There’s a lot we can learn from Canva’s marketing strategy, especially with regard to positive and efficient growth as a company. We talk about the successes and failures of startups quite often and Canva certainly deserves a seat at the table because only a few companies have experienced growth and success on the same scale as Canva.
From its inception in July 2012 to now, the Australian-based company grew to 170 million users with over 16 million paying customers in around 190 countries. It’s currently valued at 25.5 billion dollars (USD) and is still growing.
So, what sent Canva into its hyper-growth mode? Undoubtedly, its product and business model played a huge role because there was nothing like it at the time. Let’s put this into perspective, shall we?
What is Canva?
Canva is an online graphic designing software for people who aren’t well-versed in graphic designing and don’t have the funds to hire a graphic designer for their various business needs. It makes users feel empowered and allows them to transform their imagination and creativity into beautiful visual imagery and graphics.
Canva uses simple tools that very much speak for themselves, making navigation through the software a breeze for anyone who uses it. Its interface is user-friendly and intuitive, providing a range of templates, fonts, colours, elements, and free photos to choose from.
From Facebook covers to Instagram posts, brochures, infographics, logos, wedding programmes and the like, you can design anything using this platform for a result that will look amazing. You can even opt to save your design in different formats and sizes, as they fit your needs.
In essence, its company vision of helping everyone create amazing designs without a fuss perfectly aligns with the collective need to find a better way to create beautiful designs. Canva’s marketing campaign uses the ‘jobs to be done’ framework, based on the idea that its customers are trying to accomplish something with the product.
As their co-founder and CEO put it, Canva’s goal was to give everyone in the world the ability to design.
So, what are the secrets to Canva’s accelerated growth? Let’s have a look at their specific marketing strategies and see what we can learn from them.
Canva started small as an online yearbook design platform
Canva’s story dates back to 2007, when co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht set up an office in Perkin’s mother’s living room, with limited resources and little business experience. They started small and created an online school yearbook design business, called Fusion Yearbooks.
This way, they were able to test out their idea of design becoming an online and collaborative process that’s much simpler to leverage compared to other platforms such as Photoshop or Adobe. The website allowed school students to collaborate and design their profile pages and articles online, which were printed and delivered to schools across Australia.
At a time when creating a yearbook in a professional format was an expensive exercise for yearbook committees, the duo created a simpler and comparatively inexpensive solution that was easy and fun for everyone involved in the process.
This was the prototype version of what would become the Canva system and over the years, Fusion Yearbooks became so successful that it’s now Australia’s largest yearbook publisher and has even expanded into France and New Zealand.
Canva: A product that solved a problem – for free
Social media continued to thrive in 2023, with over 200 million businesses on Facebook, 200 million business profiles on Instagram, and 61 million company pages on LinkedIn. They all used images and graphics to communicate with their followers. These businesses hired social media managers, most of them who weren’t graphic designers with image designing abilities, to run this show.
They saw the need, within the social media community, for picture editing, poster making, and the easy creation of infographics that could help millions of businesses and billions of users create and produce original and quality content. The founders saw the need to come up with a solution to a problem plenty of people cared about, which is the secret behind the Canva marketing strategy.
From a simple and easy platform for school yearbooks, with the help of Silicon Valley investors, Canva was launched as a platform that professionals could use without the need to spend thousands of dollars on design school or hours on the internet watching how-to videos to tackle Photoshop or Adobe.
With its platform free to use for anyone requiring design services, Canva changed the game for businesses and non-professionals for the longest time. With its basic features still free to use, Canva only recently launched Canva Pro – a premium plan with advanced features such as unlimited storage or access to millions of photos for anyone willing to pay a monthly or annual subscription.
Canva’s marketing strategy is very visible on their website
For any e-commerce business, a website plays a huge part in communicating with prospective leads and existing clients, which is a big part of any marketing strategy. A website is like a virtual office and it should be designed in a way that it generates conversions and leads and builds relationships and connections.
Canva has chosen its homepage and product page as the highest priority for user and customer conversions and acquisitions and does a good job at educating and attracting new prospects to browse further and use its services.
Its homepage is simple, which works well to push its product as soon as a visitor comes onto the site. Canva has some context about the product in its platform but lets images or graphics, which is its main focus and money-maker, do all the talking.
Canva’s main goal is to make visitors sign up to use its products and it achieves this by:
1. Making it super easy to sign up with 1-click options or using just an email
2. Showing a row of design ideas to encourage product usage
Users can also view the options available to paid subscribers, so they see what they’re missing out on. This way, Canva sways users to try these premium features and optimises their conversions and subscribers.
When people click on the ads Canva runs, its product page is what people get directed to and this page makes a clear value proposition to any visitor, new or existing. It tells you who they are, how they can help you and how it’s better than any other alternative, which is a short, value-focused, and compelling hook that demonstrates a tangible outcome.
Goal-related keywords are a big part of the Canva marketing strategy
Canva targets its keywords to its prospective users and they are all goal-related and solution-focused, meaning they narrow in on the goals that the user wants to accomplish and they relate to a specific solution a user is looking for.
Their keywords outline a job that you can accomplish using their product, which is intuitive, incredibly simple, and paves the way for very high conversion rates.
