Deferred Maintenance

This news reported by College Planning and Management.

Less money being allocated for maintaining facilities increases workloads, safety concerns, and liability. Colleges and universities across the country are also feeling the pinch; the University of Louisiana at Monroe eliminated 29 maintenance and repair positions at the end of their fiscal year because of continuing state budget cuts. The University System of Georgia has been asked to submit 4, 6, and 8 percent budget reduction plans for the 2011 fiscal year. According to university officials the general repair and operating status of the buildings themselves will begin to deteriorate. If the cuts happen there will be a very visible impact on the way the campus looks and operates.
If this trend continues, I foresee two opportunities for building product manufacturers:
  1. Institutions are already able to look at life cycle costing when evaluating construction materials. The decline in maintenance resources may shift the calculus in favor of even more durable products that offer further maintenance economies.
  2. Deferred maintenance invariably ends up creating bigger problems such as the need for roof or equipment replacement.
  3. As the universities reduce their staff, they will be outsourcing more of their maintenance requirements, so manufacturers will have the opportunity to get service contracts.

Make sure your marketing and sales teams are alert to opportunities.


Another Project Wins an Award

We are excited to announce that our Ceilings Plus Idea Pad has received another award!

The Idea Pad won the 2010 Certificate of Merit for Internal Communication Pieces in the Printing Industries of America Awards.

The Idea Pad is the multi page wire-o bound book with the metal sheet and magnets on the right side of this image.


Signs of Change: Sony Retires the Walkman

Please remove your headphones and join me in a moment of Volume Down to mark the passing of the cassette tape-playing Walkman. While the Walkman was officially ejected from Sony's line on October 25th, the stop button was pressed on production back in April of this year.

What was most striking to me about this announcement was that I didn't even realize the cassette-based Walkman was even still in production! Once I got my first CD player, the cassette collection I had spent so much time building quickly started gathering dust, and I can probably count the number of music CDs I have purchased in the past decade on both hands. The only cassette player I still own is in my car; I only ever use it to plug in my iPod adapter. 

Walkman once defined the category now ruled by iPod. Digital music aficionados highlight the benefit of "infinite adaptability" of digital music, meaning that if (when) MP3 is dethroned as the file of choice, converting your entire music library will be a relatively  simple software solution, as opposed to the cost and effort of replacing cassettes with CDs. There is a certain truth to that, but also a certain naivete; CDs were also heralded as the ultimate eternal medium, but now laptops are being sold without any optical drives at all!

What lesson does this teach building product marketers? 

Do not confuse the medium of your sales literature with its content or its structure. We are seeing the death throes of the architectural binder, and the packed-with-literature CD and even flash drive will eventually follow. The best philosophy now is flexibility. Everything in your binder or on your CD should also be available on your webpage, ideally as text and graphics as well as PDF, and as new formats become widely used consider the best way to convert your documents to reach these new users while not abandoning the existing ones.

This is not a perfect solution, nor is it intended to be. It is more of a mindset; change will occur, and to maximize return on the investment you should be making in your sales literature, your media choices need to change too. 


Lunch Training Session Verbiage

Apparently you can no longer use the phrase "Lunch N Learn," as a training company has trademarked the term. Their trademark also extends to the phrase "lunch and learn."

Instead of using this term for lunchtime presentations, here are a few of the other terms people came up with for lunch learning sessions:

"Dine and Discover"

"Sales and Sustenance"

"Luncheon Learn" (although this might be too similar sounding to the trademarked term -- but I really like it!)

Read the rest of the article here.


Art Direction for a Photo Shoot

Getting good architectural photography showing our clients' products is always a challenge. Budget constraints frequently make it necessary for us to use images that were originally shot by or for the building's architect or owner; the photos may showcase the beauty of a building or room, but seldom provide the accent on our client's product.

Even when we get to hire a photographer to shoot a project, our clients can seldom afford to send someone from our project team to the jobsite. We have to try to communicate with a freelance photographer in words and sketches so he or she understands the "spirit" of the client's products and the types of details to emphasize.

