InVision’s Clair Byrd on Approaching Marketing Like a Chef
Clair Byrd is InVision’s Director of Content Marketing. She’s developed and scaled the company’s programs to consistently net 75,000 new leads per month, 4,300 new users a day, and has set a new standard for quality marketing in the process.
But before Clair ever wanted to be a marketer, she dreamt of being a chef.
Here’s her journey from line cook to leading content at one of the most exciting technology companies in the world.
Learning by doing
Clair has loved two things her entire life:
Food and words.
After high school, she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a chef but went to college instead. (College was the backup plan. You know. Parents.)
Trying to make the chef thing a reality, she ran the back of the house at a restaurant in Ohio before landing a gig as a private chef in the Bay Area.
She enjoyed life in the kitchen: conjuring up of something from nothing, experimenting with unique ingredients, and fusing together raw materials to produce soul-satisfying experiences.
But she was still looking for a way to combine her love for food and words. Fortunately, a bridge appeared.
A new food and beverage startup needed help, making Clair the perfect (only?) candidate who could be the company’s marketing generalist while also bartending their events like a seasoned pro.
Beyond flexing her skills from the line, the initial role also let her cut her teeth in content development and community building, despite, in her own words, “not knowing what she was doing.”
During a recent Q&A with Newscred, Clair admits that these early years were fueled by “ambition and pure hustle”, and figuring out things that she “100% did not know how to do.”
But mentors did. Courses did. The community did.
Which years later led to working with Tony Hsieh at Delivering Happiness, leading content and community, before moving on to InVision, a company that works with over two million customers.
In one of the most cogent sentences ever, Clair reflects on this time:
“The longer version of this story includes stacking several pro bono clients on top of my two jobs to make up vertically (project diversity) in the experience that my peers had in horizontal (time) experience.”
In other words, she learned by doing.
Like you do on the line.
Art vs. craft
“I used to think that only in the rarest of circumstances did the chef rise above being a craftsman into the realm of the artist. Only when a chef changed the way you saw the world, through cooking, did food truly become art, and that was rare indeed.”
Craftsmen are technicians. They’re incredibly gifted, no doubt. But there’s a utilitarian approach. Their work is often repetitive, reproducing the same high quality product over an extended period of time. As opposed to an artist, who often rips up the script.
The best marketers combine both art and craft. This is what Clair’s work at InVision looks like.
She approaches her work as a craftsman and artist, with the unique mindset that “Marketing isn’t just an acquisition source. It’s a piece of the product.” This holistic approach ensures people have a great experience every time they interact with InVision’s brand.
How does content play into this? In Clair’s view, “Everything is content at the end of the day. It’s not just blog posts or whitepapers or whatever. It could be anything. As long as it fits the equation of a meaningful resource to someone, for free, in exchange for the opportunity and permission to market to them. That’s the foundation of content marketing.”
Clair also believes content is ephemeral, not evergreen.
“Evergreen content is nonsense. There’s no reason to try and create something that’s going to be out of date in a few months.”
Instead, she instructs, “Embrace the ephemeral nature of evolving industries.”
For example, at InVision, content is a “community-driven cross-section of what’s happening in the design industry right now.”
In other words, rather than prescribe, they listen.
The community shares what they want to hear about, and Clair’s team figures out how to deliver it while applying their own business drivers after the fact. It’s a work in progress at all times.
Case in point?
“There was a deep desire in the design community for a film, but no one was doing it. We decided to take it on ourselves. It’s a collection of viewpoints and design thinking from practitioners across the industry. We wanted to keep authenticity super high and omit our own point of view because the film was so high risk to feel like a ‘commercial.’”
But, there’s a key distinction here.
Clair’s team is still changing the film. It’s iterative. Every premiere they do is a different movie.
“We take feedback in real time and re-release the film over and over. We’ve had feedback from over 25,000 people. We want to show that the practice is continually changing, and feature new voices in the movement and how other industries are affected.”
