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The hierarchy of presentations

A presentation is a precious opportunity. It's a powerful arrangement… one speaker, an attentive audience, all in their seats, all paying attention (at least at first). Don't waste it.

The purpose of a presentation is to change minds. That's the only reason I can think of to spend the time and resources. If your goal isn't to change minds, perhaps you should consider a different approach.

  1. The best presentation is no presentation at all. If you can get by with a memo, send a memo. I can read it faster than you can present it and we'll both enjoy it more.
  2. The second best presentation is one on one. No slides, no microphone. You look me in the eye and change my mind.
  3. Third best? Live and fully interactive.
  4. Powerpoint or Keynote, but with no bullets, just emotional pictures and stories.
  5. And last best… well, if you really think you can change my mind by using tons of bullets and a droning presentation, I'm skeptical.

A presentation isn't an obligation, it's a privilege.


The one thing that will allow your business to get funded, or to get a business to business buyer to buy from you or a college to admit you is the sense that your success is imminent.

If it's a foregone conclusion that you're going to break out, that all systems are go, then only an idiot wouldn't jump on board.

So, the real question is: what signals indicate that your success is imminent?

The brilliant venture capitalists are the guys who invest their money months or years before everyone else realizes how imminent the success is. They have better radar than the rest of us. Your job as a marketer or entrepreneur is to amplify the signals that buyers and investors look for. Spend your money on the right stuff, ignore the rest. If you try to market and spend on every element of your story, you'll be merely average. If, on the other hand, you can focus on which signals represent an imminent success, the leverage kicks in.

Simple old-school example: In 1984, I drove across the country from California to Boston to take a summer job at Spinnaker Software. As I drove through Chicago I passed a billboard for the company. Incredible! This little startup already had billboards across the entire country.

A few months later I found out that they had exactly one billboard, located between the airport and the convention center, put up just in time for the Consumer Electronics Show. For the buyers flying in from Minnesota or Texas, this was was one more clue that the company was about to hit it big.

How to make money with SEO

There are two ways to use SEO to help your organization. One is reliable and effective, the other is a glorious crap shoot that usually fails but is wonderful when it works. I'll start with the second.

The most common way to use search engine optimization is to find a keyword (like "plumbing") and do whatever you can to 'own' that word on Google. This is Google as the Yellow Pages (with free ads).

The Yellow Pages are terrific for plumbers, because if you need a plumber, that's where you're going to look. Buy the biggest ad, be the first listing, you get calls. Google is a revelation because it's a super Yellow Pages and it's free! The problem: how to be the first listing, because being the 40th listing is fairly worthless.

The answer: You probably won't be. There are 14 million matches for Plumber, and no, you won't be #1 or #2. You lost. In fact, in just about every keyword worth owning, your chances are winning are small.

(To the .00001% of the people reading this who win–congratulations. You can ignore this post.)

This method is so appealing because it's all about converting the non-converted. For free, you show up in front of people who didn't know about you and you get your shot to convert them. This is the marketer's dream.

Am I saying it's not worth trying to win? Of course not. If you can give it a shot for the right set of keywords and not spend too much or count too much on winning, then go for it. But the other method is a lot more compelling (and, yes, you can do both at the same time).

The other way to use SEO is a bit more organic. (Let's call it the White Pages approach). It involves owning a keyword that you already own. Do a search on ShoeMoney in Google and you'll find 340,000 matches. Wanna guess who's first? ShoeMoney. Why is this surprising? After all, he invented the word and he owns the domain.

Someone hears about Jeremy's site from a friend or from a blog or from some other source. They want to visit his site and they type it into Google. He told me that he gets five times as much traffic from this search term as any other on Google.

The power of this technique is that with determination and patience, you will certainly win. It requires inventing a trademark and then building a business or service or organization around this trademark that people actually talk about. You want to be able to say to someone, "just type ____ into Google."

Obviously, the only people who will do this have heard about you in some other way. So this is an amplification and word of mouth strategy, not a blue sky conversion play.

Here's the math:
If you are lucky enough to 'win' at traditional Yellow Pages SEO, you might convert a few percentage points of the traffic you get into customers. On the other hand, if you win at White Pages SEO, if you win because people talk about your unique take and use your name, you convert just about everyone. Think about that… if someone types Seth into Google, they're probably looking for me, and so when they arrive here, they stay, because they found me. If, on the other hand, they type in Cow, most of the people who end up here aren't looking for my book, so they leave.

David Meerman Scott owns the word 'Meerman'. I have no idea if he uses his middle name in real life, but it sure helps him online. Scott Ginsberg owns the term 'nametag scott'. You get the idea. It's like owning the perfect domain, via Google.

When you start to win at the White Pages strategy, it turns out that this helps you win at both. Your blog or site gets more organic traffic, which will organically raise your Google results for other words and phrases.

Step by step:

1. Make an incredible product, offer a remarkable service.

2. Associate a unique term or trademark with it. (Something that isn't generic, and preferably, not a crowded search term already).

3. Assuming that you do #1 and #2, you'll end up owning that word in the search engines. If you don't, revisit the first two steps.

The hard part, of course, is making something people choose to talk about. The good news is that this is under your control, which is better than the alternative.

