#Exceptions 3: InVision
#Exceptions 3: InVision
Manav Khurana: Everyone who is close to design in the world knows that the best customer experiences in the digital world happened by design. A designer or a design team who was involved in that product development process sat down and truly empathized with their audience. And then went about the process of designing an experience, a digital experience that is truly useful to the end user, it's delightful and maybe even lovable, and that's what creates competitive advantage.
Jay Acunzo: This is Exceptions, the show about why building a brand matters more than ever in B2B. In this series, we go inside some of the world's best B2B companies to understand why they're proactively building their brands to stand out from all the commodity marketing in their space, these are the exceptions. I'm your host, Jay Acunzo. I'm a keynote speaker, host of the podcast, Unthinkable and the author of the upcoming book Break the Wheel. And I'm partnering with Drift to bring you this series because, well, they're all about putting the human experience back into B2B sales and marketing. Today, we go inside InVision. InVision offers tools to help software product designers create prototypes, communicate with their teams or users, gather feedback and ultimately build the best possible products. InVision's tools are used by some of the world's top companies like Amazon, Airbnb, HBO, Netflix, Lyft, and IBM, just to name a few. All total, their products are used by more than four million people. InVision is also crystal clear about why they exist. They believe that good design is good business so they help companies create better user experiences for the business world's most important delivery mechanism, screens. The company has raised over$235 million in VC, employing over 500 people across what is probably the largest fully remote team in B2B. In 2016, InVision did something to both build community and give product designers a seat at the table, they created their very own documentary film about the product design profession. It's called Design Disruptors, and it was never released to the public online, imagine that. Instead the company and the community held over 1000 offline screenings in over 450 locations worldwide. This film features some of the best design thinkers and leaders on the planet from companies like that list you heard before and Google, MailChimp, Dropbox, Facebook, Spotify, Zendesk, Pinterest, and many others. While most B2B companies create short videos for social or case studies for sales, InVision used this film to rally an entire industry around their brand. Here's just a taste of the opening moments of Design Disrupters.
Speaker 3: I really didn't get fascinated with design until I started to learn what it was and what it could actually do. I tend to think of design as a natural form of life, inaudible you think of a spider creates a web or a bird develops a nest or a bee a honey comb. It's something that allows us to be able to create and develop and innovate things within our own ecosystem of life.
Speaker 4: I think of design as a bridge that connects complexity with meaning. On one side, you have something very complex, it could be a technology, it could be a system, it could be anything, on the other side you have a person. Design is that thin layer that connects complexity to meaning.
Speaker 5: It really takes a monumental step of improvement in order to get somebody to change the way that they're already living their lives, but I think once you've created something that is truly disruptive, that is way different and way better, people will notice it and it's only a matter of time before a lot of people notice it and start using it.
Speaker 6: As designers, really all we're doing is reflecting the world. As the world changes, the things that matter changes to.
Jay Acunzo: Damn. Damn, damn, damn. And no matter how many times I watch or listen to that, I get the chills. And of course the goal of both that film and everything InVision does is to give somebody else the chills, their customer. And in this series, that's what every brand that we've profiled and will profile has in common above all else, they are customer centric. Naturally, we should be hearing directly from customers of all the brands we're profiling, so let's hear now about one customer's experience of the great experience that is the InVision brand.
Sal Sadani: My name is Sal Sadani Danny, and I'm an art director and interface designer, freelancing.
Jay Acunzo: I found Sal through what I would describe as effusive tweeting. I mean, the guy was crazy about InVision publicly on Twitter. Earlier this year, when the company released a new product called Studio, he applauded the move before saying," Effin' A, InVision, Effin' A.
Sal Sadani: That's from the movie Dodgeball, where the sports casters, I forget the actor's name, but he turns to the guy beside him and says," Effin A, Cotton, Effin' A."
Jay Acunzo: Why were you saying this about InVision Studio, though? What caused that reaction?
Sal Sadani: I signed up for InVision Studio right when they announced it was coming out. I've been waiting quite a while to get my hands on it and it finally came. And I actually told my girlfriend, inaudible said," Whatever we had planned this weekend, you forget it." I sat for the next couple of days and taught myself how to use InVision Studio.
