Subject Matter Experts: Autodesk’s Strategy To Building An Industry Leading Publication

As a provider of technology that empowers designers, engineers, makers and builders, Autodesk's vision focuses on the future of making and their goal is to help people make anything.

 

Through their online publication Redshift, Autodesk continues to articulate its vision of being at the forefront of innovation. And the man behind Redshift is Autodesk’s Head of Content Marketing and Social Media, Dusty DiMercurio, who is also the publication's Editorial Director. He and his team are responsible for the high-quality content on Redshift that keeps customers coming back for more.


Known initially as Line//Shape//Space, a blog targeting small businesses, Redshift has now grown to become a multi-award-winning publication that focuses on the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), manufacturing, and media and entertainment industries. Since its rebrand, the publication functions as an owned media channel for Autodesk, reporting stories and happenings across the industries they serve. With an editorial charter focused on the future of making, Redshift features stories of their most innovative customers as well as thought leadership topics geared towards the industries that Autodesk reaches.

 

“When it comes to the future of design and making, we see convergence across industries. Essentially the design and making process is beginning to look similar regardless of what industry you’re in,” says DiMercurio.

 

So what contributes to Redshift’s success? Is it high-quality research? Great distribution and optimisation strategies? Great narratives? In our conversation with DiMercurio, we delve deeper into how he and his team work with industry experts to curate compelling stories that readers crave.


The term industry experts is a broad one. According to DiMercurio, here are the distinct groups of experts Autodesk’s content marketing team works with:

  • Internal subject matter experts and technologists who act as consultants to Autodesk customers. These experts often have years of operational experience in their relevant fields.
  • Journalists, writers and editors who cover manufacturing, infrastructure, construction and architecture beats.
  • Visionaries or thought leaders in relevant industries. They are often the ones at the centre of Redshift’s stories.
  • Content series featuring visionaries and, or experts in Autodesk’s relevant industries. (In My Design Mind, The Real Life, Respect)

 

Allowing industry experts to drive the ideation process

Autodesk’s products and solutions cut across distinct industries (manufacturing, construction, gaming, automotive, and architecture, to name a few), with exciting conversations in each vertical. Redshift’s editorial team faces the challenge of selecting and publishing the right stories for the right audiences.

 

It is vital that Redshift is established as an authority figure in the industries and sectors that utilise Autodesk’s products. To get a deeper understanding of these industries, the team turned to experts within the company. “Some stories are popular because they resonate specifically with their intended audiences. We’ve been successful in reaching those audiences, and they share the stories with their friends and colleagues,” said DiMercurio.

 

With so many moving parts, we wanted to find out how Redshift streamlines their creative process to get the best stories from all across the company.


According to DiMercurio, many of these stories originate from industry teams within Autodesk. Industry teams are primarily customer-facing and have deep expertise in their respective fields. As such, some stories covered by Redshift focuses on Autodesk’s customers. Working with industry experts who have extensive operational experience means that Redshift has a reliable source of technical content pieces that can be substantiated with subject matter expertise.


Case study: Customisable communities could be the key to the future of urban housing

Here's an example of how Redshift collaborates with experts. The article, which focuses on the future of city living, was created by architectural experts from Autodesk’s residency program (BUILD Space).

 

Subject matter experts first identified a pertinent question that the architecture community had been trying to solve: how do we make dense cities more livable? The BUILD Space programme connected these experts with students and researchers that had been working on solving the problem of urban living through architecture. The team then brought the insights together to create the story.

 

However, not all stories are intended solely for Redshift. For example, customer success stories are published on product pages and are meant to drive product visibility and demand. Each industry team identifies companies or projects that make great use of Autodesk solutions to create something extraordinary. They then partner with the content marketing team to develop their ideas into customer success stories, while lending their expertise to explain the technical processes behind the project.

 

The content marketing team makes the call on whether the same piece of content can be adapted for a wider audience. Adapted pieces focus more broadly on innovative thinking than on product usage or technical processes. Whether or not a team repurposes a case study is dependent on its relevance to the readership. Fundamental questions to consider include: Is this case study from one of our key industries? Will this content resonate with readers? 

