How Selling Perfume is Like Selling Liberty

Chanel no 5

Yesterday I had a conversation with the incredibly-smart Jon Henke. We were talking about our fellows in the free-market community. How despite a glut of whip-smarts, there’s a palpable dearth of what he called political sense. He didn’t mean glad-handling or the desire for power or coercion, but the ability to know how to communicate and present in a way which will achieve maximum impact for your ideas.

“You can be smart and have political sense and you will win,” he said. “You can be dumb and have political sense you will win. But if you are smart and don’t have political sense, you will not win.”

Then today I read Prince of Perfume, a bio of an pro-basketball player turned perfumist. His story epitomizes how the political sense Jon Henke was talking about translates into marketing success, whether you’re selling pleasant smells in a bottle or ideas with the power to liberate the world and unleash unimaginable prosperity. First, let’s get to know Ben Gorham.

With his lanky 6-foot-5 frame and sleeves of 1920s-era tattoos, Ben Gorham doesn’t look like your average perfumer. In fact, when the former professional basketball player first presented his fragrances in Paris seven years ago, a French journalist sniffed, “What gives you the right to do perfumes?” Gorham, whose Byredo line now has a devoted following that generates $30 million in global sales, smiles as he recalls that early snub: “I was a wild card. But I’m very competitive. I can do one thing really obsessively.”

By his own admission, Gorham isn’t particularly good at perfume. “‘I’m not a nose,’ says Gorham. ‘I’m not a perfumer.”

So why is he successful? One thing that aids Ben Gorham’s success is his high-value connections. “Gorham has a knack for somehow aligning himself with the biggest names in the beauty and fashion industries.”

Libertarians have a habit of forcefully kicking out people who want to join our club. But if we’re ever going to have any real influence, we must start working with people who are already influential. Ideological purity in a closed-room is self-satisfying, but totally useless to a world full of people whose freedoms are being slowing stolen by people who know how to build coalitions.

But the real differentiator is that Ben Gorham uses storytelling to sell. Just listen to his story!

For most of his life, Gorham, 35, had been haunted by the memory of his father, who abandoned the family when he was a boy. So after he gave up his sports career at the age of 25 (the Stockholm-born athlete couldn’t secure a European passport to officially play in their league), Gorham approached the renowned Swedish perfumer Pierre Wulff about recreating his father’s scent. Wulff listened to Gorham describe the fragrance and figured out that it was probably Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel. “He told me that the world didn’t need another perfumer,” Gorham says. But something had clicked: he realized he wanted to create scents that would evoke a better, bygone era, but still be relevant to the present. He registered the name Byredo, short for “By Redolent.”

I really could give two shits about perfume, I wear it maybe three times a month and find the whole business weird. (My goal is to NOT smell) But I find myself tearing up at this story of a boy’s longing for the memory of his father. Scent has an unparalleled ability among the sense to evoke long-forgotten memories. So not only is this a moving story, but it joins perfectly with the product.

Storytelling is an incredibly successful strategy for getting people’s attention and winning their hearts.

Gorham isn’t successful because he’s great at perfume, it’s because he’s great at marketing. Libertarianism needs fewer people who are good at liberty and more people who are good at selling it. We need people who can make high-value connections and people who can tell stories to get people invested in us, and by extension, our product.

Gorham summarizes it perfectly when he describes himself and his vision: “I’m more about the dreams and less about the science of it.”

If we are ever to win. If we are ever to even matter, we have to be more about the dreams, and less about the science of it.

Cathy Reisenwitz spends her days promoting the best in libertarian commentary through her position as Digital Publishing Specialist for Reason magazine and her nights repping libertarianism as a freelance writer and vlogger. She has run the Anarcho-capitalism Blog since 2009 and just started vlogging at The Libertarienne. Her writing has appeared on the AFF Free the Future blog, Doublethink magazine, the Individualist Feminist and Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. Follow her on Twitter at @CathyReisenwitz.

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