Jay Acunzo: After toying with the product, Sal, shared out a screen grab of what he'd created, which InVision founder and CEO Clark Valberg then retweeted. And he praised both Sal's work and the larger design community for constantly making amazing things. So here was Sal, a freelance designer working with a few clients, playing around to hone his craft and have some fun, maybe a little bit too much fun at the expense of date night. And then this giant global industry leading companies' CEO gives him a shout out online. Just imagine how that makes a customer like Sal feel. Luckily, you actually don't have to imagine it because I asked him that question.
Sal Sadani: Overwhelmed, with A, confidence and B, just joy. It's not every day that the CEO of a ground- breaking company shares your work and said what he said. And what he said was more important to me than the fact that my work was on it.
Jay Acunzo: Yeah, he said," Great design is undeniable, great designers are unstoppable. More fire from the incredibly talented humans using InVision Studio." That's got to feel great. That was a nice moment, admittedly, but ultimately a rather product centric moment. But what makes InVision transformative in both Sal's career and the careers of millions of designers all over the world is how the company teaches design. They talk very little about themselves, rather than just providing tools for great design. They want to make sure that people understand the craft. So in addition to that amazing documentary film, the company publishes tons of content about design from blog posts, to a recurring newsletter, to something called The Design Genome Project, which we're going to hear about later from the company's CMO. In the end, InVision adds tons of value to the lives of their audience long before they ever asked for any value in return, and that has made them a beloved brand in a space full of dozens of competitors.
Sal Sadani: You know the analogy, you can bring a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink it? InVision is bringing you to the water and whether or not you drink it is up to you. A good friend of mine once told me," Learning is not a linear experience, there's no guaranteed pathway to being an expert or to learning in general." By InVision providing all of this to the general public it confirms or affirms that what you're doing you're doing right.
Jay Acunzo: Clearly InVision is doing content marketing right, but that doesn't exactly make them an exception to most of their peers. In any niche in B2B it seems that companies are blogging, publishing ultimate guides and videos and podcasts, and you name it. Helpful content feels more like table stakes today, and sure a small percent do that stuff well, but me pointing out that InVision is great at content marketing probably didn't surprise you whatsoever. So what makes them an exception? Well, in addition to publishing content that designers love, InVision rallies them together to battle the stuff they hate. Here's, Sal again.
Sal Sadani: What I hate the absolute most is when people trivialize other people's expertise.
Jay Acunzo: This happens all the time with makers of any kind, I can totally attest to that and Sal realized that. And so he used me as a podcaster and content marketer, as an example to illustrate what he means.
Sal Sadani: When anyone turns around and says," Oh, well, you ask questions or you just talk to people for living. You just write things." Well, yeah, I guess, if you really want to break it down to absolutely nothing. But how many years have you spent building up your A, reputation? And the skill it takes for you to extract the information from the person that you're talking to, or the podcast, I guess, that you have? It's not something fly by night, and the same goes for any other trade, really. You know what I mean? Especially design," Oh, my cousin can do it for cheap." That's great, but is that really what you want? Is that the best possible brand that you want to represent your business? No.
Jay Acunzo: InVision recognizes that beyond the pain involved in doing the work of design, there's a pain involved in being a designer in business. And their brand InVision is about acknowledging that, calling out all the issues with that to designers and to the stakeholders around them, and most crucially, rallying for a better way. This comes through in massive projects like Design Disruptors, sure, but it's also the implicit message underscoring every little thing they do. As a result, when I asked Sal, what would he say to the InVision team if he could? He said this-
Sal Sadani: I would just say, thank you. Thank you for providing the younger generations a library of information and tools to learn from, because I remember when I started, none of that was available. And it's incredibly refreshing to see a company that pushes design as... I mean, I look at it like this, I don't know if it's the truth, but they've pushed design as the be- all end- all, and that to me is incredibly refreshing.