  

Case study: Modbot

DiMercurio’s team also utilises extensive repurposing of content topics and case studies to fulfil different objectives. Modbot is an example of a customer story told in three ways, each with different formats, angles and objectives.

 

On their product pages, Autodesk’s primary objective is helping customers to understand their product features and benefits, and to facilitate purchases. Performance can be measured by the number of new and retained customers. In a video hosted on the product page, Modbot's founder shared the benefits of using Autodesk's product.


For Redshift, however, the goal is to establish affinity with readers and to share Autodesk’s overarching vision and narrative around the future of making. Redshift's story on robotics company Modbot does not specifically mention Autodesk's products but focuses on Modbot's expertise on building a new hardware company from scratch.

 

Autodesk’s coverage of Modbot includes two articles and a video.
  1. The content marketing team worked directly with the manufacturing team to produce a customer case study of Modbot in video format that appeared on the company’s homepage. In the three-minute-long video, Modbot’s founder talked about how Autodesk’s products helped them in their process of building modular robots.
  2. On Autodesk’s product page is a separate blog post about Modbot and their vision for the future of robotics. It also goes into greater detail of how they used the product in a competition.
  3. Over on Redshift, the team published a story on Modbot’s founders and their journey to starting Modbot, the challenges they faced, and the vision they have for a better world fuelled by robotics.

 

Repurposing content for different markets

Creating content for local and global markets also requires experts to weigh in on the suitability of each topic in a specific market. Regional teams inform DiMercurio’s team members — most of whom are based in San Francisco — of local feature stories that can also work on a global level.

 

“We'll work with local teams that understand the market more specifically, and understand what opportunities exist in that market. And they will feed the input back to us. As we are producing and publishing content, they're not only feeding us with potential local story ideas and customers that we can create stories around, but we're also prioritising where to localise Redshift,” said DiMercurio.

 

Local teams from key markets like Germany, Italy and Japan help surface relevant story ideas that would resonate with their audiences. In select cases, the teams will deem a local story viable on the global site, and push their recommendations to DiMercurio’s team. His team of editors and writers then assess whether the story is sufficiently broad and relevant for a global readership. Once the narrative is approved, it is created and translated for publishing on the main Redshift site in English.

 

The article was published on both the global and Japanese Redshift site.

 

One example of a local story that has been re-published for a global audience is Starbucks Japan’s use of VR technology. The story details how Starbucks used Autodesk’s VR technology to reimagine their Tokyo store completely. Due to the global appeal of Starbucks and the popularity of VR technology, the story was recommended for global adaptation. The article is now one of Redshift’s most prominent pieces and was translated to English, French, German and Italian.

 

Brands with many regional offices often struggle with the global versus local dilemma — what content should you borrow from the global team, and what should you create locally? DiMercurio admits that not all content will resonate globally. “If a story isn’t globally viable but is really important to a particular market, we will work with the team to create the story for that particular market,” shared DiMercurio.


Crafting the story together

To fully understand how Redshift crafts a story from start to finish, we must first understand the players involved.


The structure of Autodesk's editorial workflow.


Autodesk’s Industry Teams

As mentioned earlier, Autodesk’s industry teams are the go-to source of industry expertise and surfacing compelling customer success stories that align with the company’s business strategy. 

 

Role within the Redshift team:

  • Offer expert industry insights
  • Surface potential stories
  • Contribute as authors on Redshift (typically senior executives in the company)
  • Build connections with customers and, or industry leaders

 

Autodesk’s Content Marketing & Social Media Team

This team works first-hand with DiMercurio, and is primarily made up of writers, editors, designers, video producers, and social media experts. The team is responsible for supporting the story pipeline behind Redshift’s editorial calendar, as well as story execution and amplification.

 

Role within the ecosystem:

  • Make decisions on overall content strategy
  • Manage partner relationships with internal teams
  • Brief contributing writers on requirements and editorial style
  • Connect writers with relevant subject matter experts
  • Distribute and promote content across social and digital media landscapes
  • Measure and analyse content engagement data

 

Journalists

An exciting aspect of the editorial ecosystem within Redshift is their use of freelance writers and journalists instead of agencies. When screening for the right writer for a content piece, the team looks out for writers with a strong editorial background, for example, contributions to major publications such as Wired or The Huffington Post is a plus. While Autodesk primarily serves the construction or manufacturing industries, not all writers are required to have extensive knowledge of these subjects. The key to Redshift’s content is accessibility to a broader audience and not jargon-heavy industry information. What matters most to the Redshift team is their ability to tell stories that appeal to broader audiences.


