Guy Kawasaki on democratising design, and the golden age of marketing

Tech and social media author and guru Guy Kawasaki is currently chief evangelist at Canva, the online graphic design software that is, in his words, “democratising design”. He believes graphics are powerful enough that, when used on social media, they can double a user’s effectiveness. Marketing caught up with Kawasaki recently when he was in Australia to talk at business technology event CeBIT. In this interview, we discuss Kawasaki’s thoughts on design, social media, why he still holds hopes for the potential of Google+, and his thoughts on the (not-too-distant) future of marketing and technology.

 

Article theme badge DesignMarketing: We recently found out some news about Canva for enterprise so maybe we can start with that. What can you tell me about it?

Guy Kawasaki: Canva for Work represents this discovery that we have about 200,000 organisations using Canva. And we then further looked at that and we figured out that roughly 40% of the Fortune 500 is using Canva. And so a large company like that, or any company, has very different requirements that an individual contributor/graphic designer. So this includes things like workflow, consistency of branding, shearing of digital elements. So Canva for work is going to address these issues so that an organisation as opposed to an individual artist can use canva effectively.

 

M: Makes sense. What I’ve seen online in the news is that there is still going to be a free version but this is just an extra offering for businesses, is that right?

GK: Yes. You know, it’s the classic freemium model. You get a lot of stuff for free but when you are using it at the next level then yes, time to pay.

 

M: You’ve said in the past that you joined Canva for the purpose of democratising design. Why do you think that is something that’s a necessary evolution and how does Canva aim to do that?

GK: Because I think in this world, if you are active in social media, you will double your effectiveness of social media with graphics. So that’s number one. And number two, I think in general whether you’re making a pitch using a presentation or you’re making an email header or you’re making a business card, it’s all about graphics these days. And so that is kind of a necessary life skill at this point. If this necessary life skill required renting or buying high end software and taking months to learn it, that’s kind of a show stopper. So I think Canva basically addresses those problems.

 

M: In general, what are your thoughts on the biggest mistakes that companies and brands are making with design these days?

GK: I think they’re not investing enough. They still don’t know about the power of graphics for communication. And this is particularly evident in social media.

 

M: You’ve said the reason why you decided to join Canva is because it’s most likely going to be your last job and you wanted to do something “entrepreneurial” and “go out in a blaze of glory”. What’s the secret behind maintaining that enthusiasm and energy for all this new cutting edge technology after all these years?

GK: Well, one very basic answer is I have four children: two are in college, two are in private school. So if you knew my tuition expense every year, you’d understand why I am still working. Necessity drives this, how’s that?

 

M: So how long do you think you’ll stay with Canva then?

GK: Until they graduate. My youngest son is in the third grade so at least another nine years.

 

M: Have you got anything in particular that’s really exciting you that you’re hoping to get involved in soon or in the future?

GK: My plate overflows already. I’m doing Canva and independently I am a writer and a speaker. And I recently joined the board of Wikimedia which is the parent organisation of Wikipedia. So between Wikipedia and Canva and my writing and speaking and four children, that’s it. There’s nothing else left.

 

M: Fair enough. Have you got any books coming out soon? Anything new?

GK: I just shipped two books, The Art of Social Media and The Art of the Start 2.0. And both of those things happened within the last six months. So I am not currently writing a book.

 

M: You’ll be getting ready to start getting out on book tours on those, I’m assuming.

GK: My life is a continuous book tour so… It’s not easy being me, trust me.

 

M: It sounds pretty fun. So, can you talk me through your thoughts on social media then? Where is it at the moment? Facebook and Twitter are well-established now. What do you think we should be expecting in the next while? Should we be expecting big disruption? Should we be expecting everything to sort of settle down and get more sophisticated?

GK: Who the hell knows, right? I mean a few years ago we thought MySpace would control the world, it would be the operating system of the internet. And Amazon if it was lucky would have one corner store and Myspace as well but it didn’t exactly work out that way. I think it’s kind of unpredictable. I don’t think Facebook is going away. There’s too much momentum there and it’s too much utility. Because the ability to freely target customers and then to promote and target customers is unique and valuable. I think promoted pins on Pinterest are going to be very lucrative for Pinterest. Instagram continues to amaze where people want to, you know, tell Mercedes they love those pictures of them with their old Mercedes — user-generated content. But I do not predict the future. My time-frame is like a year.

