Power to the People: How Autodesk’s 200 Blogs Are Propelling the DIY Movement

For the 20th year in a row, the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects all had one important thing in common: They each used Autodesk software.

But Autodesk is so much more than the brand of choice for the Hollywood elite. The San Fransisco-based enterprise company sees their true mission as making their 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software accessible to small business owners, entrepreneurs, and students. And while high-end software isn’t the sexiest of topics for a large audience, having users who understand how to use and talk about their products is key to Autodesk’s growth. How do they do it? With content, of course—lots of it.

(Full disclosure: Autodesk is a Contently client.)

200 blogs and counting

While many B2B brands are still trying to get one content hub up and running, Autodesk currently has about 200, including one blog for each of their more than 170 products.

“[Content] gives our audience more than just a product,” said Ali Wunderman, Autodesk’s marketing communications manager. “It’s a platform for thought leadership so that we can help inform people why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Among the hundreds of blogs, there are a few standouts.

For example, the Line//Shape//Space blog is aimed at helping and inspiring small businesses and exploring “the future of making things.” Divided into three categories—Ideas & Vision, Success Stories, and Business Advice—the site publishes stories such as “Aha Moments: 5 Biggest Epiphanies Every Startup Should Have,” and “Ready for a Space Elevator? Carbon Nanotube Applications Push the Boundaries of Aerospace, Infrastructure, and Medical Fields.” With a niche publication such as this, Autodesk is not just stimulating the conversation around the future of design technology, but also leading it. Line//Shape//Space allows Autodesk to develop an owned audience who can return to the company’s microsite in order to learn how to grow their businesses with forward thinking.

In terms of establishing thought leadership, Autodesk’s In the Fold corporate blog features insights, news, and opinions from inside the company, curated by the PR department. A recent post by president and CEO Carl Bass addresses a competitor that made some bold statements about Autodesk’s products. By offering consumers such honest and transparent information directly from the the C-suite, Autodesk proves it’s more than just a brand name that provides great software—it’s also a company run by humans who care about how their products are perceived and used.

Different parts of the content operation are powered in different ways. According to Wunderman, while Autodesk’s corporate branch oversees the larger strategy of the content operation, each product and blog has its own dedicated marketing team, so it’s up to each to decide how to structure its operation and tell it’s story.

For example, Wunderman, who runs the Spark 3D printing blog, needed to populate her site with high-quality content. While relied on internal writers and guest bloggers to produce posts, she needed reinforcements if she wanted to publish twice a week. So, her team turned to Contently’s pool of over 30,000 journalists to source for talent. She now publishes twice a week on the Spark blog, but plans to double that in the near future.

In terms of metrics, Wunderman pays close attention to impressions and click-through rates. However, she’s most proud of the time she’s seeing readers are spending on the site—a metric that more and more publications are holding in high importance. In order to attract those loyal readers, content is distributed on Outbrain and social media.

Helping makers make

The company is determined to put it’s tools in the hands of the next generation of makers. As CEO Carl Bass sees it, the more people get proficient in maker technologies, the more potential customers Autodesk will have for its products, which is more than just lip service.

In 2014, Autodesk invested $100 million in the Spark Investment Fund to stimulate entrepreneurs and researchers experimenting with 3D printing. Later that year, the company announced that its design software would be free for students and academic institutions in 188 countries across the globe.

“We have an education department that focuses on evening out the playing field when it comes to learning new technologies,” Wunderman said. “So it’s not just schools that can afford the best software and hardware that end up teaching their students about design; it’s all of them.”

Autodesk also has various other microsites and initiatives that provide funding and content for designers around the world. The Autodesk Foundation invests in and celebrates people and organizations using design for social good. Autodesk Research publishes papers from scientists who write about design technology for top journals and conferences. And Autodesk Labs takes readers inside the office of the chief technology officer by pulling back the curtain on developments and collaborations within Autodesk.

The company also crowd-sources some of its content creation from its community of users. The Showcase microsite reads, “There are a million stories. Tell us yours.” Through this platform, Autodesk encourages its consumers to submit content created with the brand’s products. Members of the community are invited to browse these creations and vote on their favorites, and Autodesk choosing one artist to feature each month. For example, one artist of the month, Juan Siquier, describes the inspiration and process of creating his 3D sculpture “Mad Hatter,” which he produced using Autodesk’s 3ds Max.

Turning marketing into a game

Say your marketing team is tasked with converting trial users into buyers—how do you actually get your consumers to respond positively? You can send emails, which may work. Engage them on social media? Sure why not. Perhaps you might send a salesperson to their house to give them the hard sell (which probably isn’t a great use of time and resources). Or, if you’re really creative, maybe you turn their trial experience into a game.

As Autodesk senior marketing manager Dawn Wolfe and marketing manager Andy Mott explained, Autodesk teamed up with Badgeville’s game mechanics platform to drive sales for their 3ds Max entertainment software products. And to motivate trial users, the company designed a series of missions that guided users through different 3ds Max features. Users who completed missions were rewarded with points, achievement badges, and a place on the leaderboard among their peers. They were also incentivized to earn more points by sharing their achievements on Facebook and Twitter.

The result? Autodesk saw a 10 percent increase in trial downloads and a 40 percent increase in trial usage. This was an incredibly positive sign, considering Autodesk’s data suggests those who use a trial more than three times are twice as likely to buy it. Autodesk also won the 2013 Integrated Marketing Award for its customer-centric approach to marketing.

Since then, the company has expanded its gamification strategy to engage users with content about other products. For example, trial users exploring AutoCAD Design Suite Standard were invited to play The Apocalypse Trigger game, which similarly invited users to complete missions, earn points, and share their achievements. The grand prize winner with the most points received an AutoCAD Design Suite Standard license, a Lenovo workstation, and an iPad.

With key components such as blogging, social good, and gamification, Autodesk’s content marketing strategy is overwhelming in its scope and success. But at the core of it all is one simple question: Why? Wunderman advises marketers getting ready to dive into content to ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing, and why they are making the content.

“Everything stems from there,” she explained. And she would know. Autodesk has over 170 answers to that question, and everyone from kindergarteners to Oscar winners is listening.

Image by Cynthia Park and Brian Meyers

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