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.
The competition is ugly
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.
A star, a story and a solution
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.
Stars aren’t perfect
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 Britney (free Britney!) and Nicki Minaj, and god we miss Amy Winehouse. 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.”
Sometimes, all you have is you
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 a wacky yoga/business/life coach who talks to a duck.
Or the small business marketing guru who swears like a sailor.
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.
2022 Update: The impeccable insanity that was the Nancy Boy newsletter is no more, alas, although the company is still around. But I’m willing to bet if you look around, you can find a similar fix.
Flickr Creative Commons image by akaporn
Terry Heath says
I think the testimonial they have on the top of their front page says it all. A customer is threatening to hunt them down and kill them if they ever stop making a particular face cream; she needs it that much. When a customer can say something like that, they’re devoted. Then when a company can put it on the front page of their website, they “get” their customers.
I admire those who can do that particular brand of “hair flopping in the wind” writing. And I used the word “flopping” on purpose. I tend to spend too much time with a stick up my . . . uh, rear and forget to let my hair down so it can flop (even though it’s way too short to flop at all).
Thanks for this reminder. It’s something I’ve been working on with varied levels of success over the last month or so, and this reminder is timely.
Terry Heaths last blog post..Creative Writing Prompt: Fiction Techniques in Your Personal Essay
Karen Swim says
Or you might be the super cool chick who sells with panache (um that would be you!) 🙂 Sonia, great points and the true testament of putting yourself out there is you make an impact. As I read the hyperlinks at the bottom I did not need to click to see who you were talking about, I knew. I knew because each one of these brilliant people has created a strong, memorable brand. The joy in being yourself is no facade to keep up, you can do it with gusto baby because it’s all you. Now, you’ve given me an idea for that long awaited newsletter. Off to be me!
Karen Swims last blog post..The Warm Fire of Aloha
Janice Cartier says
Okay along with fountain pens, I love lovely soap. Yep, can you smell the ginger lime I used this morning from my private stash? Makes me all zippity do dah, and creative. So how can I pass up NancyBoy? I am sure there is some key to both life and ourselves in going laser like toward the things we love…like many of those links or at least the people behind them. I know who they are without even clicking. Fabulousity abounds here Sonia.
Janice Cartiers last blog post..When the Little Buddha Comes Out
Yeah! Personality is the only thing that no competitor can beat you on. And even better, it’s a way to really connect with people instead of the usual faceless business to faceless consumer relationship.
People often underestimate their own strengths, because they’re so used to them. Or because they’re not valued by The Man. Stuff like “having a cool and quirky personality.” Damn The Man, eh? (:
@Karen: That’s so cool that you didn’t need to click. (:
Paces last blog post..It was me, all along.
Sonia Simone says
I love that you guys know who’s behind the links. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Hugh McLeod calls it a “global microbrand.”
@Karen, yeah, there’s so much energy in it, isn’t there?
@Janice, I’m always so happy to see your lovely virtual face. 🙂 Ooh, you gave me another good post idea, using what you love as a lens for what you offer.
@Pace, so right. And we’re wired to connect with people. So be someone they can connect to.
Janice Cartier says
Absolutely. Punch punch punch. 😉
Janice Cartiers last blog post..When the Little Buddha Comes Out
I went and checked the side and it as you said. It made me want to buy.
But they don’t ship internationally; 🙁
or have international distributors 🙁
an opportunity perhaps?
guys last blog post..The Lib Dems go High Brow
Great post. So stumbled. Loved the dog in the tutu, too!
One question, though… A number of people have said that Naomi is popular and has such a following because she swears like a sailor. Well, she is, and she does, however, she also knows her stuff. I don’t know Nancy Boy’s soaps, but I have to assume that they are at least pretty good. Doesn’t the product/service have to be of a certain standard, too, in order to succeed?
I have read a number of books that say your product doesn’t need to be the best (and they always point to McDonald’s when they say this). McDonald’s doesn’t have the best burgers, but they have/had great marketing. So, to what extent is it the marketing and what extent is it the product? Especially for a company like Nancy Boy, which does no advertising and relies totally on referrals?
Melissas last blog post..Sunny
Sonia Simone says
Melissa, that’s such a good point. I think the product is absolutely critical. And even McDonald’s might not have the best-tasting product, but they do have the most consistent product.
Gary Bencivenga, who’s probably the most successful living copywriter, has a saying along the lines of “a gifted product always beats a gifted pen.”
There’s not always a clear line between the two, either. Naomi is great because she knows her stuff, but also because she says it in a way you can hear. It’s entertaining, the concepts come across vividly, she finds a way to put things that you can actually understand and put into practice.
There are a few cases where great marketing can move a product that isn’t too hot. For example, I was talking with some financial planners recently about how terrible the advice of one particular celebrity financial expert is, but the person markets themselves very well.
But on the whole, don’t try to market crap. Go out and find something great (there is so much great stuff in the world, and there is greatness in each of us), then market that. It works a million times better.
With a rebellious, eyebrow-raising name, and just so much style, the product is secondary. It just has to be consistent. Excellent!
Kaushiks last blog post..The Second Obstacle – The Search
DJ Waldow says
As a dude who lives & breathes email marketing, I cringed when I read that (wordy) paragraph from the Nancy Boy newsletter. My immediate reaction was … “Oh no. That sure as heck isn’t best practice! Who is going to read all of that copy. I want discounts! I want to buy (now).”
Then, of course, I read your commentary after that excerpt. You busted me! You read my mind. I had to google the word “prevarication.” But, as you say with your goat cheese analogy (FWIW – I love goat cheese), the people that love that type of writing, that kind of newsletter, will read every single word.
It’s funny. I tell Chris Brogan all the time that his newsletter does not follow email marketing “best practices” (disclaimer: he is a Blue Sky Factory partner … & we designed the template for him). The Brogan newsletter is long, wordy, tons of text & has few calls to action. But – and this is the key – I read every single word. Every. Single. Word. So…it works.
Thanks for letting me know about this post and about Nancy Boy. I’m not currently in the market for soap thanks to a recent Costco run, but this has me thinking about a follow up post.
Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
.-= DJ Waldow´s last blog ..Social Media Is Not Necessary =-.