Jay Acunzo: Today, you simply can't build a great company in B2B without proactively and strategically thinking about brand. In a world of infinite supply and choice where the B2B buyer has all the power, people choose to spend time with things that they like with great experiences, nobody pays a premium for a cheap commodity. So let's explore a big idea that we can all learn about today in order to build our brands better. Today's big idea, become a platform. Let me clarify one thing right away, since platform has many different meanings, a lot of them kind of buzzy. I don't mean create a ton of different of your product and open up your API to developers, kudos if that's how you operate, but that's not the type of platform I mean. I mean the dictionary definition, a raised level surface on which people or things can stand, a raised level surface on which people or things can stand. I remember past jobs that I personally held at companies like Google and HubSpot, whenever we would broker a co- marketing partnership, we'd think about the same parameters. Do they believe what we believe? Are they mad at the same things we're mad at? And do they envision the same way of the world for our customers that we do? In other words, are we solving the same problems as our partners? Likewise, at HubSpot and later in venture capital at NextView, my mandate as a content creator was always to solve a problem for the audience. And really, I think that's why any B2B business exists in the first place, we exist to solve a problem for our customers. And while lots of us like to tell others that that's what we do, the exceptions in B2B actually show people, and they do so by providing a platform for their customers. Tactically, this might look like InVision's blog, for example, where almost every entry is submitted by another designer outside the company. It also might look like their emotional pulse behind everything they do, where they attack all that's broken on behalf of their community and rally said community together in the first place. Whatever the case, when you're a platform for your audience, you are the raised level surface. You elevate the entire industry, not just yourself, and you fight on behalf of customers calling out what's broken, fixing what you can and inviting others to contribute as complimentary players. Just think about, say a big annual event held by a B2B brand or maybe an hour long documentary film. But the point isn't to stand on the mountaintop and profess to have all the answers to others. No, remember the platform is underneath, it's the foundation on which others can stand, whether it's your content as an educator or your product as a provider of solutions. Today, great B2B brands are supporting the entire industry and the profession or careers of those they serve. They are active participants in that community and they are champions of their audience, not just to solve problems, but because they can't stand the problems to begin with. Ask yourself, are you more than just a solutions provider or a vendor? Are you a platform for your audience, for their career aspirations, their pains, their companies? Do you constantly and loudly articulate that you understand them, that you are them and that together you will elevate them? Become a platform. InVision does this in a number of ways. So let's explore this big idea with two different people from the company. First, their CMO, Manav Khurana, and their Editor- at- Large Kristin Hillery. She has a pretty unique title and role plugs right into our big idea, and we're going to hear about her in a bit. But first, let's start with Manav.
Manav Khurana: My name is Manav Khurana, and I'm the CMO at InVision.
Jay Acunzo: As a marketing executive, he's on the forefront of the best in B2B branding, but he also believes that brands shouldn't be anything new at all to B2B marketing.
Manav Khurana: Brand, if you look at it from a classical financial point of view or a classical shareholder value, what MBA classes teach you, brand has always been a top level business asset of a company. Financial people call it a competitive advantage and record it as an intangible asset, much like the company's intellectual property, their technology. The role of the brand plays is, even in B2B, is that it brings incredible inbound sales interest, which turns into real dollars. It helps the sales team go outbound and find new prospects and make it very easy for them to have a respectable conversation and open doors, because the brand is so strong, the brand helps to recruit talent. So there's obviously many benefits of having a brand, and the intangible value of a competitive advantage is real.
Jay Acunzo: But according to Manav, these fundamental ideas of what a brand is and why it matters, they aren't always embraced.
Manav Khurana: It's because it's hard to build a brand.
Jay Acunzo: In other words, it's a long play.
Manav Khurana: Compared to say, performance marketing or demand generation, where you can see the value right away. You can see if it's working or not. You can do an AB test on it. And because it's a long play, building a brand requires top- down agreement and investment. Most companies and most marketing teams have one north star between, are we a brand focused, community focused function marketing team or a company? Or are we a performance marketing demand gen oriented group? And then the other one becomes subservient to the second. You could do great brand programs that convert and create revenue, which I surely hope that we do, and we keep trying to get better at it. Or you could do great revenue generating performance marketing programs with good brand, it's definitely possible, but there's usually one north star and the second is a new muscle that you add on top of it. I think it's really important to dig deep and get that understanding.
Jay Acunzo: At InVision, they invest in building their brand with a purpose to become a platform for the company.
