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How to Create a Culture Where Content Marketing Thrives


When Dusty DiMercurio began his work at Autodesk, he had a bold vision of what was possible for the design-and-engineering software company. To win over allies, however, Dusty started small by launching a blog called Line//Shape//Space. Four years later, he’s grown that small pilot project into a multi-award-winning publication and is influencing the entire organization to think differently about content.

Leading by example, Dusty and his team are changing the culture of Autodesk, teaching how to tell stories that are so good their audience wants to engage with them. For all those qualities, Dusty is one of our 2016 Content Marketer of the Year finalists.

We asked Dusty to highlight how the culture at Autodesk has changed and what lessons he has learned from his years inside the organization.

Learn the ropes by starting small

Line//Shape//Space was among Autodesk’s first concerted efforts to connect with very small businesses (VSB). Autodesk’s business traditionally came from larger companies, so focusing on the small business market was a substantial shift.

The research into VSBs uncovered common needs and pain points among customers regardless of industry. First, Dusty learned many VSB owners had worked for larger companies and were familiar with the types of tools Autodesk offers. Paired with that finding, the research also showed that business owners’ greatest challenges were less about learning Autodesk software, and more about the struggles of running a business — which became the focus of Line//Shape//Space in those early days.

Dusty and his team set off to build a site specifically for this audience. They studied other successful content hubs targeting similar audiences, including American Express Open Forum. He says that understanding what others are doing is incredibly helpful as you build your own hub.

You can read about the ins and outs of how Line//Shape//Space was created in this recent profile from Chief Content Officer.

Help internal teams realize that marketing is fundamentally changing

Dusty’s team models what’s possible using content marketing, and in doing so helps the larger organization recognize the importance of great content as a means of pulling audiences in (while Dusty’s team runs Line//Shape//Space, the organization has industry-based content teams outside of Dusty’s purview). And Line//Shape//Space continues to inspire dispersed content teams to try something new, including new approaches to blogs and content hubs.

In fact, the Autodesk home page now leads with stories of customer success and achievements. Dusty describes this as an important shift of focus for the brand: “Our stories were more focused on customers’ struggles and successes, rather than the usual focus on products and solutions. In that way we were a catalyst to help drive cultural change … It wasn’t a forced change, but people saw the impact Line//Shape//Space was having and wanted to be part of it.”


Leverage formal, internal partnerships

Dusty’s team has a formal partnership with the Autodesk public relations team, which works to get the company earned media.

Line//Shape//Space often publishes bylines from executives at Autodesk that articulate the organization’s vision and point of view. These are written through a collaboration between the editorial team and subject-matter experts inside the company. The Line//Shape//Space editorial team shares these stories with the PR team which pitches them to media partners. The PR partnership results in a much wider reach than Line//Shape//Space could attain alone; the partnership has yielded bylines in Forbes, Huffington Post, and many others. What’s more, the PR team no longer relies on independent freelancers, as it can now leverage the editorial resources of the Line//Shape//Space team to grow earned-media wins.

Have a plan to get people to the next step

Line//Shape//Space has several goals:

  • Attract an audience
  • Serve up highly relevant, industry-specific content
  • Send readers ultimately to industry teams who can nurture the relationship

As with most content marketing efforts, the goal is not simply drawing in the audience but ultimately creating demand for a product or service using content. To that end, it’s critical that the content team work closely with sales and marketing to ensure a tightly aligned strategy.

The Line//Shape//Space team often partners with industry teams at Autodesk to figure out the most promising stories to tell. For instance, the editorial team may tag along as industry marketing creates a video about using an Autodesk product in a manufacturing setting. While the marketing team’s end-game is a product video, Dusty’s team uses the experience to write an article about a manufacturing success story — and includes a related-content link to the marketing video.

Connecting what Dusty’s team works on with industry-specific content and marketing efforts has been a key way to demonstrate the value of the Line//Shape//Space team. Though the industry teams are not reliant on Line//Shape//Space and drive traffic their own way, they gain from the Line//Shape//Space team’s journalistic skill set.

Focus on the right metrics

Choosing the right metrics and extracting meaning from them often separates good content marketers from great ones. Dusty’s efforts show how even the most sophisticated marketers focus on continuous learning and evolution. Among the notable actions Dusty and his team take to ensure that their efforts deliver results:

Focus on unique metrics for stages of the sales cycle: For pre-funnel content, the team wants to ensure that readers are spending more time onsite, soaking in knowledge and value from the resources on Line//Shape//Space. One useful metric is total-time read (TTR), or as Dusty puts it, “How much of people’s attention can I earn?” For readers who are more informed, and perhaps ready to consider an Autodesk product, the team aims to move them along the sales cycle toward more product/solution-centric content.

