I say Eric makes himself a star, I don’t mean he puts himself out as being particularly handsome, smart, rich or talented.
Eric makes himself particularly himself. Or at least, a more boiled-down, vivid version of himself.
Everyone who reads gossip magazines (something tells me Eric falls into this category) knows that nobody loves perfect people. We love Lindsay and Britney and good old Liz Taylor. We love train wrecks and bitches. We love the lost, because we’re a bit lost ourselves, and they make us feel better.
Just like a great story in the tabloids, Eric’s monthly newsletter gives you a little drama, a little glamour, and a good dose of “good lord did he really say that.”
You might be in what’s called a “commodity” business, like house painting, with lots of other vendors competing with you on price.
You might be in a crazy competitive market no one in their right mind would choose, like real estate. Or soap.
Maybe the answer is you.
Obviously you’re not going to be the next Nancy Boy. There’s already a Nancy Boy.
But you might be the wacky yoga/business/life coach who talks to a duck.
Or the alternative relationship coach.
Or the lazy surfer/millionaire.
The more you think you’re too flawed or messed up or just plain weird to put yourself forward as the star of the business, the more promise you have.
Go for it. If it can sell soap, it can sell anything.
Flickr Creative Commons image by akaporn