Manav Khurana: InVision's brand is all about championing and celebrating design. Everyone who is close to design in the world knows that the best customer experiences in the digital world happened by design. They don't happen by chance. They don't happen by the act of building more websites, web experiences, and mobile apps. These best experiences happen because a designer or a design team who's involved in that product development process sat and truly empathized with their audience. They understood the audience's problem, what's at stake for them and then went about the process of designing an experience, a digital experience that is truly useful to the end user. It's delightful and maybe even lovable, and that's what creates competitive advantage.
Jay Acunzo: One of the people tasked with constantly creating that competitive edge is Kristin Hillery. As a marketer, she believes in the mantra, don't be gross.
Kristin Hillery: Don't be gross. So that's the thing that we live by. Don't be gross, Just be helpful, because also, everybody is smart, everybody reading the blog and people using our products, people in the industry, we're smart, we see right through that stuff. And you know when you're being lied to and you're being manipulated into buying something, and it's annoying and it feels bad.
Jay Acunzo: I mentioned that Kristin is the editor at large at InVision, she started out as the editor in chief, the person responsible for InVision's a much loved blog about product design, but today as editor at large, it's her job to identify problems facing the design community and then solve them with big creative projects. Now, maybe your company isn't ready for an editor- at- large kind of role, but that doesn't mean you can't start building your brand into a platform for the community right now. Because I got a surprisingly simple answer when I asked Kristin, what project epitomizes her work the best?
Kristin Hillery: That is definitely our weekly digest email.
Jay Acunzo: Basically her team at InVision gets together every Friday afternoon-
Kristin Hillery: Or sometimes last minute on Monday.
Jay Acunzo: And together, they write the copy for the newsletter with a deadline of Mondays at 2: 00 PM. After that, they hand it off to their email marketer and a designer. The digest email contains about eight blog posts from the previous week. And each piece features-
Kristin Hillery: A photo, headline, teaser copy, and then a CTA button for each one.
Jay Acunzo: It seems simple enough. As I said earlier, lots of B2B companies do this kind of thing with their content marketing, but then there's this implicit idea that InVision carries with them to relate to their audience and build trust and a legitimate relationship with them. And that implicit marching order changes how InVision writes their digest email. It changes it ever so slightly, but it makes all the difference in the world. Most specifically, it affects how they write their call to action buttons.
Kristin Hillery: We come up with some pun or joke for the CTA button. Last week, we had a post called, Design System Theming: How and Why it Works. And the CTA button copy wound up being, Themes Legit. So seems legit, themes legit.
Jay Acunzo: Wow.
Kristin Hillery: That's terrible, that's so bad. But hey, that's what we do.
Jay Acunzo: Calls to action or a CTAs, are incredibly important to every newsletter, we know this. And yet these guys find a way to use them to deepen the trust they have with their audience, not just generate more clicks. Essentially they start a Google doc and everybody writes out all these puns for the buttons. For instance, they did a Mean Girls theme recently, Mean Girls the movie and Mean Girls the Broadway show now. And they wrote things like," On Wednesdays, we wear pink." Or," Is butter a carb?" And of course," Stop trying to make fetch happen." Or how about the time that InVision created some Halloween costume ideas for their audience?
Kristin Hillery: Yeah, we had to come up with what these costumes are, what Halloween costumes would designers wear? This has to be funny, it has to be an inside joke.
Jay Acunzo: And so they partnered with an illustrator friend of theirs and created 10 Halloween costumes that only designers will understand. Among them included the design sprinter. Get it, because design sprints, yeah. And then the next one was the junior designer, which is when you dress up like both a baby and an artist at the same time. And then there's the ubiquitous, awful, please stab me in the eye with my stylus, make it pop. That's when a person just dresses up in tons of random clashing colors, because they have no idea what they're doing or saying. Now none of these things, the puns, the pop culture references, the Halloween costume ideas, none of these things really require a ton of resources. And I also realize none of them sound all that groundbreaking, but that's the point. The point isn't to make the documentary film, the point is to constantly find ways to convey to the community, we get you.
Kristin Hillery: For anyone, like anything that you're doing, especially creating content for a certain audience, you have to be a part of that community to really get what they're going through or else you're just wearing a blindfold.
