Autodesk Boosts Response With E-mail Personalization

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Software designer Autodesk resuscitated flagging response rates to its direct marketing efforts by engaging an e-mail marketing system that automatically crafts personalized communications to prospects.


By switching to personalized and permission-based e-mail marketing, Autodesk increased response rates while spending 10 times less per outbound message than the company had spent on direct mail, said Bryan St. Amant, Autodesk group manager of channel and industry marketing. Return on investment for e-mail campaigns ranged from 80 percent to 100 percent better than the average returns the company had been achieving through direct mail.


The company currently is sending monthly e-mail campaigns to its prospect list, dropping about 20 mailings a month, St. Amant said. Autodesk also plans to expand its use of e-mail marketing by integrating it with telemarketing, using e-mails to set up sales calls to prospects in advance.


The San Rafael, CA, firm, which makes the design software AutoCAD widely used by architects and engineers, employed an e-mail marketing system by MarketFirst after direct mail efforts began to flag in 1999. Autodesk targets an audience "in the low millions" through a mixture of direct mail, live demonstrations, trade shows, product-focused ads and e-mail, St. Amant said.


The company's direct mail response rates, which had hovered around 5 percent, fell to 2 percent without explanation. Tweaking the company's offers did not help, St. Amant said.


"I wish I could give some insight [as to why]," St. Amant said. "It sure was frustrating."


Last year, the company began aggressively seeking direct marketing opportunities online, St. Amant said. After testing technologies in early 2000, Autodesk chose MarketFirst's technology, which manages e-mail campaigns by tailoring outbound e-mail according to data submitted by consumers to a database.


Depending on how the prospect responds to the initial e-mail, further e-mails are sent based on a flowchart and templates determined by the client, said Peter Tierney, chairman and president of MarketFirst, Mountain View, CA. The goal is to guide the prospect gradually through a series of e-mails to the ultimate steps of giving an offer and completing a sale.


In June 2000, Autodesk launched its first e-mail effort with MarketFirst, dropping e-mails announcing an impending new product to approximately 300,000 prospects. Links in the e-mail led prospects to a profile screen, where they were asked to input information such as their industry, fields of interest and preferred medium of contact. About 9 percent responded.


"When you ask customers what information they're interested in, guess what, they're much more responsive to the information you send," St. Amant said. "In fact, they like it."


Autodesk followed up on its initial campaign with another effort aimed at signing up prospects for a series of fall 2000 online seminars. The company built a list of 40,000 prospects who had opted to receive marketing communications from the company.


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