Designers are swooning over the film. They frequently come up to Clair and say things like “Thank you. I can finally explain to my parents what I do.” Others give it to their boss to accomplish the same. And it’s been the most successful campaign InVision has ever run.
But why didn’t a film like this exist before?
Because making movies is hard.
“Design Disruptors took 18 months to produce, and we spent well over 400 hours of onset time filming that had to be edited down to an hour and ten minute film. There was an entire ecosystem around the brand and tons of design work involved.”
Not to mention, she’d never done anything like it before. (There’s the learning by doing theme again.)
Another InVision bet, Craft, is a suite of Sketch plugins for designers.
It’s a free toolset that has stand-alone value. But it’s also a content play, helping people to discover the InVision brand for the first time (before hopefully coming back to convert much later).
Like Design Disruptors, the initial objective was to simply educate and inspire the design community. To give, give, give, and expect nothing in return.
But how do Clair and company pull off these atypical campaigns?
Mise en place
“We get a lot of questions about how we produce so much stuff in so little time,” Clair mentions.
Counterintuitively, Clair and her team started by not starting.
“We spent the first three months not publishing anything. We just created a huge library of things to pull from with intention.”
The end result—and high production quality—came from being prepared.
It was like cooking again.
A chef’s mise en place is their literal and metaphorical practice, organizing ingredients, spices, pots, and pans to make sure everything is properly “in its place” before starting. It’s the work that happens hours before people even start sitting down in a restaurant.
While it seems like overkill, this level of preparation means you’re ready for anything when the intense dinner rush walks through the door. All of the essentials are within your grasp, allowing you to instead focus on the most difficult aspect of the process: execution under tension.
“Cooking is design”, Clair says. “When you’re creating a dish for someone, you’re creating an experience. You’re creating order—a specific way for guests to experience their meal in a specific way.”
“I take a lot of inspiration from the kitchen”, she offhandedly comments in her Growth Hackers AMA. “It was there I learned the value of developing highly repeatable processes that lead to high-quality results every time.”
Clair says that “commercial restaurants are run very similarly to how an integrated, cross-functional marketing team works.”
Every piece needs to “converge at the exact same time to create a beautiful experience,” which requires you to “think through every single part of a flow and the entire customer journey.”
In practice, this means InVision’s campaigns are fully integrated. All prepared ahead of time. The team knows exactly what they need to create so they don’t get held up in the throes of execution.
Clair has previously outlined their Design Disruptors promotional strategy as an example. Once again, stealing from her AMA:
“The distribution strategy was driven by a question ‘how can we get this film into the hands of the most relevant people?’ The foundation of this was data (who we approached, when, why, and how) and communication design (what we communicated, in what cadence, in what form, and at what critical moments).
On the digital side, we leaned into the viral nature of the film. We invested deeply in creating a multitude of robust social experiences, like micro-video, disruptor profiles, competing for pre-access, allowing organization of community screenings, and lots and lots of built-in sharing functionality—the echo chamber effect was massive.
On the events side, we focused deeply on creating an exceptionally awesome event experience coupled with a deeply targeted and curated audience. We used these InVision-produced events as case studies to engage partners to create their own premiere events—again amplifying the film and the brand message through the echo chamber, a ‘look how sexy this is—you could be this sexy, too’ experience.
We were able to get nearly 5,000 excellent designers into five theaters around the world, and almost 18,000 people into 200+ community events—plus over 75k on a film-specific email list.”
Design Disruptors wasn’t a growth play per se. They didn’t set out to make it a clear-cut revenue driver or cleverly plaster it with InVision ads and product placement.
And yet, it has been their biggest campaign success by far.
But why? What stands out to Clair as the reason for its massive success?
“I think the power of the Design Disruptors release was actually in the deep integration of all channels in the campaign—one channel couldn’t have stood alone without the others. They were all necessary to create the viral echo chamber effect which drove the campaign’s success.”
Which makes sense. Because everything started with mise en place.