On the other hand, we occasionally get to provide art direction for a photo shoot. For example, we recently


Finding Specs Without the Plan Room

To sell a product line that I recently began distributing, I must get it written into specifications. I am used to finding jobs to bid by checking the plan room and staying in touch with the contractors I serve. But these methods don’t identify projects still in the design or spec stage. How should I prospect for architect/engineer work?—M. T. Humphrey, distributor

Successful prospecting depends on understanding your strategy and on having a good plan. Answer the following questions to determine whether it makes sense to depart from your traditional business to call on specifiers:

  • What is your competition? If other products are established in your market, success at the specifier level will be difficult unless your product offers significantly greater value.
  • Does your contract with the product manufacturer assure that you will be able to keep the line after you have developed its market?
  • Will specifiers take an interest in and be willing to make a commitment to your product? Do some market research before you launch an all-out initiative. This can be as informal as making a trial presentation to several dozen prospects and asking for feedback. Or you can use a marketing consultant to conduct an independent, objective survey or focus group.
  • Do you have the time, talent, and money to support the new venture?
  • Will calling on specifiers strategically benefit your other product lines?


Specifier Survey

Results from a survey of construction specifiers, published by CSPECS this past February, provides insight to guide manufacturers that want their products used by construction specifiers. My comments are interspersed among quotes from the research report:

The survey seeks to understand what Specifiers do to get information and how effective the retrieval and use of that information is.
Note that the study was conducted among self-identified specification writers. Many product decisions are made by designers or other members of a project team. Keep this in mind when assessing how this study impacts your market approach.
Specifiers have a strong sense of time wasted because of the inefficiencies inherent in the current information retrieval process. In general, Specifiers felt that wasted time amounted to roughly 20% of their research time. 


CSI Product Representation Practice Group 10/25

Product Representation Practice Group - “How well do you CURRENTLY connect with design professionals?”

Join us for a Webinar on October 25 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
“How well do you CURRENTLY connect with design professionals?” - Best practices for product reps

If you’ve followed the recent dialogue on CSINet with comments from both industry and professional members on “How should building material representatives stay in touch with architects and specifiers?”, then you’ll love this interactive session with more tips based on feedback from architects.  Please join us and plan to “call in” to be part of this lively discussion group.


Concrete Decor Magazine's Decorative Concrete Training Guide

Concrete Decor magazine's upcoming November/December issue will include its annual guide to our industry's most important resource - training. If education is a crucial part of what your company does, visit their site for more information.


Classical Branding

I have a theory that every important concept can be explained through sword fighting. When I started working in this industry I was able to understand how new building products worked by comparing them to what I know about sword construction, and most swordplay technique can be understood from a marketing perspective as "advanced compliance gaining strategies". So I was very happy when I realized this weekend that fencing could help explain another aspect of marketing: logo design.


Construction evolving around high-tech: Emerging technologies will spur new types of buildings—and construction marketers must develop new alliances

As part of long-range corporate planning, I’m looking at how high-tech information technologies such as computers, digital communications and the Internet will affect the construction industry. What do you foresee during the next decade? C.P., vice president

The effect of new technologies on the construction industry will be felt in both the way the industry works and the types of projects it undertakes. The information highway itself will create many construction jobs as a new infrastructure is built. Every home and office will need fiber- optic cables, necessitating the rewiring of houses, office buildings and public structures. But, despite information highway hype, it is not an unprecedented change, just the latest wave in an ocean of technology.

For example, an old house I once remodeled had been rewired every 20 years. Its original gas lighting had been replaced first by knob-and-tube wire, then by flexible armored cable, which I replaced with grounded wiring in rigid conduit. But that was 17 years ago, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the current owner rewires soon for “smart-house” appliances.

Smart buildings open doors

For most of the 20th century, architectural theorists used imagery from the Industrial Revolution to describe buildings as “machines for living.” The model for the new century seems to be buildings as information systems, structures with nervous systems to monitor building status, provide feedback and control building functions.


Moving Beyond the Constraints of the Printed Page

Don't get me wrong, I still love reading from the printed page. There's something about the feel, the smell, the sound of turning page after page, engaging all my senses in the experience, not just processing text. I love that I can absorb the page in many different ways, viewing it as a whole or focusing on a specific section without having to go through a complex set of view-change commands, scroll bars, and magnifying glasses with small plus or minus signs. In my home life, the only time I prefer digital text is for research, where the ability to search, bookmark, copy & paste, and email far outweighs the experience of sensory deprivation.

That said, I was very excited to learn about Amazon's new program, offering novellas on Kindle. Not just because I am a long-time fan of "short stories", as most novellas are packaged nowadays, and serial fiction, but because it represents a deep understanding that e-books, and digital media in general, are more than just the online version of printed material. 


Critical Mass: Mobile Barcode Scanning Up 700%

ScanLife recently released a Mobile Barcode Trend Report showing a 700% increase in mobile barcode usage since January 2010. This includes both 2D (QR Codes) and 1D (UPC codes), which suggests that beyond following links from ads and marketing literature, people are using the technology to research products they are about to buy, while holding it in their hands.

