Posts filed under EPISODES

Behind the Scenes With InVision: Why the Best B2B Brands Today Become Platforms for Their Customers' Careers


The following post was inspired by my documentary series with Drift called Exceptions, exploring why and how 10 of the best companies in B2B develop their brands. You can listen to the episode below, or read this episode's Big Idea and the 3 Questions To Ask Yourself.

Over the last few months, I've been studying the best brands in B2B. Today, I'm sharing a lesson in great brand-building from the amazing InVision and CMO Manav Khurana, Editor-at-Large Kristin Hillery, plus one of InVision's users. That lesson? Become a platform.

I don’t mean that in the product sense. I mean that in a more definitional sense: "an elevated level surface on which people can stand."

In B2B, top brands like InVision (and Gusto and Wistia, which I also profiled in this docu-series so far) are now that surface that elevates their audience. By calling out what's broken, addressing problems (not just through product, but through community & content), and rallying for a better way, B2B brands (or, said better, PEOPLE who work at B2B brands) provide something far bigger than a set of products and services. They provide a platform.

What if your B2B brand could provide the battle cry, become the rallying point, or create a sort of meeting place for your customers? To do that, you'd have to be ruthlessly customer-centric. You'd need to own customer PROBLEMS that they face... not just sell solutions. You'd also need an "insider" feel for your audience - a sense that you're for THEM, not for everyone.

Here’s what that means for you.

Today’s Big Idea: Become a Platform—Not Just a Solution

All of us in B2B know we live in a world of stiff product competition. Building an amazing product is essential to any good B2B business, as "feature parity" has truly hit every business. But our #Exceptions podcast series isn’t about how to have a good brand. It’s about how to be exceptional. So often, that requires you to figure out what makes you an exception. The best place to start that journey, as always, is your people. The collective behavior of your people, and how others feel about that behavior, creates your brand.

To take your brand from good to exceptional, your company's presence in the market has to transcend your product. Instead of thinking product first, you need to be ruthlessly customer centric; you need to become a platform.

Look, every B2B business exists to solve problems for customers. That's why a B2B company starts, but as it grows, the people can lose sight of that fact. 

Not InVision.

InVision has a blog where they invite others outside of their company to contribute. Almost every post on that much-loved site is from a product designer or design leader who doesn't work at InVision.

They also created the unbelievable design documentary, Design Disruptors. The goal of the documentary wasn't product promotion. It was simply to give a voice to those within the design industry. They recognized that product designers lacked an identity, and that this issue could hurt their customers' careers and ability to get the proverbial "seat at the table." Guess what kinds of companies buy design software? Companies who prioritize product design.

Thus, your goal in becoming a platform is to elevate the entire market, not just yourself. You fight on behalf of customers. You fix what you can, and invite others to contribute as complementary players.

Remember, the point isn’t to profess to have all the answers. You aren't on the mountaintop, passing down your wisdom from on high. Instead, the goal is to raise everyone up from underneath. That's a true platform. In the end, an exceptional B2B brand is an active participant in their community, championing the problems within the industry.

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 you will work to elevate them?

Become a platform.

3 Questions to Help You Build Your Brand

Question #1: Do You Love to Hate Stuff?

Let’s be crystal clear: I’m not talking about being pessimistic or cynical. I'm talking about being optimistic and supportive. Doing so requires that you call out whatever feels broken in your space, to your customers. Hate the status quo. Fight for a better way. And invite customers along for that journey.

Think about product managers. Many people believe great PMs are phenomenal solutions providers. But that’s not true: What makes a PM great is their unique ability to constantly call out the problem. They sit with customers, understand them, intimately know their problems such that the PMs' colleagues (engineering) know how to build great solutions.

Great PMs don't just own solutions; they own problems. They intimately and truly understand the issues of their position and their department better than anyone.

Exceptional B2B marketers are the same. They understand the problems of their industry better than anyone else, and they passionately and loudly call them out.

So, you have to fall in love with spotting problems and rallying others together to fight against them ... just as much as you love providing solutions yourself.

Do you love to hate stuff?

Question #2 Are You Finding Small, Recurring Pockets Within Your Projects to Build Community?

