The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 27

Democratising design with agile marketing tools

​Liz McKenzie
Head of PR & Comms
Canva​​

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It’s no secret that our working lives are changing at a rapid pace. Once important roles are now redundant, and our children’s future roles are figments of our imagination. If you pause too long, things may pass you by.
 
The rapid pace of change is evident in the Marketing and Communications profession. Communication channels have changed, as have the publishing tools used to create messages. Technology continues to disrupt the landscape and marketing budgets feel the squeeze. The result is that employees need to find new ways to operate as a multi skilled specialist. Cross functional employees operating in agile working environments in the Cloud. Is this the way of the future?
 
Australian owned graphic design platform, Canva, is a market leader in this space. With their easy to use design tool they are looking to capitalize on the trend of agile design in the Marketing and Comms space.
 

On this episode, I speak with Canva’s Head of PR & Comms, Liz McKenzie. We discuss the current state of play and where she thinks the industry is heading.

Chris:                    

So welcome to the Intelligent Workplace Podcast, Liz Mckenzie.

Liz:                        

Well, thank you so much for having me.

Chris:                    

Thanks for joining me, Liz. To say that things are moving quickly in your industry might be a little bit of an understatement, isn’t it?

Liz:                         

Yeah, it is. We’re just doing so many crazy things here and it’s part of our values, really setting crazy big goals and making them happen. So it’s a very exciting time for us.

Chris:                    

Nice. I remember back to the 1990s, yes, I’m that old, when I was in a marketing team and we’d work with an agency on creating things like investor brochures and they would take months to complete, you have layouts, page designed, logos, typesetting, printed proofs, markups and all of that sort of stuff. But most of these manual processes are long gone these days. Is that right?

Liz:                         

Yeah, because I think, back in the ’90s or even the early 2000s there’s still this old process of having to create a concept then draw out the initial look and feel of a marketing brochure or a poster. And then having to give that feedback or fill in a brief for your design team and then getting your design team to create a mock up again for you to feedback. Then you go to round two and then it comes back. You needed to change like a full stop or a question mark and it goes to version three and sometimes it goes up to version 10 and before you know it, time has passed and it’s not really working for a lot of people in this time and age. So this is basically the place that Canva plays in is, empowering people to get the idea into reality as soon as possible.

Chris:                    

It feels like sort of after that period it went in the other direction to a bit of extreme. You had the internet age coming and a whole lot of services was springing up to handle the logos and other design work for absolutely minimal cost, but it was all sort of just cut and paste templated graphics that left you really feeling empty I think.

Liz:                         

Yeah, I think there is a period in time where you kept seeing the same stuff photography. One of the ones that I’ve always noticed is whenever you search for relaxation, there is an image that always pops up and it’s the four rocks piled on top of each other and that’s supposed to tell you this is relaxation or like a business meeting and you see another guy shaking another person’s hand and that’s collaboration. I think it does get tired and I think people are looking for new ways to bring their ideas to life.

Chris:                    

Yeah. I feel like that once you sort of had that templated approach that then really sort of made users do their own thing. They had a bit of a crack themselves that then resulted in overall consistency and quality really dropping and then being a bit of a problem too.

Liz:                         

Yeah. Brand awareness is only effective when you have consistent messaging and I think a lot of marketers are beginning to realize that the value of a brand only goes as far as how your team and others portray it. So if there is no consistency, if there is like people are going their own ways to showcase a brand, I think we run the risk of losing that kind of momentum. And that’s basically one of the reasons why Canva launched Canva for Enterprise platform. And that’s really to empower more people in larger organizations to design their communications collateral but actually have guide rails to ensure that they use the approved colors, the approved stock photography, the approved design metrics. And that’s really just about making sure we’re always on brand and going out with a unified face so to speak.

Chris:                    

And I think one of the key things about a solution such as yours is the way that you’re actually changing the way we work. We’ve got this whole agile framework about how we bring things to market. How do you describe that modern agile way of working in this space?

Liz:                         

Well, I guess for… It really goes back to what it means to be agile. For me, being agile is just being able to recognize the change of the environment. So in PR and Comms for example, we’ve always been working in the agile environment. We’ve always had to react to, any big news, any crisis in the industry, any social media backlash or even great hot topics and trends. And it’s just about being there to actually piggyback on those or to actually react to those in the right way. So for me, I think working in an agile workplace, an industry, it’s all about being able to cater to those changing forces.

