How Canva's CMO is navigating fast growth and a broader customer set

Following the launch of the Australian tech vendor's Visual Worksuite, we speak to Canva's marketing chief about what it means for the brand and its approach to market

A product-led approach to marketing and the philosophy that people are people regardless of environment will hold Canva in good stead as it extends globally and into more functions across the enterprise, its CMO says.

“We have thrown out the playbook when it comes to B2B, enterprise and that market. We started with the philosophy that people are people, and no matter who we are talking to, people have the same core pain points Canva is solving for,” Canva marketing chief, Zach Kitschke, told CMO

The comments followed the launch of the new Canva Visual Worksuite, the biggest product development extension since the Aussie vendor launched nearly 10 years ago. The latest updates stretch Canva’s visual design platform to encompass a portfolio of solutions for visual communication across channels and devices as well as creative management and publishing.

“With Worksuite, we have taken this product-first approach and really understood the use case and problem we are trying to solve with design,” Kitschke explained. “We’re leaning into the product to drive growth and adoption as well.

“It comes back to the belief that if the product actually delivers and delights, our community will be more likely to come back time and time again, tell others and spread the word. And people will move through different things they create through Canva.”

Unveiled in September, the new Canva Visual Worksuite includes Canva Docs, the vendor’s core design platform for transforming documents into visual creative that’s been localised into 100 languages. As well as being device agnostic, Docs features templates, drag-and-drop functionality, photos, illustrations and other video and audio content and is built on a collaboration engine.

There’s also Canva Presentations, which has been expanded to allow users to upload PowerPoint and PDF files as well as remote control functionality. Other new offerings within the Worksuite are Canva Whiteboards for creative collaboration, and Canva Websites for building out websites visually. The suite additionally includes an improved Canva Social; Canva Video, with fresh video background remover tools; plus Canva Print, which has expanded capability to print to 35 different print media. Canva has also introduced data visualisation into its platform following the acquisition of Flourish earlier this year.

The announcement of Visual Worksuite coincided with the vendor’s first international Canva Create event in Sydney. During the event, Canva revealed it now boasts of 850 million users globally producing 180 designs every second, including 10 million paying customers and 4.7m users of its Canva for Teams design solution. Mid-market and enterprise customers include Zoom, Live Nation, Twilio, OrangeTheory and HubSpot. It also boasts of a $700 million cash balance and profitable operating model.

Here, Kitschke talks to CMO about what the new product direction means for Canva’s go-to-market strategy, the changing competitive landscape and macro trends influencing visual communication.

CMO: With the new product portfolio launch, you’re facing a transformation of your go-to-market, customers, your brand, competitive landscape and how you position yourselves. Can you talk us through your thoughts as a CMO on the significance of the change?

Zach Kitschke: It’s definitely a big step forward and shift. When we came into the world back in 2013, we were seeing a shift in the technology available in terms of HTML5, tablets and social media’s mainstream growth. That opened up the possibility for us to build a vision of bringing design together into one place, making it simple and easy. We launched with a product that delivered for social media marketers and content creators. As Canva grew, the ecosystem changed... With the rise of YouTube, Snapchat and now TikTok, we’ve seen rapid acceleration in visual communication; it’s ubiquitous. That’s coupled with the shift that happened more recently during the pandemic, that all of us suddenly began spending more time on a screen, communicating virtually with one another.

We are excited to roll out a host of new products that put the power in people’s hands to embrace and create content navigating this world. Tech has allowed us to change to suit that, but yes, it’s a big shift for Canva.

Are there other macro trends important to address as you work to build Canva’s appeal to a broader base of customers?

ZK: Whiteboards is a perfect example of us seeing people needing to brainstorm and work remotely via Zoom. We saw people using Canva in a ‘hack’ sort of way to do that, and whiteboards came out of those insights. We also launched our talking presentations feature, which allows you to take a presentation and record a talk track over the top, that can then be shared as a website people can interact with.

Zach KitschkeCredit: Canva
Zach Kitschke

In terms of how we are marketing ourselves, there are some things that are as true as they ever were, and things that have evolved over time. The one thing that’s consistent is the focus and importance of community for Canva. It’s always been the biggest driver of our growth since day dot. We had 50,000 people eager for the product to launch and in the early days we spent a lot of time with them ‘dog fooding’ the product and workshopping. We also run a library and test the product to optimise the user experience and that’s continued to expand over time.