This tells me that the technology has reached a critical mass; enough people are now using it, or will be soon, that it is now valuable for your company to get started. Most of the products scanned are consumer products, but as I've said about social media in general, as people get used to using the technology at home they will start looking to use it at work.


CSI Product Representative Academy (PRA)

The CSI Academies are your chance to learn the construction industry skills that can improve your performance.
Become a product representative who understands more than the product – know where and how you fit into the construction process, and become a useful resource the design team will call on again and again. We’ll teach you best practices for presenting products and supporting the design and construction teams. Manufacturers will tell you what you need to know about their products – we’ll give you the skills to present that information and succeed in the commercial construction community.

*Reposted from the following site.*


Hold a design competition to boost your product’s visibility

Why are design competitions so common in the building industry? What advantages can a building product manufacturer gain from sponsoring a competition? How should I go about planning one?—W.M.L., advertising manager

Like athletes and actors, designers and builders are performing artists who long for the approval of their audience. Design competitions provide one of the construction industry’s few opportunities to take a bow.

The “award-winning” cachet helps developers lease space, enhances the portfolios of contractors and craftsmen, reassures building owners that they received a good value, and lets architects explore new artistic territory while advancing their careers.


FTC Revisions to Green Guides

New revisions to the FTC "Green Guides" were proposed yesterday. According to the FTC website:

The Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly known as the Green Guides, to help marketers avoid making environmental claims that are unfair or deceptive...The Green Guides outline general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims and then provide guidance on specific green claims...
 A summary of the proposed changes can be found here. It is worth a read, but I do not see any major substantial changes forthcoming. In general it follows the trend to increased transparency, backing claims with hard data, avoiding universal claims of "eco-friendliness" in favor of more specific descriptions, and using certifications that state the basis for the certification.


Social Media and the Paradox of Choice

On the way to work this morning I was listening to a 2008 episode of Radio Lab about choice. The lead story had Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, discussing that for most people decision-making capability drops sharply when they are confronted by more than seven options. Listening to him as I walked, I realized this could also explain one of the major obstacles to social media adoption: there are too many channels for businesses to make effective decisions about which to use. And if there are too many options for businesses, what is that doing to our customers?

The answer is not to limit choice, but to sharpen focus.


USGBC: Do Not Use "GA" for LEED Green Associate

According to an email from the USGBC Education Provider Network today:

On October 1st, 2010 All USGBC Education Providers must permanently cease to use the term “GA” when referencing USGBC’s LEED Green Associate exam and/or credential in any printed manner or official reference to the exam or credential. The correct terminology is “LEED Green Associate exam” and “LEED Green Associate credential.” These names may not be shortened to “GA,” as this moniker is trademarked by Green Advantage, Inc. [Emphasis added]
I suspect we might see a name change for this credential, as "LEED Green Associate Credential" is quite a mouthful and doesn't fit well on a business card. For now, though, if anyone on your team has or is pursuing this credential, check all your literature, websites, LinkedIn profiles, etc. to be sure you are using the correct terminology.

This is also a good reminder to always be very diligent in your research when naming new products or companies, or developing new corporate language. It is not fun to invest all the time and effort in launching a new name only to have it benefit another company, plus convincing the customers that just adopted the new term to change again. This happened to us last year when we discovered the name we had been using for 25 years for our popular and highly-recognized sales training program had been trademarked by another company 27 years ago.

Do the research up front; save yourself the headache later.


Language Matters

Bad writing is a turn-off to potential customers. An example of very bad writing is in the following message that came in an e-mail from a building product promotion company:

Understanding Quartz Surfacing Material
"Provides 1 AIA/CES HSW LU

This course will better inform the designer on quartz, the history and its relationship with quartz surfacing materials. Quartz has played a unique role in the history of quartz surfacing materials. Its unique properties have made it into an exceptional material in the building industry. This course will help you gain a general understanding of quartz the unique manufacturing process of Quartz surfacing materials. You will also gain insight on the differences between solid surfaces, stone surfaces and quartz surfaces. 
This text cries out for a copy editor.  For example:

The first sentence mentions the relationship of quartz to the history of quartz surfacing. So does the second sentence.  The statement that "Quartz has played a unique role in the history of quartz surfacing materials." is outrageously obvious.

The word "unique" is abused by being used three times in this short paragraph, diminishing the word's impact.