Chris:                    

Well yeah. I was doing some researching, preparing for the interview with you and statistics get thrown around all the time, but I found a lot of them spoke about the idea of speed to market or the actual lack there of for marketing ideas. Marcus was saying that going from concept to finish product is really slow. And I think it was something like on average ideas taking eight months to get to the market. It just seems ridiculous. Surely not in this age.

Liz:                         

Yeah. I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve been through phases where it takes a long time to see an idea, get into the hands of our consumer, on users. And I think that just simply does not work anymore. We’re in that very dynamic space where our customers expect and deserve to hear from the brand, to hear from the company. And any time anything happens, like on social media or like I mentioned, a crisis issue, we owe it to our consumers to be able to respond.

Chris:                    

And so what kind of pain points or roadblocks does this agile process overcome for marketers?

Liz:                         

Again, like I said, I actually will go so far as to say I don’t think this agile work method is new in our space, in our industry. I think we do have to consider… We’re always needing to be fluid and always needing to be able to accommodate in the environment with this ever-changing news cycle and social media that is always on. I think what’s really emphasize now is the importance of actually, one, speaking with authenticity, actually showing your brand values and helping it come through. And two, is about the feedback loop. So how are we actually, remaining agile is because you need to have a great feedback loop. You need to hear from your customers. You need to hear from your other stakeholders, whether it’s investors, whether it’s your team, whether it’s your users. You just have to be able to inform the direction you’re going with that kind of feedback. And that’s the true value of having a really good agile management work place.

Chris:                    

As they say, feedback is a gift and I’m totally on board with you with that one. So like with Canva, your company has really done well in zeroing in on this trend with your flexible design software. But how does Canva actually support that agile design process without creating something and providing the feedback loop?

Liz:                         

I think it’s really important to take a step back and understand Canva’s mission. So our mission from day one is to empower everybody, everybody in the world to design anything and share their ideas with anyone on any platform. And what that means is that we’ve taken the power of design, of communicating your ideas visually and giving it to the masses. We’ve democratized that power. So years gone by, you had to spend a lot of money on really expensive software. You had to spend a lot of time trying to learn how to use that kind of software. And then you have to have the latest devices that could actually accommodate that kind of software. But what Canva has done is actually let anybody, like someone like me who’s never taken any design course to actually show my idea or my concept to my team.

Liz:                         

And that has actually opened a lot of doors. So whether it’s around, let’s develop a new campaign or develop them a new marketing strategy or a message [house] I’m able to communicate my ideas visually so quickly because of the support that Canva provides. So whether it’s a presentation template or whether it’s graphs, organizational structures and tables, it’s really helped me articulate my vision. And I think that’s happening in a lot of different industries. You’d be surprised to know that professionals like lawyers or even teachers, they do need to communicate all the time. And the worst thing that could happen is if you ask them to spend most of their precious time learning how to design something so simple when they can actually do it really quickly, edit and share it with as many people as they can.

Chris:                    

As they say, great ideas can come from any place, can’t this? So I guess that’s really what’s going on here.

Liz:                         

Absolutely. We’re just giving people the power to do that.

Chris:                    

And I think what you’re also doing is, I think one of the best things is that rapid change of direction and allowing for that to happen in the operation. I think, as I said in the opening things are moving so quickly, doing things like a new piece of tech being released or a competitor, making a move or even a shift in the political environment. And I think that can then have a flow and effect. And I’ve seen as a result of those kinds of smaller changes and toy marketing campaign is getting thrown in the bin. And that could be an expensive thing to have to deal with, isn’t it?

Liz:                         

It is. But at the end of the day, it’s really important to understand why you’re doing that in the first place. And it’s usually around a business goal, whether it’s gain more users or get more brand awareness with a target market or to increase sales. And if your original plan isn’t working, you have to. You owe it to your users to change direction. And I think to be so stubborn or inflexible to change courses is actually a detriment to the company. And that’s the whole concept of recognizing when to move on or when to pivot because it’s crucial for the growth of the business.

Chris:                    

You were talking before about anybody being able to design for the software and so therefore it leads to collaboration, which is another great benefit of the agile process. But have you seen situations where maybe too many cooks can spoil the broth type of situation? Too many opinions are slowing things down because everybody thinks they’ve got a great idea now they’re all a designer?

Liz:                         

And isn’t that great? I think there are more pros than cons because what we’re living in at the moment is a very big world and it’s important for all of us to hear ideas from everywhere because you want to make sure that you represent the audience that you’re reaching out to. And that’s the whole thing about making sure you have an inclusive message and talking with the same language that your audience uses. So whilst there are a lot of ideas, I think that can actually be a good thing. I think again, it goes back to your objectives. What is going to make the biggest impact on your business objectives, and more importantly is how do you provide the most value to your users?