Today, there are over 1 million people in Canva curated communities, from 80,000 teachers in the Philippines to small business owners, creators and more. We continue to invest in community and see word of mouth being the primary driver of our growth still.

It’s clear the portfolio approach to Canva’s solution suite is pushing you up into higher tiers of market such as the mid-market and enterprise. How much of that grassroots branding and community can you keep versus adjusting to appeal to enterprise?

ZK: It’s worth noting we have thrown out the playbook when it comes to B2B, enterprise and that market. We started with the philosophy that people are people, and no matter who we are talking to, people have the same core pain points that Canva is solving for. That’s whether it’s a parent trying to create a birthday invitation to their kid’s party, or someone trying to deliver a pitch presentation to win a client, or market their small business.

Then we’re leaning into the product to drive growth and adoption as well. We have always had that focus on product-led growth. It comes back to that concept that if the product actually delivers and delights, that means our community will be likely to come back time and time again, tell others and spread the word.

We now have 85 per cent of the Fortune 500 with people using Canva. A lot of bigger deals we have done over time have started as a small group of people using Canva in one function or team and it’s spread from there. But we have definitely invested a lot in making sure we have enterprise-grad functionality and can solve for the use cases of decision makers.

The problems are often the same, it’s how we make it relevant to each function and user.

Are there specific audiences or cohorts you’re putting more focus on than others right now?

ZK: We are taken a pretty broad approach. Our latest campaign in the US is a good example of that – we have thrown out the rulebook as we try to figure out how to best communicate the value of the suite of products Canva has. We chose to do a simple 15-second format on TV and introduced a bunch of fun ways to bring the campaign to life across social, out-of-home.

We also extended our weekly Canva design challenge by throwing it open to the community to help us design the billboard. The format basically shows a team creating using each of our products and the simple nature and ease of use. That has been working really well in terms of reaching that broader audience and building awareness and familiarity of what we can do beyond the things we were originally known for.

Canva’s Worksuite certainly will see you competing with a lot of different vendor ‘stacks’. Does that changing competitive landscape worry you?

ZK: The way we have always thought about ourselves is serving the design ecosystem. It has been incredibly fragmented. When we first launched Canva, if you were to create a design, you’d need to go and study design mainly to use the software, spending thousands of dollars on the software itself, then go to stock photography sites and spends hundreds of dollars on a photo with the right licensing, as well as purchase specific fonts. Then you’d get to the process of design and once you finished a creation, you’d generally be working with someone else and going back and forth on email, losing track of revisions. Then finally you’d have to size to a format for a specific use case.

Canva brought a bunch of those things together. With the new products we have announced, we are taking that further and further to make it really easy for people to do whatever it is they’re trying to do when creative visuals through the one platform and ecosystem.

But we are also very mindful of the fact Canva is used as part of a suite of tools in the workplace, so a big focus for us is making sure Canva integrates really well with other tools people are using or other formats. The ability to now bring in a PowerPoint or PDF into Canva, for example, to publish a presentation to those formats as well is definitely something people have been excited about for us to roll out. Equally, with our app marketplace, we’re making it possible for developers to grab Canva into those workflows so the end user doesn’t have to switch between a bunch of tools every day.

As the CMO of a high-growth company, how do you continue to improve your velocity of decision making to ensure you and your marketing keep up with the pace of change?

ZK: Some of the things we have done that are part of Canva culture is having a strong focus on goals internally. One of our first values was to set crazy big goals. We’d be very clear about goals we were working towards and the team that was going to own and have accountability for it. Then we have a lot of fun celebrating when those goals are achieved.

A few years ago, one of our goals was to launch in Spanish. That was the first language other than English on the way to 100. The whole company was involved in and we had a mini La Tomatina festival throwing tinned tomatoes a couple of people to celebrate. That culture has continued to today and across marketing, a lot of projects cut across teams and groups.

We’re also leaning into Canva and visual communication to keep our teams aligned as well. It is a bigger and bigger scale given the scale of the campaigns we’re working on today.

Read more: How Canva balances experimentation and personalisation at scale

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