In saying this, there is still a select group of writers that have written for industry journals and publications like Architect magazine, Construction Dive and BuiltWorlds. These writers offer not just their wealth of experience but also access to thought leaders in their field. On finding good writers for Redshift, DiMercurio says: “We have an existing working relationship with great writers, and this stable helps us attract other good writers want to work with the same calibre of peers.”

 

Role within the ecosystem:

  • Pitch ideas for stories
  • Interview story/article subjects and experts
  • Provide additional research to support articles
  • Write and produce stories

 

Thought Leaders

Thought leaders are visionaries who have brought forth fresh ideas to their industry, changing the game for everyone else. These are often people that Redshift features, and will include internal subject matter experts as well as visionary senior leaders in the company—including CEO Andrew Anagnost. The content marketing team gets in touch with these interviewees either through direct outreach, through industry teams and their more comprehensive network, or through well-connected industry writers. 

 

Role within the ecosystem:

  • Offer deep industry insights
  • Provide inside look into their thought processes and workflows


Case Study: Inside My Design Mind Series


Redshift’s Inside My Design Mind series is popular with readers.

 

While DiMercurio’s team often identifies industry thought leaders, with the series, Inside My Design Mind, contributing writers will occasionally pitch subject profiles they recommend covering. DiMercurio credits the quality of the content published on Redshift to the tight feedback loop developed to help writers quickly get up to speed with the Redshift editorial focus, topic matters and writing style.


Growing engagement and community

When DiMercurio first embarked on building a content distribution platform, the publication had an incredibly niche target audience — small businesses. He and his content marketing team found that what appealed to this segment of readers wasn’t always industry-wide trends and innovations, but solutions to everyday challenges they faced daily. They started producing business operations strategies as well as management and leadership tips. The goal of Line//Shape//Space at the time was to support small businesses with actionable advice, rather than pitching Autodesk products. While their methods seemed unorthodox at first, the modest publication soon gathered a steady following and received critical acclaim. 

 

In light of Line//Shape//Space’s success, Autodesk made a strategic move to rebrand the online publication to suit an expanding audience and broadening charter. By 2016, the blog’s readers were no longer just very small businesses, but larger companies as well. The team had to expand the vision of the publication while accommodating a larger readership. Today, the content published on Redshift consistently seeks to establish and propagate Autodesk’s brand vision and mission. The material is relevant to readers at any stage of the customer journey, and even with people who may not be interested in Autodesk’s products, but are interested in the topics Redshift covers.

 

To that end, Redshift has been successful in starting conversations within the relevant industries and earning the recognition of fellow marketers. Redshift has been working strategically with media partners to reach new audiences and customers, both through social media amplification, content partnerships and content syndication. For example, Autodesk collaborated with the Harvard Business Review to create a white paper on generative design technology. Partnerships with publications like HBR help to bring essential conversations beyond the confines of Redshift's main industries.

 

With content published on Redshift, the metrics that are most important in defining success are newsletter subscriptions and attention earned.

 

Average Time on Page X Unique Pageviews = Total Time Read (i.e. Attention Earned)

 

“At the end of the day, attention metrics are the most important thing for us; we’ll use this attention earned as a proxy for influence. And this helps us know we’re expanding the reach and engagement of audiences that are important to Autodesk,” says DiMercurio.


What’s Next

Redshift plans to be more heavily involved in video production and distribution, having hired a video producer and editor. DiMercurio regards the move towards video as a step towards increasing engagement and attention. Redshift plans to continue some of their most iconic pieces, such as Inside My Design Mind, in video format.

  

DiMercurio’s Top Picks


Reverb

“They publish content that is so aligned with the way that I think as a musician. It’s useful, engaging content that drives me to want to buy things on their website.”


Content Marketing Institute

“They publish research and really valuable content that helps you think like a publisher, while achieving what you need as a business.”
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