Canva has quickly emerged as one of the most powerful and popular web-based tools for creating visual content. But like any other tool, it must be used with great care to reinforce and strengthen your online branding, not detract from it.
Many organizations are challenged by a need to scale up their content creation efforts — not just dumping more “me-too” content into their social media channels, but creating words and images that reinforce their brand, build customer loyalty, and clearly differentiate it from what their competitors have to offer.
Canva can be an effective tool for creating high-quality images quickly — when used by skilled hands. Though it may not turn you from a newbie to a stunning image creator overnight, by establishing the right standards, even minimally-experienced content marketing professionals and graphic designers can use Canva to create professional-looking visual content that will elevate your brand in the eyes of its audience. With these “guardrails” in place, Canva can be instrumental in accelerating your image production efforts while keeping your visual content creation team “on-brand.”
“Guardrails” that will keep your visual content on-brand
What design elements should you consider when conveying your brand? Here are the basics to bring to the table:
- An image
- Your company logo
- A color palette
- Supporting art elements
Each of these components should be consistent with any signature branding elements you’ve established for your existing content, including print marketing materials, your website, email campaigns, and social media channels. Also, keep in mind that branding goes beyond your marketing materials themselves. It’s an integral part of the total customer experience, so make sure that the messages you’re communicating via your visual content are congruent with the brand image you want to project to your target audience. For example:
- Use colors that are consistent with your brand. When you first access the color picker in Canva, It only shows a set of eight primary colors. But if you click on the bottom right circle (which has a plus sign in it), you can access a much larger color palette. Canva’s color chooser also enables you to manually input a hexidecimal color value (where it says “color code #”), so you can exactly match your corporate colors.
- Select the font that is as close as possible to the ones used in your marketing pieces for your brand (both online and offline). Canva doesn’t give you any options other than the 100+ fonts currently included in it, and some common business fonts like Franklin Gothic and Garamond are not represented. This means you may have to do some careful font matching. (For the examples that accompany this article, I selected Anton for the main font and Helvetica for some of the supporting text.)
- Incorporate other art elements that are part of your brand wherever possible. Canva enables you to import PNG, JPG, and SVG images (but not GIFs). So don’t feel you have to rely on the shapes, backgrounds, and other art elements Canva supplies. Upload your own images and experiment with it!
Best practice tips and examples
Canva’s well-designed tool set makes it easy to create visual content in a variety of formats. Following are some creative ideas and best practices to keep in mind in order to get the most out of your design efforts. I’ve also included a series of images I’ve created for ACME Equipment — a fictitious manufacturer — to illustrate my recommendations:
- Leverage the layered look: As you create your images, you will likely make ample use of Canva’s layer commands, which enable you to change the order of objects that appear in your design. For example, you can layer text on top of a rectangular element you’ve placed, or position a logo on top of the image you’re working with, so that it stands out.
To use these layer commands, click on the downward-facing arrow at the right end of the Canva object toolbar and look for the “move forward” and “move back” commands. Each click moves the object up or down a single layer. That means it may take multiple clicks to move an image to its proper place. These commands are context sensitive; in other words, if an image is already on the top layer, the command for “move forward” will be grayed out.
- Include a URL at the bottom of your image: This enables the person viewing it to engage with your company more deeply by giving them easy access to your website.
For optimal impact, be sure that the image you select is eye-catching, and that the text you place in the image conveys a strong message about your brand (in this case, cost-effective operation). Also, the URL text needs to have enough contrast against the background color to be clearly readable. If that’s not possible with the image you want to use, you can place a rectangle on the layer between the URL and the image and apply some transparency to it to provide a stronger visual platform for your company’s web address, without completely blocking the image behind it.
- Use a consistent set of colors and fonts that are as similar as possible to your other online and offline brand content efforts. For my ACME Equipment examples, I have selected blue, black, and white as my corporate colors.
Be sure to write down the hex values of your color scheme in a prominent place, so you can apply it accurately as you create additional images. Also, as you use custom colors in your images, Canva makes them part of its default palette of colors, so you can use them in other images.