InVision does this by constantly sending out content with inside jokes only designers would truly understand. In fact, they have an editor-at-large (Kristin Hillery, who appears in the episode) who has owned this for years, first as editor-in-chief, and now in her new role.

I think about SportsCenter on ESPN as a great example thanks to their “Top Plays Countdown” —10 different top moments of the day in sports, shared at the end of the program. They use the same graphic, same intro music . . . you get the idea.

Essentially, that kind of thing rallies people around the show or brand. Viewers look forward to it. They’re "in on it," and it feels good. Why? Because if you watch SportsCenter, you look forward to the countdown as someone who is now part of something larger. You are in the community.

I try to do this in my weekly newsletters. There’s a quick aside I sometimes make about a character who always frustrates me or botches things named Larry. I’ll call him out by saying, “Ah, damn it Larry!” or, "Freakin' Larry..."

Sure, this sounds cheesy, but it was a joke I felt good about once, and I continued to use it in other spots until it felt like an inside joke to all.

It builds community. So does ESPN. So does InVision.

Do you? Find little pockets of your projects and, rather than spending money, spend the time to do so.

Question #3 Are You Collecting Qualitative Feedback?

In today’s world, everyone collects quantitative feedback, and there are numbers on every demographic. That data is helpful, but does it capture the emotional aspect of what your audience says and feels?

First of all, consider what data really "is" in the first place: information stored for future use. Qualitative feedback and quantitative results are both forms of "real" data. If you are not somehow capturing, collecting, and referencing the thoughts and emotions of your customers about your product, the industry, their problems, their joys, their experiences, and so on, then you are completely missing a huge and valuable source of data.

InVision takes this seriously. Before every marketing meeting, they begin by introducing quotes from their customers about a recent project or the industry at large. This drives the meeting and re-focuses the team on their real goal underscoring every project: building a platform for their community. Manav called this the "three Ps" of InVision marketing: people, process, and platform. In any project, like for instance a series of articles or their documentary film, they care about the people first, profiling the designer or design leader as named individuals whenever possible. Then, they address the process of design more generally. Lastly, they relate things back to their platform (meant in the product sense here, i.e. InVision's software). He didn't share the breakdown with me, but I'd guess they focus 97% of their efforts in marketing on the people and process Ps and 3% on their own products.

So, just because your analytics tools don't capture the emotions of your audience, doesn't excuse you from not needing to take that seriously. Collect this data yourself, or risk missing out on valuable information to fuel your marketing.

Are you collecting qualitative feedback?

Listen to the full episode of Exceptions below:

My book, Break the Wheel, also features a story about InVision, diving more deeply into the behind-the-scenes of their craziest project yet, Design Disruptors. Break the Wheel is now available for pre-orders in the United States. I sign each and every one. Get yours at

Posted on August 30, 2018 and filed under EPISODES.

Twas the Night Before Launching [A Parody Podcast for Creators]

night before launching

Here's a final treat and sign-off until next season. Thank you SO. FREAKING. MUCH. for supporting for my work, from speaking to podcasting and beyond! So much in store for 2018, and I'm grateful to you for your time, feedback, and love.

If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe to get my regular Monday emails:

Posted on December 21, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: How Tim Urban of Wait But Why Broke the Wheel

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In the Season 3 finale of Unthinkable, it's time for a story and a battle -- a story about a runaway creative success that flies in the face of conventional thinking and a battle that all of us face whenever we aspire to be better than average in our careers.

Finally, at long last, we blame one dastardly demon for our nasty habit of always taking the easy way out, the accepted route forward. Finally, we enter the battle within, and things get hairy. Luckily, Tim Urban from Wait But Why is here to help. Well. Kinda.

It's Unthinkable.

Subscribe to Unthinkable wherever you get your podcasts: 

Apple | Spotify | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Google Play

Posted on December 17, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: Why Movements Are So Often Started by People Who Never Wanted to Go Big

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How does your intent for your work change your results? If your goal is to build something big, does that increase the odds? Why, then, do so many stories about huge successes start out the same way: with a shrug, and a quick, "I just wanted to brew some beer." ? Today, we explore the story of The Alchemist, makers of the industry sensation, Heady Topper. 

