Chris Bradshaw: The end of top-down decision making

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Chris Bradshaw, Senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Autodesk

Chris Bradshaw,
Senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Autodesk

Autodesk software is ubiquitous in the design world, but some people may be unfamiliar with the business. Can you give a brief description of the company and its customers?

The thing that all of our customers have in common is that they’re seeking to make or create something—whether it’s a film or a game or a building or a car. Before you create something, you have to imagine it and design it. We provide the tools that facilitate that imagination and design process, and then make the creation process easier. Our software helps customers simulate and analyze and understand how their thing is going to behave in a real-world environment— and we hope that helps them to optimize or create the best possible design.

How is marketing changing at the company?

There’s a very profound change happening in our industry. As a society, we’re moving away from laptops to more mobile devices, and I think that’s going to continue. The implications for B2B companies are pretty enormous. Our whole sales and marketing process is oriented around top-down decision making. That makes us and every other established company vulnerable. Somebody is coming to our markets without the burden of legacy business models or millions of users on legacy devices. How will this affect IT departments? Embedded inside of that question, from a marketing standpoint, is another question: Who am I targeting now? How do I influence those people? It used to be that if I was reaching the CEO, the vice president of IT and the vice president of engineering, I’d be okay. So I’d have white papers, demo downloads and all this traditional stuff to go after them. But I don’t know that any of that stuff works in this other environment. I need a completely different set of tools to arm our sales force. In some ways it’s made my job much more difficult.

Your users are probably exercising greater control over what goes on their devices, too. Does this mean you have to communicate more like a consumer-oriented company?

We’ve been a B2B company for 30 years, but it’s really getting hard to separate B2B and B2C marketing. In the last two years we’ve come to understand how individuals are making their own decisions about what they put on their devices, so it’s become much more important to have a connection with the individual. The role of the IT guys is changing. They’re becoming purveyors of the network and security, while the applications and the devices are becoming more a matter of employee choice. This trend is already clear with startups and I think it’s going to carry over into the general workforce. I imagine a day where there’ll be no standard machine at a place like Autodesk. You’ll just come in with whatever device you want and you’ll expect a connection and security and the apps you choose. This may not be true in departments like finance, but for a lot of what we’re focused on it’s extremely important to pay attention to how individuals make decisions.

You’ve also launched products like SketchBook and Homestyler for the do-it-yourself crowd that are supported at least in part by advertising? How is that working and what are you learning?

These are really more about capturing customers and prospects during the imagining phase of design. Homestyler, for example, allows you to draw out a kitchen remodel in 3D and creates a photorealistic rendering on the Web. The user can put a Viking range next to a Kohler sink and have a list of things to go buy at Home Depot. So this is a different type of user than we’ve traditionally targeted. The advertising is relatively new, in the last two years or so. But even if I don’t make any money on advertising, I can justify it from the standpoint of creating a positive brand impression with someone who might be a future customer or a future influencer for our core products. One of the things I learned early on is that I can make you aware of Autodesk, but if I don’t attach meaning you won’t remember and you won’t tell anybody about it. It’s not enough for you to say, “Yes, I’ve heard of Autodesk.” If you don’t have an opinion or you’re not going to say in the next sentence, “They have really cool software,” then I haven’t really done my job. I’ve created awareness, but I haven’t created any equity.

Do you try to measure the results of these efforts?

We’re certainly measuring. In this electronic world, we know exactly how many blogs and tweets and re-tweets are driving interest and downloads. Steve Jobs demonstrated Sketchbook in the keynote when he unveiled the iPad. You can absolutely see the effect that something like that has both on downloads and on interest in all other Autodesk-branded things. All boats rose with that event. So we measure and we try to position ourselves at the center of these kinds of huge events. What are those events? We think a lot about that now. It used to be tradeshows. But at least in our industry, it doesn’t look like it’s tradeshows so much anymore. It’s not even virtual tradeshows. So we’re asking what are things that we can do or can be involved in that might be like that?

Have you come to any conclusions?

I’ll give you a concrete example. We have something called Autodesk University in Las Vegas. It’s a weeklong conference with about 1,000 classes all on Autodesk software. The concept is really about bringing people together and we do lots of things to allow them to connect socially. We’ve had as many as 9,000 people come to Las Vegas and another 35,000 participate virtually.

If so many people are watching online, why have a physical presence at all?

We’re spending millions of dollars primarily on 9,000 people. We could hold the entire thing virtually, reduce our cost dramatically and probably still reach tens of thousands of people without the physical event. And yet I don’t think the virtual event or the sessions after would have nearly the same weight. We’ve done virtual events where, even if you get a lot of people, it doesn’t have the same gravity. I can’t completely explain it. Live events have a different energy. This is not to take away from the power of social media or Facebook or anything like that. But I think there’s something about the power of physically being across from somebody that’s hard-wired in people—most people—and having the live event makes the virtual part of it more exciting. This is true of things like TED and even the Apple keynotes. But an Apple keynote doesn’t happen every day, which is why listening and monitoring activity and interest is so critical to knowing who and what is important. I think we’re at the early stages of trying to understand these things.

There’s a gathering space in downtown San Francisco called The Autodesk Gallery that features an impressive array of projects designed with the company’s software. It really feels like a museum. How is this space important for your company?

One of the things that’s always been a challenge for Autodesk is explaining the value that our fairly technical and complex software provides to people who aren’t architects, engineers, filmmakers or game makers. So the goal of the gallery is to help people understand what customers do with our software. We have everything from cars to guitars to watches, prosthetics and 3D printing machines. Every display has some kind of physical or interactive component, so it’s not just about looking at a video. A lot of people take design for granted because they don’t totally understand it. Most people appreciate design only when it’s missing.

But the gallery serves primarily as a meeting space. So you’re communicating both to customers and to the general public?

One target is definitely the existing customer who comes in and realizes, “Oh my goodness there’s another connection point that we could be making with Autodesk.” A second group is kids. The gallery is open to the public on Wednesdays. We also arrange school tours to get kids thinking about design and ideation. Every exhibit has a physical presence. We have an exhibit on the new span of the Bay Bridge. Obviously, you can’t put a real bridge inside a building, but we have a cross-section of one of the actual cables. From Avatar, we have a camera that allows you to see how the filming and creation process works. There’s a huge LEGO dinosaur and every kid can add a LEGO to it. It’s really about helping them understand about that process of creating. It’s helping them realize that making a fourth-grade model of a cathedral is not that different from making the Shanghai Tower. It’s a different scale, but the same principles are involved. So they’re getting exposed to how design works and that’s really important. If you can get kids thinking about design, that’s X percent of the battle. Then you can sell into a world where people actually appreciate design.

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The Autodesk Gallery

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