- Add your company or brand logo in a consistent location on each of your images.
In the case of our ACME example, I’ve placed its logo in the lower right corner of my image. Just be sure that your use of the logo is consistent with your corporate guidelines — which may have some specific rules about what color backgrounds the logo may appear in front of.
- Create a rectangular area across the bottom of each image, where you will feature your website URL and (optionally) your logo. It should be created in a color that contrasts with your text, yet is still consistent with your brand. For my ACME example, this contrasting color is black, which really “pops” off the screen when placed adjacent to the blue of our color scheme.
To create this rectangle in Canva, select the orange rectangle from the shapes menu and drag it into your work space. This shape can be resized horizontally and vertically using the grab handles in the middle of each side. Resize it to the full width of the image you are creating — make sure its right and left sides are flush with the edges of your image. If there’s any doubt, zoom in on your image to confirm this and use either your mouse or the arrow keys to move the rectangle into the proper position.
Next, drag the top edge of the box to reduce its height until it’s about 1/10 the height of your image, or until it can comfortably display the elements you’ve placed in it while maintaining some white space around the edges. Now you can place your logo and/or your URL on a layer that sits on top of this rectangle. Use Canva’s “back” and “forward” buttons to position these elements in the right order (i.e., so that the logo and URL appear clearly on top of the black rectangle).
- Create a series of tip-based images that include the company’s name or brand in the title, such as ACME Advice. As you can see from the ACME example I created, it’s fairly easy to do and can be used to provide useful information to your target audience.
- Add a ghosted logo behind the text in your image. This subtle branding approach is easy to do in Canva. For my image, I simply added the ACME logo to my design and used the rotation drag handle to position it at approximately a 45-degree angle. To make it look “ghosted,” I used the down arrow in the Canva object menu to locate the transparency command, and then dragged the slider to approximately 40 percent. This made the logo faint enough that I could place text over it (as you can see in the dealer open house example below), but not so opaque that it interferes with or distracts from the main text. This technique would also work with a logo that doesn’t include the company name.
- Use hashtags when you share images that represent a key attribute of your brand or convey a feeling about it. In the case of our imaginary ACME Equipment Corporation, the hashtag could be #acmecorp. This is an aspect of your visual content where you can get really creative. For example, you could post seasonal images and then share them with an evocative hashtag, such as #summerofacme or #acmefuninsun.
- Include an artist’s rendering of one of your products in your visual content and then add wording that gives it some clever wordplay. For example, for ACME we could depict a piece of construction equipment with a bucket full of light bulbs and use the tagline: “Bright ideas from ACME.” John Deere did this in a recent advertisement, and it was very eye-catching!
One way to extend the value of using this technique (and collect some really amazing images to use in future visual content efforts at the same time) is to hold a photography or art contest featuring your products. Submissions can be judged and the winning images shared via your social media channels. This is an easy way to crowdsource some really amazing, creative images and illustrations of your products! (Note: Make sure it’s clear to entrants that all content submitted as part of the contest becomes the property of your organization.)
10. Promote the personalities behind your brand. If your company or organization has a rather iconic founder or CEO, consider creating images that feature notable quotes from him or her. Include the person’s name and title, as well as your logo, to tie these images into the rest of your branding strategy.
Some final words on working with Canva
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend completely replacing your current visual image editor with Canva, for quick and dirty image creation — with an eye toward following your brand communication standards — it can be an invaluable tool.
For example, Canva comes with a terrific set of templates that can be used as starting points for creative image ideas. Though I recommend that you play around with these examples for inspiration, you’ll ultimately want to learn to “roll your own,” using your original images, logos, and other design elements.
Fortunately, Canva provides some excellent tutorials to help you do this. Not only do these tutorials show you what to do, they embed miniature versions of the application’s work space so you can try your hand at recreating the example images yourself. It’s a clever and effective approach to hands-on training that will help even the most design-challenged content marketers get started creating compelling visual content in no time at all!
Looking for more ways to maximize the impact of your content by adding great visuals? Try one of these 27+ Handy Tools for Better Visual Content Marketing.