This strategy is perfect for Canva because it places Canva’s products and services as a way for the user to accomplish goals or find solutions, a fundamental for any purchase decision.
Communicate and connect through social media
In an age where communicating with your clients is done across multiple social media platforms, a social media strategy must be a tactic up your sleeve to help you grow and expand. The team at Canva also knows this and they try out different angles with images to communicate, in simple terms, how some effects, aspects or parts of their product can help you design anything easily.
Canva understands that the value it brings to its audience is the ease of designing anything, without prior knowledge or training. They use this as the core message in all of their social media posts, especially in Facebook ads.
Canva takes on a different angle on Instagram. It encourages people to share their designs using the hashtag #canvalove. This brings together a community of people who love to create and design and encourages others to use the platform to be featured on its official Instagram account. They might not have a lot of followers, but that has not stopped Canva from using these platforms.
Canva’s content marketing is first-class
Content marketing is a crucial aspect of any marketing plan and Canva has put in plenty of work to create content that helps users, which, in my opinion, drives a significant amount of traffic, user growth, and retention for Canva.
Canva’s genuine effort to help people find out how to get things done and how to elevate the design capabilities of its users is well-planned and executed.
Its content efforts focus on three areas, which are blog structure, article structure, and design school. Canva’s blog structure is focused on helping users achieve their design goals and Canva shares blogs related to design, marketing, branding, and photography.
All these articles are relevant to using the product, whether it’s about marketing or branding.
So, Canva’s content is search-friendly and provides a lot of valuable information to users on how to use its product. Also, Canva takes every opportunity to use its content to drive leads and conversions.
Canva doesn’t shy away from AI
If you want to stay ahead of the game, then you need to evolve just like Canva has over the years. Their clever, AI-powered marketing strategies mean they’ve never shied away from using advanced AI tools in their campaigns and platforms.
For instance, Canva uses the Braze platform regularly to send out marketing messages to reach users at different touchpoints, including push, in-app, and even emails.
HubSpot’s conversational AI is another tool that they use to create user engagement. Canva also uses Open AI’s GPT-4 and DALL-E models to drive Magic Design and Magic Write features. Magic Write is an AI-powered copywriting assistant that helps users generate content for their designs. Magic Design is a design assistant powered by AI that uses prompts to generate designs.
Google AI is another tool that Canva uses to power its Translate feature, allowing users to translate their designs into more than 100 languages.
This is all part of the Canva growth strategy, which their teams use to make sure that they’re always on trend with the latest developments and innovations that have the power to change their trajectory by creating better experiences for their users.
So what has Canva achieved by implementing all this? An excess of 135 million monthly active users, 15 billion designs created, active users from 190 countries, 3,500 employees, and one billion revenue every year with USD 1.7 billion in 2023 alone.
Setting their sights on Google and Microsoft—Canva’s new Visual Worksuite
Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Docs have been dominant forces when it comes to document editing and presentation tools. But the Canva strategy has always been centred around stepping up to the plate, and in 2022 they did that by unveiling their Visual Worksuite—a comprehensive suite of products that is designed specifically for large workplaces.
Let’s take a quick look at the key components Canva users can benefit from.
Canva Docs: Beyond words
At the heart of the Worksuite lies Canva Docs, a collaborative document editor that aims to redefine how we design and share information. Kurt Lash, Canva Group Lead for Editing, succinctly captures the essence, “Documents are fundamental to how we communicate, and yet the way we design them hasn’t evolved in years.” But with Canva Docs, that changes.
Imagine building a project plan that combines the whiteboard brainstorming session, the kickoff meeting presentation, and the social assets—all in one place. Plus, unlike traditional document editors, Canva Docs isn’t constrained by static formats. It empowers users to create visually stunning, engaging, and impactful documents.
Canva Websites: Beyond templates
The Canva growth strategy isn’t just about templates; it’s about empowering individuals and businesses to craft their online presence with ease. From personal blogs to corporate landing pages, Canva Websites offers a refreshing alternative.
Canva Websites lets you create beautiful, responsive sites by simply dragging and dropping elements, giving you the freedom to customise fonts, colours, and layouts effortlessly. You can also tap into Canva’s vast content library—over 100 million design assets—to enhance your website.
Canva Whiteboards: Beyond brainstorming
Brainstorming sessions got an upgrade with Canva Whiteboards. Collaborate, ideate, and visualise concepts in real-time. Whether you’re mapping out a marketing campaign, planning a product launch, or solving complex problems, Whiteboards fosters creativity.
Virtual Canvas: Think of it as your digital whiteboard. Sketch, annotate, and organise ideas. Invite team members to contribute, even if they’re continents apart. The feature also allows you to transform raw creativity into actionable plans.
Use all your marketing stunts to your advantage
Canva is, no doubt, an exceptional product with a vision to make everyone a world-class designer. Canva’s marketing strategy mostly focuses on SEO (through its website and keywords), social media marketing, and content marketing.
Canva is moving fast but they haven’t lost their rhythm, which is paramount for any startup to sustain. They are using relevant tactics to push their product and they are doing it with a lot of precision, focus, and simplicity.
Learn from these efforts by successful businesses like Canva and leave no stone overturned.