Spill the Beans | Annabel Gray & Jerry Liu

“In a way, success is about making sure that every partner that is promoting us has everything they need, and is being fully supported and empowered.”

– Jerry Liu, head of affiliate partnership at Canva

In her latest interview for Spill the Beans, our Associate Director Australia, Annabel Gray, spoke to Jerry Liu, Head of Affiliate Partnership at Canva. They looked back at the way Canva adapted to a huge surge in demand in 2020, and discussed what the future holds for affiliate and partnership marketing.

Before we kick into the questions today, could you introduce yourself and give a bit of a background about your role?

Hi Annabel, thanks for inviting me for this call, I’m really interested to share some of the learnings from 2020, a crazy year. 

So, a bit of a background about myself: I started off in Canva about three years ago, looking into growth marketing, and running experiments across the different platforms. And then, while we were doing research and looking into new opportunities, we started to see that there was heaps of interest for an affiliate program and also from content creators, who were promoting Canva for free. 

We decided to empower them, going back to the Canva values of empowering everyone and empowering people to design. We decided to try and launch an affiliate program. So now we can financially support them to do the best they can and continue to do what they enjoy. We launched the programme in 2019, and now it’s been a bit over a year the programme is smooth sailing. It’s gotten to be a bit more of a non-trivial amount of revenue contribution!

Affiliate marketing is a term which has evolved over the last few years, what does the term ‘affiliate and partnership’ mean to you at Canva?

So essentially, we started off with ‘affiliates’ because it’s a term everyone knows and it’s easier to push it across the board. In 2021, we are looking at kind of branching out and rebranding ourselves internally as ‘partnerships’ as well. So we look after any form of mutually beneficial partnership between us, other brands, publishers, and actually offer the financial incentive based on the trackable actions.

What's the distinction internally, from the affiliate to the performance partnership? Is there a change in the different partners that you're working with?

Yes. So previously, when we first launched, people kept thinking about affiliates as traditional affiliates, like cashback, all the content, networks, and everything, and then sub affiliate networks, CPA networks. But as the programme grew, we did start to see that we have much more variety of content creators and brands, like B2B partnerships formed through the affiliate partnership program. So because of that, in order to support and get more resourcing around co-marketing campaigns and other partnerships that we can build out, we are going through that internal rebranding to be able to support the team and build out more interesting, mutually beneficial campaigns.

And what does success within the affiliate channel look like for you?

So, for us, success has always been being able to drive a meaningful revenue contribution as a new channel. The worst-case scenario from our initial projection was that we launched a program that no one wants to see. No one wants it.

Over the last year, we’ve grown the program, I think it’s public information now, we’ve got about 14,000 partners on our platform who are currently promoting Canva and everything. So in a way, success is about making sure that every partner that is promoting us has everything they need, and is being fully supported and empowered.

14,000 partners is quite an extensive program. A lot of relationships to manage.

Yeah, definitely. And we do have a vision to grow it even further. Right now, we have our ambassador programme called Canva Certified Creatives, CCCs. This is a group of content creators who have started a couple of years ago, since Canva just started, creating content, constantly creating YouTube and Udemy courses and everything about how to use Canva. What we are aiming to do in 2021 is build and grow this community even further, to showcase and bring in educators creating content about Canva, teaching artists how to use Canva, how to get value from Canva, so they are able to do that even more.

So having a quick look back at last year, 2020, it was a bit of a challenging year for everyone. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome these?

Yeah, a couple of the biggest challenges were that, as we saw in 2020, quite a few Industries have been significantly impacted. At the same time, some of those publishers, traditional publishers, or affiliate publishers in those markets, transitioned into new industries where they could still generate revenue from. (As a result of this) we started to see significant growth from the start, from March at the start of lockdowns. 

And with this growth in new partner applications, with this growth in new traffic from partners, one of the biggest challenges was to actually support and make sure that all the partners had everything that they needed to be able to do the best work they could. In this case that includes providing creative support, providing new content for the partners to promote every month, and supporting the inquiries. We actually had to scale up our partner support team to be able to support this increase in demand and questions from our partners.

With such a mass exodus of people to online, it just opens up opportunities hugely for service providers like Canva. Looking at how to tap into, engage and nurture those partners is no small feat.

Yeah. And I think on that point, looking at 2020, there has been a significant growth in online retailers in new e-commerce businesses. We’ve seen from our users that people really, especially if you’re setting up shop by yourself, Canva is a product that helps streamline your design process. 

Our goal is to empower everyone to design and make sure that it’s the easiest product for you to create, to set up your shop. So we’ve seen a significant growth through those kind of verticals.

Looking forward to 2021 what are your top priorities for affiliate and partnership for the coming year?

So fortunately, over the last year and a bit, we’ve set up affiliate performance partnerships to be majority traditional affiliates and traditional type of publishers. We’ve set it up to be smooth sailing, kind of business as usual. And we have a process and procedure to kind of manage that. Going into 2021, we do want to tap into more innovative and creative types of partnerships.

For example, brand to brand, going deeper into podcasts, influencer strategy, and also following Canva’s mission to build out that community of Canva champions to be able to financially support and empower them to continue to do the best they can in terms of promoting Canva. Teaching others, spreading the good word and evangelising Canva to all of their audiences, and actually showcasing the value that Canva actually brings to them and what they can use us for.

What's exciting about the channel is that once you open the door to the wider realm of partnerships, the possibilities of where you can build those out are really endless. It sounds like a really exciting year ahead of you with everything that you run through there.

Yeah, exactly. With performance partnerships, in certain markets when you’re not set up to run other channels like paid social or SEM, you can still start building out with the key opinion leaders and key publishers in those expand your reach into them. And that is one of our priorities going into 2021, is to replicate the success that we’ve seen in the US in Australia and other markets, to expand it into a global community as well.