So exclusive, even you can have one

Here's an ad for the super-exclusive new Visa black card. "It's not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it's the ultimate buying tool."

Amazingly, it's limited to just 3,000,000 people and advertised with full page ads.

When mass marketers try to market exclusivity, the paradox always catches up with them. And we're on to this.

This is a huge opportunity for smaller players and insurgents, because you actually can offer exclusivity, and not just to three million people.

It’s harder to hire great people in a tough economy

The reason is pretty simple: it's noisy.

Lots of organizations have used the downturn as an excuse to trim people who weren't producing. So, if you need cheap bodies, this is your moment.

But if you need amazing people, be prepared to work hard to find them.

Opening acts and rock stars

The opening act has the toughest gig in town. The audience isn't here to listen to you. They're restless. Perhaps you'll get a few seconds to earn their attention, but not much. Your gimmicks will fall flat and you might even get booed off stage.

The rock star, on the other hand, has the crowd chanting for him before he shows up. He starts a song and people applaud. They sing along. They finish his lyrics for him.

Most marketers are opening acts. The ad or blog post or tweet is a desperate attempt at attention, at keeping people from switching it off or booing. The posture of the marketer who is an opening act is unstable and a little sad.

Some marketers are rock stars.

How'd that happen?

I'd argue that the two keys to becoming a rock star marketer are:
1. settle for a tiny audience that views you as a star, not an opening act. Then grow that audience.
2. Be really good.

I just went to see Keller Williams in concert. Without a doubt, he's a genius and a rock star. If he tried to pull this stuff as an opening act for someone else, he'd be booed off the stage. But he doesn't. Because he's a rock star. If he was selling something, I'd buy it.

Intentionally building communities (More hallway!)

If you think about the tribes you belong to, most of them are side effects of experiences you had doing something slightly unrelated. We have friends from that summer we worked together on the fishing boat, or a network of people from college or sunday school. There's also that circle of people we connected with on a killer project at work a few years go.

These tribes of people are arguably a more valuable creation than the fish that were caught or the physics that were learned, right?

And yet, most of the time we don't see the obvious opportunity–if you intentionally create the connections, you'll get more of them, and better ones too. If the hallway conversations at a convention are worth more than the sessions, why not have more and better hallways?

What would happen if trade shows devoted half a day to 'projects'? Put multi-disciplinary teams of ten people together and give them three hours to create something of value. The esprit de corps created by a bunch of strangers under time pressure in a public competition would last for decades. The community is worth more than the project.

The challenge is to look at the rituals and events in your organization (freshman orientation or weekly status meetings or online forums) and figure out how amplify the real reason they exist even if it means abandoning some of the time-honored tasks you've embraced. Going around in a circle saying everyone's name doesn't build a tribe. But neither does sitting through a boring powerpoint. Working side by side doing something that matters under adverse conditions… that's what we need.

The first question every web site designer must ask

If a client comes to you for a web site, the first thing you need to know is:

"Do you want the people visiting this site to notice it?"

It's a subtle but essential question.

For artists, musicians and web 2.0 companies, the answer is probably yes. Yes we want people to see the interface or remark on our skills or cleverness.

For everyone else, it's no. The purpose of the site is to tell a story or to generate some sort of action. And if the user notices the site, not the story, you've lost.

Amazingly, this means that not only can't the site be too cutting edge, clever or slick, it also can't be too horrible, garish or amateurish. It's sort of like the clothes you want the person giving a eulogy to wear. No Armani, no cutoff jeans.

Reinventing the conference call

Sasha had an interesting post on his blog about how horrible the typical conference call is. I hate them. He had some good tips, but it's still horrible.

So, here's my idea:

Conference calls should be accompanied by an online chat room. (Here's my favorite, it's easy and free for a month). Or try calliflower.

When you put text chat in parallel with a voice conference call, magical things happen.

The first is that everyone participates. If you don't, it's noticeable and you won't be invited back.

Second, the voice part of the call acts as a narrative for the chat part, allowing people to highlight or respond to what's being said.

Most of all, it creates organized, trackable chaos, which was the reason for the meeting in the first place.

Litmus test: is your organization so gutless it won't even try this technique?

On becoming proactive

Tom points us to a provocative idea for home builders. If you want to sell a new house, why not offer prospective buyers help in selling their old houses? Send your idle crews to their house to paint it or do other important cosmetic fixes. Fill the old house with the furniture you use in your models, etc.

Take it a step further. If your home building service is totally slack, why not get to work upgrading and selling older homes or even foreclosed ones?

Consider what a solo entrepreneur could do using eBay: instead of waiting for people to hold garage sales, why not distribute flyers offering to run a virtual garage sale for anyone who will open their home to you? Go in with a digital camera, catalog and photograph the top 20 most valuable items in the house and sell them on eBay… and split the money. Your proactive effort overcomes the seller's inertia and you both profit.

There are huge opportunities for this in the business to business space as well. Most companies would welcome a post-tax-day accountant who offered (on spec) to review bills or expenses in exchange for half the money saved. If they had time, they'd do it themselves, but of course they don't.

In my experience, much of marketing is a game of waiting for the other guy to go first. Well, if nothing is happening, you go first.