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Autodesk boosts interest in service with trade show direct marketing campaign

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How Autodesk heightened awareness of its exclusive subscription service

Objective: To augment awareness, use and annual renewals of an added-benefits service
Strategy: To employ direct marketing at a key users' conference, combined with a design-oriented raffle
Results: Renewals and use of special Web site pages increased

Direct marketing campaigns exist for a variety of purposes, and take any number of shapes. Autodesk Inc., the producer of software for design and construction professionals, recently used a direct-marketing outreach to its own customers during its most important annual user conference, to bolster customer loyalty and spread the word about the company's premium subscription service.

“Autodesk University, a four-day learning experience, is our largest customer conference,” said Sarah O'Rourke, senior manager-global subscription marketing at Autodesk.

“Special events for our subscription customers are part of the conference, to give them more details about the value of the service,” she said. “But we wanted something new and different this time, a red carpet experience as well as a way to elicit discussion among non-subscribers.”

Autodesk's subscription-service customers are valuable to the company. For an annual fee they have access to a variety of services not available to regular purchasers of product licenses, such as a “flexible license” feature that allows them to install the software at the office and at home, special online tutorials and training, access to a help desk, and automatic version upgrades.

Subscribers also are considered the company's most loyal customers, but the service does require renewals to keep the ball rolling. O'Rourke's goal at Autodesk University, in December 2008 in Las Vegas, was to make sure as many of these folks as possible were aware of the value associated with the service.

“At this event, there are a lot of things vying for attendees' attention in the exhibit hall,” said Amy Farrell, account director at Goodman Marketing Partners, San Rafael, Calif., who worked with Autodesk in the development of the campaign.

“We really wanted to single out the subscription service, and make it an Autodesk University destination within the show,” Farrell said.

A special destination
On check-in, subscriber customers were presented with easily identifiable show-floor badges that offered on the flip side a rundown of special events available only to them. A special packet also was created that included a t-shirt emblazoned with the motto “Experts Subscribe.” And an 11x17-inch bifold brochure elaborated on the Autodesk University special events available only to subscribers.

Meanwhile, that old trade show standby, the raffle, was employed as a booth-traffic booster, but this time with a creative twist: Subscriber attendees were invited to visit the subscription-service booth to pick up a “free idea pad.” On that pad, in turn, they were prompted to come up with fanciful designs that might be converted into an actual 2-gigabyte USB Flash drive.

And the top 12 winning designs, as chosen by booth visitors themselves each day, actually were turned into Flash drives, with limited manufacture runs, followed by delivery to the appropriate winners.

The favorite designs ranged from a human thumb (a natural, given the device's common appellation, “thumb drive”), to a ruler, a tiny rock-'n'-roll style guitar and a space ship. The tip of a tiny snow ski—another winning design—separated to reveal its own USB connector, and the head of a leaping dolphin likewise was removable to reveal the business end of the storage device.

“Since AutoCAD is our base platform, we thought about how to make design a part of the drawing,” O'Rourke said. “It was all about getting back to the core competencies of Autodesk, to stimulate, visualize and use the innovation of our products.”

Naturally, not everything went as smoothly as the planners hoped.

“The Flash-drive manufacturer in China sent us some prototypes during the proofing stages, and we were thankful they did,” said Farrell. “For example, the winning ‘thumb' design was supposed to look like a real thumb, but it came back looking like a cartoon thumb, like something you'd see in an anime movie.”

O'Rourke said the overall promotion heightened awareness of the subscription service at the show.

“We did see an uptick in renewals,” O'Rourke said, “and right after the event there was a 10% increase in log-ins to the Subscription Center portion of our Web site, which is available only to subscribers.

“But for us, the program was more about making people continually aware of the subscription program,” she said. “Those customers who are aware of and use the benefits are more likely to renew year over year.”

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