Chris:                    

I was thinking this week and having a chat with a colleague and we were sort of saying for some situations, for some people working in an agile methodology can really be a challenge and we were joking around that because we had a massive wake here at work. It was really crazy. Lots of moving parts, lots of opinions and it felt a little bit chaotic and he said to me, “Isn’t this what you call agile marketing?” And I was, Oh, how do you bring the people for the ride who fear that maybe agile becomes a little bit too chaotic?

Liz:                         

I think there will always be a concept of chaos, especially when you’re a very fast growing company and that’s the concept of where we need to now turn that chaos into clarity and that can really only be achieved if there is clear communication. And it goes back to what I said about feedback. If we understand what the end goal is, the business objectives, we have constant feedback which can then lead to that frequent iteration. Then you’d actually be more likely to achieve your goal. So yes, there will always be chaos and I think it’s something that you need to embrace, but understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you invest the right time to communicate and to share how the end goal looks like.

Chris:                    

I think the agile process can be sometimes used as a bit of a buzzword for chief marketing officers. But let’s be honest here, an agile process will never make up for the lack of a longterm vision, though, will it?

Liz:                         

I think ultimately everything that you do is for the longterm vision. I’d be very surprised to hear if someone doesn’t have that longterm vision because that’s basically what you set out to achieve. And the way we see it, at Canva is that you set those crazy big goals and you make them happen by understanding what the steps are to get there. So it could be a small step and then you just add another step to it. But there’s always that North star, there’s always that big crazy goal that you want to achieve.

Liz:                         

And keeping that in mind is going to motivate a team, it’s going to align everyone and everything we do will eventually support that mission. So I’d like to think that we do have a very long term strategy. In fact, our longterm strategy is to create one of the most successful companies and businesses in the world. And two, is to actually do the most good we possibly can. So anytime the team makes a decision here, it’s really going into the two step plan and taking into consideration our values. So being, setting crazy big goals, pursuing excellence, being a force for good. So yeah, I don’t think anything’s changed.

Chris:                    

Fair enough. Oh, yap. I spoke earlier about some of the statistics that I’ve found. And one of the most positive ones that I saw was that 90 something percent of marketers believe the pace of change in marketing technology is only going to accelerate, which is probably great for you guys. Do you agree and where do you think maybe this thing’s going?

Liz:                         

100%. I think it’s basically the law of accelerating returns. So we know that tech is, the growth of technology is exponential. We can’t even fathom how it would look like two years from now, let alone 10 years from now. But one thing that I do know for sure is, actually two things. First thing is the importance of being authentic and having that human voice regardless of whatever tool or software or new way of working. If it’s not centered in, authenticity and finding the value for your customer, it’s not going to work and it’s not going to last, it’s not going to make the impact that you desire. The second thing is, like I said, just now, feedback and I think that’s something that will never change.

Liz:                         

You can have as much support as you can from technology. But if you don’t provide the right feedback, if you don’t have that mindset of being able to pivot or move again I think that would be to the detriment of the customer and your users and more importantly your team. So it’s very exciting time for all of us and I think if we hold onto those two insights, [inaudible] those two points that I made, I think it’s only going to look really bright for us.

Chris:                    

I’d say it is because I think you are one of the most highly sought after employers in Australia right now. And when I was talking to a couple of friends about having you on the podcast, they’re like, “Ask what it’s like to work at Canva. It seems so exciting. So cool.” What is it like to work with Canva?

Liz:                         

It is amazing. It is absolutely amazing. I’ve been with the company for over two years now. And when you think about it, we’ve only been around since 2013 when we launched the product publicly. So it’s actually been quite a good time and I’ve seen seen lots of change. Like I mentioned, there’s been chaos, but there’s also been really good clarity as well. And it’s just amazing the opportunities here and the team knowing what we’re working for and truly believe in it. I think it makes a world of difference.

Chris:                    

Fantastic. Well Liz, thank you very much for your time today. It’s been really great hearing your thoughts on agile marketing and some of the issues surrounding that. I wish you the best of the future and thanks for joining me.

Liz:                         

All my pleasure Chris, thank you so much for having.

Chris:                    

Thank you.

Chris:                    

Thanks for joining me on the Intelligent Workplace podcast brought to you by LiveTiles. If you have any feedback or want to suggest a guest for a future show, email podcast@lifestyles.nyc. Thanks for listening. I’ll catch you next time.

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