Analyze micro-movements: The Line//Shape//Space team uses a custom dashboard that examines the minutiae of how readers engage, going into far more depth than what Google can offer. The team looks at micro-mouse movements and scrolling, as well as whether someone opens a new tab while on the page. The dashboard also calculates how much time someone should be spending on the page (based on a simple WordPress plug-in) vs. how long they actually are spending. This is the completion rate.

Content Measurement Example

They also track some of the more traditional metrics such as:

  • Number of pieces published — they see a connection between that and site growth
  • Page views from organic traffic
  • Unique page views
  • Social actions — tweets, shares, up-votes
  • Sign-ups — number of customers who create an account

Help teams rethink how they engage via email

While marketers still use email marketing, each year it becomes more challenging to do it well. As such, Dusty’s team helped influence an initiative Autodesk marketers have implemented, which they refer to as “Earn the Right.” If an Autodesk marketer wants to email someone, she or he needs to have someone willingly follow the company or person. No longer can staff go to the marketing operations team and request an email list for a certain demographic to blast a promo.

“It’s a really interesting time because this initiative reflects the organization’s recognition that we need to engage differently with our customers; we need to earn the right to engage with them,” Dusty says. “Our email inboxes overflow with ‘offers’ on a daily basis; the only way to cut through that and stand out is to earn your audience’s attention.”

The result? People are thinking more carefully about creating great content that the audience really wants to consume. Through these efforts Autodesk marketing teams are focused on generating content that audiences actually want.

Train HR about the type of talent you need

Publishing so much great content, Autodesk is often looking to expand its marketing footprint with new hires — yet to stay effective, HR needs to understand the type of person who will succeed in the organization. To ensure a good fit, Dusty and his team helped create an outline of what the modern marketer looks like, which is a combination of right- and left-brain skills and competencies. Autodesk created a model called CAA (Content, Analytics, Automation) to coach hiring managers about the kind of people the marketing team seeks. These are the three attributes of CAA:

  • Content: First and foremost, the hires need to know how to tell great stories.
  • Analytics: New hires need to understand how to measure what they are publishing so they can refine what stories they are telling based on what they’re learning.
  • Automation: Marketers often think automation equals marketing automation, but this skill is broader. Dusty looks for people who understand the latest tool sets at marketers’ disposal to engage customers in new ways at scale. This includes tracking customer’s digital body language (explained in the “metrics” section above).

Recognize there is no substitute for quality

The editors and writers for Line//Shape//Space are all journalists — individuals trained in the complexities of telling great stories. Not only is high-quality writing important to attract and retain an audience, it’s also one of the reasons senior executives support the platform. Many of the senior executives with bylines on Line//Shape//Space collaborate because they know the site has high editorial expectations. Explains Dusty, “they wouldn’t want to be featured on it if it didn’t frame their vision in the right light.”

Dusty is also quick to explain that Autodesk has storytelling as part of its DNA because it sells tools that help others tell their own stories. For instance, Autodesk has tools to help architects create a project proposal or a video-game company create its story in a visual way.

As such, senior executives understand the importance of storytelling, which has helped with buy-in.

“At Autodesk, we recognize how important storytelling is. We’re self-reflective and think about the ways we want to be engaged. It’s an important part of the evolving ethos of Autodesk and our communication style. I call it karmic marketing: Engage people in the way you want to be engaged with … kinda like the golden rule of new marketing.”

Karmic marketing: engage people in the way you want to be engaged with says @dustycd #cmworld Share on X

Looking forward

Dusty’s team recently moved over to digital marketing and e-commerce — meaning that instead of focusing exclusively on Line//Shape//Space, the team is now responsible for all content published on With a much larger scope of work, Dusty now needs an integrated content strategy — one that connects the dots across everything Autodesk is doing.

“It’s a continued revolution,” Dusty says.

Autodesk’s Dusty DiMercurio is a finalist for 2016 Content Marketer of the Year, which will be announced live at Content Marketing World Sept. 6-9. Register today to be there in person and to grow your content marketing skills. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ardath Albee who scoured the planet looking for the best of the best content marketers. She was instrumental in helping us find our 2016 Content Marketer of the Year finalists. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute