The freedom to not speak

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Google Analytics Summit, an event hosted for Certified Partners (my employer, SHIFT Communications, is one) to gain insight into the latest advancements in marketing measurement.

What’s novel and unique about this conference for me is that it’s under NDA, a non-disclosure agreement. Every session, every talk, every slide: not a word of it can be shown to the public. No photos. No Tweets. No blog posts (about the content). An attendee who violates the NDA is at risk of losing their Certified Partner status and access to the most valuable information being offered.


As odd as this sounds in this social media age, the lack of sharing is quite freeing. You have no focus other than learning, absorbing, taking notes. There’s nothing to share, no selfies to take, no interviews to conduct. No social media leaderboard in the lobby counting up how many times the hashtag has been mentioned; in fact, there is no official hashtag in order to discourage inappropriate sharing.

Your focus is only on the content being shared and the implications for your business.

For speakers, what would you do differently in your talks if you knew no one was permitted to share the information? What would you share? Think about how your presentations would differ. Would you feel more free to share an extra goodie or two?

For audience members, how much more would you get out of conferences if you had no reason to share? How much more could you focus if you didn’t need to think about photos, videos, tweets, Facebook posts, etc.? Would you catch more information without the cognitive load of determining what to share?

For conference organizers, while locking down an entire conference might be impractical, what if you offered a lockdown session or two, in which each attendee paid an extra NDA fee that was refunded X days after the event in exchange for a completely private session?

It’s a worthy challenge, considering how much mental bandwidth you give to publishing and sharing – and what you could do with that bandwidth instead. Give it some thought before the next conference you attend.

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Do restaurants fear sharing menus?

Let’s take a walk down your memory lane.

Take a moment to recall the last new restaurant you’ve walked past. Not went inside, not dined at, but the last time you walked by a restaurant you hadn’t been to before.

Was there a menu posted outside the restaurant?

Now open a browser or another tab in your current browser. Search for a local restaurant in Google or the location-based service of your choice. Click through to the restaurant website. Does it have a menu posted?


It would be ludicrous in this day and age of instant comparison shopping to have a restaurant without a menu posted. A restaurant that failed to post a menu would be at a significant disadvantage to its competitors; customers would rather see what they might be getting.

Can you imagine a restaurant chef saying, “No, I won’t post a menu. I don’t want customers taking photos of it and then going home to cook it themselves.” Do customers do that? I’m sure a few have, but chances are they’ve come in and paid to eat the food first so they know what they’re cooking.

Next, consider your own marketing. How much do you conceal about what your company does? This seems like a silly question, but so many companies hide more than they show. Do you post pricing on your website? Can a potential customer compare your menu with your nearest competitor? Or do they default to doing business with your competitors because your competitors have a menu and you don’t?

The menu isn’t the meal. The menu isn’t even the cookbook. Take a hard look at your marketing to see if you’re hiding too much from customers who want to buy from you.

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Does your strategy tell a story?

What is strategy?

Strategy is the plan to achieve your goals. 

The plan is a blueprint.
It’s a menu.
It’s a map. 

By extension, the blueprint is not the hammer.
The menu is not the cookbook.
The map is not the land. 


Here’s a simple trick to determine if your strategy is coherent. If you cannot tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, you do not have a strategy. 

Think about the plans listed above. They’re stories.

A blueprint for a new building is a story of stories, of what the building will look like and how people will use it.
A menu is a story of a logical progression through a curated collection of tastes and experiences.
A map is a story of how you’ll traverse the land.

Suppose you want to make your Facebook page successful. If you just list out all of the tactics you’ll throw at it, that doesn’t make for a particularly good story. It’ll read like a list of things you want to buy at the grocery store, which isn’t a great story or any kind of story at all.

On the other hand, suppose you told a story of seeking to get to a promised goal. Maybe the goal was audience reach, or engagement, or conversion to a click. You told of who the audience was, what they liked, and what content you’d replicate in order to appeal to them, doing detecting work like Sherlock Holmes. You’d post your content, identify what worked best, refine it, and pay to promote it. In the end, you’d measure your results and begin the story anew.

That sort of plan has a clear, logical progression. You could probably, with a quick re-read, recite it yourself as a very short story.

Ask yourself any time you’re questioning your strategy: can I tell a story from this?

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