Posted on December 10, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: How One Small Graph Is Helping Steve Invent the Future of an Industry

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Most brand-created podcasts are -- how shall I put this? -- IMPRESSIVELY terrible. So, naturally, Steve Pratt finds total creative fulfillment in that industry. Obviously. See, to invent the future of an entire industry and collaborate with some of the world's top brands, Steve gets to crash through one barrier after another. And as he excitedly does so, his weapon of choice isn't massive budget, a bestselling book, or a big "personal brand." No, instead, Steve calmly walks to the board and draws a simple graph for his clients to see. 

From the outside looking in, his work is just so unlikely that you MIGHT call it ... Unthinkable.

Posted on December 3, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: A $300M Empire Built by Solving a Problem Right Under Everyone's Noses

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Suzy Batiz had sworn off starting companies. NEVER AGAIN, she thought. But one sniff and one conversation later, she was obsessed. Her curiosity took over, and a decade later, she's built a 300-million-dollar empire. And all of it started by trying to solve a problem none of us care to even think about, let alone build a career around.

It's Unthinkable.


Check out the company's first viral video here:

Posted on November 26, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: How One Brand Made a Documentary Film Seem Safer Than Yet Another How-To Post

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Nobody actually takes risks, especially in business, so what if the key to doing better work is making unconventional paths seem SAFER than the best practice? That's exactly what Clair Byrd, Clark Valberg, and the team behind Design Disruptors did. They took a massive project in scope and found a way to make each step seem safer than the last. They built a refreshing, eye-opening project without ever changing their team's goals. They did everything we aspire to do in our work in a way that seems, well, anything BUT Unthinkable. 


Design Disruptors site

Clair Byrd on Twitter

Clark Valberg on Twitter

Watch the original Design Disruptors trailer here:

Posted on November 19, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: This Safety Message More Popular Than Rihanna Is Now a Global Phenomenon

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Unsurprisingly, one of the catchiest songs ever created topped the iTunes charts. It beat epic songs by Rihanna and Drake and narrowly missed topping Adele and even Gangnam Style. Away from the charts, this song sparked a global movement -- merchandise and microsites, mobile games and parodies galore. One song and one video, going crazy viral, and snowballing into something much larger than itself. And while none of that seems all that surprising in our digital world today, when you learn about who created this song -- and the insanity that ensued -- it'll seem like pure insanity.

You might even call it ... Unthinkable.


The DWTD website

DWTD on YouTube

Watch the original DWTD video here:

Posted on November 12, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: Scott Stratten's Got a Mean Man Bun and a Must-Hear Message

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Scott Stratten looks every part a blacksmith. He's mastered a rare craft in our digital world today, but make no mistake -- he's a master craftsman. And while he may not work with any type of metal, he still forges his work with red hot fire.

It’s Unthinkable.


Scott on Twitter

Scott's website, Unmarketing

Scott's podcast, the Unpodcast (shouts to fellow Un-names!)

Posted on November 5, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: Grado Labs' Hand-Built Headphones Are Just the Tip of Their Iceberg

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If there was a Yelp listing for every industry niche, “Headphone Brand” would appear with the most possible dollar signs.

Big brands use bigger celebrities and spend some of the biggest ad budgets around to promote their products and, really, the emotion they want you to feel when you buy their products. Artists like Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj, athletes like LeBron James, and brands like Apple, Sony, Bose, and more, all slug it out to deliver the same message in increasingly expensive ways: “These headphones are the best.”

This is a flashy, fast-paced industry niche.

So what in the heck do we make of Grado Labs?

In 1918, a Sicilian immigrant purchased a small building on a nondescript block in Brooklyn. Over nearly a century ago, while the world around this building changed at breakneck speed, the world inside plodded along. It was one kind of business, and then, gradually, another. It was led by one generation of Grado, and then, gradually, another.

They don’t advertise, not one cent. They don’t upgrade much, using the same old equipment in the same old building. And they even make their headphones by hand.

So why are they such a success in the digital age?

It’s Unthinkable.

Posted on November 5, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.