Jay Acunzo: We get you. We understand you. We are you and we are for you. We are a platform on which your career can rest. Nothing is more foundational to a B2B brand than building a legitimate community of passionate people. Those recurring jokes of the newsletter or the inside jokes of the Halloween costumes are small examples of this larger idea. A great B2B brand makes the audience feel like they're in on it, they're part of something larger, something bigger, something specifically and solely for them and people like them. Now, something to consider, a bit of a challenge, if you will, for most brands, but I want you to overcome it. When you operate like InVision does, when you address an us, by definition, that creates a them. As Manav told me-
Manav Khurana: Most people in this world don't get it, people think designers are people you involve to make something look aesthetically pleasing, make something look pretty and that's it. They don't fully understand and appreciate the value of design.
Jay Acunzo: When you're building your company into a platform for your audience's aspirations and careers, you have to attack that kind of problem without diluting your belief, you have to stay strong in your stance. Otherwise, you lose the emotional thrust of the message.
Manav Khurana: Brand programs and brand investments at InVision create a feeling. Most data and metrics that we all get are not good at measuring a feeling. One can measure traffic to our sites. One can do awareness and reputation studies, which we do. We do both, we measure both of those. But those are hard, and don't directly correlate to each program that we do.
Jay Acunzo: As Manav says, the data we typically look at in marketing doesn't always tell the whole story. As a result, InVision does something that we've heard about already from both Gusto and Wistia in this series, they rely on qualitative feedback and they're very proactive and strategic about gathering and using it.
Manav Khurana: It is just a matter of practice that every time we do a recap on any program, the first section of that recap document is always quotes of what we heard from customers and our audience on Twitter, via email, via phone calls and the like. And it's almost a habit to capture that information, we actually even have slack channels by product area that share what people are saying, good and bad about anything that we do. And we're just obsessive about feedback that we get, because it's not only a good way to know what is working, not working, but it's a good way to think about measuring our programs and our success. So that's probably almost like a muscle or a habit that we have within the company.
Kristin Hillery: Did somebody take the time out of their day to acknowledge what we put out there, that's huge. It takes a lot for me to go on Twitter and be like," Hey, I really liked this thing." That's, that's asking a lot of somebody, so that's huge for us.
Manav Khurana: First of all, I think it starts with a mindset of serving. I am serving my team who is just an incredible group of talented individuals who are serving our audience, the designer, the design leader, and the product team. Internally, we have a shorthand for this, we call it people, practice, platform, the three Ps of InVision marketing. And it always starts with people, then goes to practice, their approach to design, and then draws a line to the platform, which is the product that we offer, the tools that we offer to employ that practice by those people.
Jay Acunzo: One of InVision's latest and greatest projects is something called The Design Genome Project. They wanted to know, what powers truly great design? And so they profiled some top design leaders, that first P, people. And they looked at how they organize teams, execute on their craft, collaborate with other teams internally, use technology, differentiate and so on. That's the second P, process. And then of course, all of these in- depth profiles lives on the InVision site, which can help visitors draw connection to that third P, platform.
Manav Khurana: There's a very literal translation of that people, practice, platform approach.
Jay Acunzo: Okay, so level with me here, you have a ton going on, a ton of pressure, you lead a team of people, all of which are remote. You work for a highly visible company with a pristine brand that you now have to both uphold and grow. You have to deliver actual results, and you're under a lot of pressure, so why do you focus so much on service and so much on creating this brand to be a platform for those you serve?
Manav Khurana: There's definitely an angle of this, which is responsibility, that we are responsible to the brand and responsible to the community and we have to always stay true to it. I find, personally, more encouragement and excitement in the fact that because of the work that we do and the way we do it, that we garner love and respect from our community.