 

M: That’s probably smart. So definitely lots of opportunities for marketers though will be continuing.

GK: Yeah, well I mean this is the golden age for marketing because social media makes it fast and free and ubiquitous. How much better can it get? Not everybody can advertise in the Super Bowl but, you know, every restaurant can have a Facebook page.

 

M: We dug out one of the articles that we wrote with you back in 2012. Back then, you had over 800,000 Twitter followers and a team of five working with you to maintain that. And you made a note at the time to answer all replies and messages. Now it looks like you’ve got 1.45 million followers on Twitter. Has your approach changed at all?

GK: Yes and no. That five was not five full-time people, there were five contributors. So a lot of my tweets are still generated by this kind of direct and automatic tweeting of Holy Cow articles. And I’m working with one social media person named Peg Fitzpatrick who does basically all my other social media with me. But I still believe in responding to all my @ mentions. When it’s the response to an @ mention, it is only me, nobody else. Generally, I’ve stayed the same. And you know, knock on wood, if I hadn’t done that with Canva, I would not be a Canva employee right now so.

 

M: Right, because you got in touch with Canva on Twitter, didn’t you?

GK: Well they got in touch with me over Twitter.

 

M: You mentioned before how much of an impact having images in your social media posts has. So is it true that every post that you share has an image or a link?

GK: I would say 95% of my posts have images. The only time there is not a link and an image, is if someone asks me a question that I’m not going to post a picture to if it’s just an answer they need, so yeah.

 

M: What are your thoughts on why that’s so valuable and effective?

GK: Well because if you look at a stream, if you look at people who follow a thousand people, you look at the stream of their timeline, the ones with pictures stand out. It’s that simple. And in a world where everybody’s text, the person with graphics stands out. That simple.

 

M: What are your thoughts on Google+ since you released What the Plus back in 2012? Are you still really optimistic about it?

GK: Not as optimistic. I still love Google+ but it kind of has lost its momentum. It hasn’t added fantastic new features and it hasn’t even kept up with, to this day, you can’t schedule a post on Google+. You can even do that with Facebook. And yes you can use things like Buffer and Hootsuite and Sprout to schedule a post in Google+, if you have a Google+ page but not if you have a Google+ profile. Most people have profiles, not pages so it’s a fundamental shortcoming there.

 

M: And there are just not as many people on it, really, are there? It’s not taken off as a mainstream platform.

GK: You know, that doesn’t bother me as much because: let’s say the numbers are 1.2 billion on Facebook and lets say, 300 million for Google+, so its four to one. But the way Facebook works, if only 10% of followers can see you on Facebook, it’s really 120 million. It’s not 1.2 billion. That is a way of looking at it. If you have 1.2 billion people, but only 10% of them see your post, that’s 120 million. And Google+ has 300 million, then Google+ is three times larger than Facebook. Not many people buy that line of reasoning, but there is something to be said that Facebook is not really 1.2 billion if you count that.

 

M: Another thing I wanted to ask you as a successful author, what are your thoughts on book publishing? To what extent you see that as a continuing relevant and useful branding tool/communications tool in this day of technology?

GK: Seeing as how you can self publish so easily, I don’t see a great deal of downside. Of course, not only is self-publishing easy, you can then use social media for free to promote your self-published book. But writing a book is still a challenge but publishing a book got a lot easier.

 

M: There’s so much information on the internet, if people want to know something, they just Google it. So what’s the value in writing a big book about one topic?

GK: Well, because it’s not true that you can trust what Google finds to be the best possible response. My book The Art of the Start there’s a chapter about fundraising and hiring and marketing and innovating. There’s 15 chapters. If you did really good Google work, and if you could discern which one is the best responses, you could literally find probably everything I say on Google or with Google for free. But I guarantee you, unless you value your time at zero, then it is much easier to spend $20 to buy my book than it is to reconstruct my book trying to use Google. I guarantee you that. No doubt in my mind.

 

M: You’ve put in all the hard work for us.

GK: I have. And for that I ask $20.

 

M: Have you got any final thoughts about the future of marketing and technology?

GK: I think we are in the golden age of marketing because of social media. That’s it.

 

M: That’s pretty exciting for everyone. Thank you so much for your time, Guy. Enjoy the rest of your time in Australia.

GK: Thank you, bye.

 

Michelle Herbison
BY Michelle Herbison ON 13 May 2015
Assistant editor, Marketing Magazine.