Jay Acunzo: Love and respect from a community. Those three things, love, respect and community, those may seem a bit foreign to the historic notion of B2B marketing. And I get it, we're all trying to sell stuff. We want to move product and move our careers forward in the process. But when you can actually develop the love and respect of an engaged community, that other stuff gets easier, it happens more often and more quickly. It's not about the inside joke, it's about that feeling that we are in it together with our customers. And yeah, sometimes that's funny, sometimes it's frustrating, oftentimes, it's rewarding. But we in B2B have this responsibility to become a platform for our audiences work. I don't know if this is about being self less or selfish, because honestly I think there's a bit of both in there. It's great for the customer and great for us too. And don't you just love it when that happens? So now as we wind down, I'd like to offer up three questions pulled out from today's episode that we can all ask ourselves in our companies to build better brands. Question, number one, do you love to hate stuff? Yeah, do you love to hate stuff? This sounds a bit weird, so let me be crystal clear. I am not talking about being pessimistic, but optimistic. I don't mean being cynical, but being supportive, because when you call out what's broken in your industry for a profession or for a certain type of customer, you get this reaction like," Oh my gosh, yes. You get me, you are for me, I'll go with you." So in B2B, we are in the business of providing solutions, sure, but we're also in the business of identifying and articulating the problem. In the software space think about product managers. I think most people believe great PMs own the solution, but they don't, great product managers own the problem. They understand it better than anybody at the company in order to build the right solutions later with engineering. Well in marketing, I think it's the same way. Do you intimately understand the problems? Do you love to call them out and to spot what's broken and rally others together to go and fix it? Do you love to hate stuff? Question number two, are you finding small recurring pockets of your projects to build community? InVision talked a lot about these inside jokes that they use, but this can happen in other ways too. I think about Sports Center on ESPN as a great example. At the end of each of these shows, they do a top plays countdown, 10 different moments that they wanted to highlight from the day that was. And they construct it the same exact way and it's part of this recurring trope, they introduce it with the same graphic and the same music. And if you've seen the show before, if you're a loyal fan, you feel like you're in on it, you can't wait to see it because it happens all the time. It's a small part of the overall show, but it draws you closer and closer to Sports Center. Another example is my personal newsletter called Damn the Best Practices. Every so often I call out this pretend friend of mine who always botches some easy to do marketing task and I make fun of him. And I call this guy, Larry and I routinely say," Ah, dammit, Larry." And it sounds super weird to say out loud to you right now, but my readers understand that this is a character I introduce every so often as a quick aside, and it becomes this little community feel. If you're in on it, it feels really good. So whatever you're doing, you don't need to spend any money on this stuff, but you do need to spend the time. Are you finding small recurring pockets of your projects to build community? And finally, question number three, are you collecting qualitative feedback? Remember how Manav talked about each marketing meeting at InVision and how it started with a series of quotes, their qualitative feedback from their audience. These are like mini case studies you can use to convince others to execute brand initiatives, and they're also powerful ways to inform what you do. Look, all data really is, is information collected for future reference, so that means data also includes what your audience is saying or feeling. If that doesn't have a place in your process, you are now cleaving off a huge section of information that might hold the key, that might hold a great insight to inform your work. Just because an analytics tool that you use doesn't capture qualitative feedback doesn't mean you can't be rigorous about capturing it yourself. Are you collecting qualitative feedback? Look, all of these questions are to help you move forward, but there's a truly fundamental one that underscores everything we're doing in this series, in a world of infinite choice, where the B2B buyer has all the power and most of our competitors look and sound the same, ask yourself this one question, how is your brand the exception? This episode was written and produced by me, Jay Acunzo, and brought to you by Drift. If you yet go and listen to all the other series they have a right in the same feed you're in right now. If you're streaming it on the web, go over to your podcast app of choice and find Seeking Wisdom there. If you're already in an app, just poke around and find all kinds of awesome series about growth and product and marketing and getting better every day. You can also check out my own personal podcast, Unthinkable, which is full of stories about people who break from conventional thinking. Lastly, DC and DG over at Drift have asked me to ask you to give us six stars for this show, six stars. Okay, so I'm not sure what to do with that so here's what I'd ask, give me the full five you can actually give me, and then I don't know, grab a marker and just draw it on your screen and take a photo of it or something. I don't know. Jay Acunzo and Drift Inc. are not responsible for any potential damage to your smartphone during this or any other podcast experience. Available in select markets, void where prohibited, member of FDIC. So, I'm Jay Acunzo, And on behalf of the team at Drift, I want to say thank you for listening to this series, and I'll talk to you in the next episode of Exceptions. See ya.