The fourth sentence would benefit from a conjunction so that it would read: "This course will help you gain a general understanding of quartz AND the unique manufacturing process of Quartz surfacing materials."

There are other errors, too. See if you can identify them.

If you are not a skilled writer, find an editor to check your work before sending it out.


West Coast Green - a green-tech show

Last week, a friend convinced me to attend show that's new for me: West Coast Green. In its fourth year, it emphasizes "green innovation" in its literature. When I first arrived, I wasn't sure it would be a good show for me, nor for the exhibitors I know best, manufacturers of traditional building products with their green essentials in place. But this show appealed to the building science and technology geek in me, and for the right exhibitor it looks like a great show.


What makes these products so special?: The best new building products ignore the rules, exploit regulations, or have a manufacturer who dares to say “What if … ”

An architect recently told me about his experience trying to remodel a building he had designed 10 years earlier. The owner, satisfied with the building’s performance, now wanted to use the same specifications for an addition. To the architect’s dismay, however, half of the building products used just a decade earlier were no longer available. Other products were still available, but were no longer the best or most economical materials. This story illustrates the constant change in the building products industry. Driven by new technology, intense competition, and changing market conditions, manufacturers are constantly developing and improving products. To celebrate this parade of progress, we are highlighting a handful of the best new building products of the past year or so. I have selected products that address a cross-section of contemporary marketing concerns. Some represent trends that will shape the industry’s future. Others are useful reminders of marketing fundamentals. All, I hope, will stimulate you to take a fresh look at your own products and markets.

Old wine, new bottles
Product, price, place, packaging, and promotion are the five P’s of marketing. Of these, packaging is probably the most overlooked by the building products industry.

Recent innovations in concrete admixtures, however, demonstrate the marketing importance of packaging. Several companies have introduced packages that dissolve when tossed into concrete mixers. These portion-controlled units are easier to use because they do not require opening, measuring, or pouring. Some manufacturers even claim that their products disperse more rapidly and uniformly because they release materials in the center of the mixer rather than on top of the batch materials. Playing upon environmental concerns, manufacturers also advertise that the new packaging reduces waste-disposal costs.

Mix-Ready bags by Davis Colors, containing powdered pigments for integrally colored concrete, are typical of this new packaging. The bags are made of special papers and adhesives that get soggy and disintegrate without affecting the concrete mix. Ready mix producers like the packaging because it is cleaner to handle and eliminates the colored dust created when pouring pigments.

Attractive graphics on the bags reinforce product identity and carry Davis Colors’ promotional campaign right into the customer’s shop. The bags differentiate the product from other dry pigments, and reduce the competitive threat from liquid pigment systems that also offer clean handling.

Through the wired glass

The pervasive influence of building codes on the construction industry spurs product development and creates marketing opportunities. This was apparent when the Americans with Disabilities Act became law recently, and also several years ago when the ACI530.1 masonry engineering code requirements were issued. But sometimes marketing opportunities go untapped for years before they are exploited.

Codes governing glass doors are a good example. These codes require glass in doors to be safety-glazed so it will not shatter when broken. They also require glass in fire doors to be fire-resistant. But, until recently, no product on the market satisfied both codes. For decades, firereinforced glass, considered unattractive by many designers, was used because it was the only practical fireresistant glass on the market. But it did not meet the safety-glazing requirement.

Several recently introduced products are both safety-glazed and fireresistant. Among them are a Japanese ceramic and a European composite panel filled with a clear fire-resistant gel, but they are expensive. Also, the ceramic lacks the clarity of conventional glass, and the composite is thick and heavy.


5 Tips for Branding Your RSS Feed

I had a disturbing realization last night: I no longer know where most of the blog posts I read come from. As readers of this site will know, I am a huge fan of RSS feeds. I think RSS readers are one of the true heroes of the internet, and I have spent a lot of time customizing the feeds I get, frequency of updates, and display order so I get most of my news now in a very personalized, very useful format.

As I realized last night, it's possible I may have been too successful in setting my reader up. My realization was prompted by my wife mentioning a post I sent her from a particular blog. I remembered the post and I remembered sending it to her, but I had no idea I had read that blog that day. I read something and liked it enough to share it, and didn't know who wrote it.

Thinking about what had happened, I realized the problem was a lack of branding. Most of the feeds display within the reader, so I rarely visit an external site, and stripped of all the original website's branding. So how can you keep company branding in a post that will be stripped down to plain text? Here are five tips:

1. Continue offering full-text posts. Many blogs solve the problem by providing just the title and maybe a teaser via RSS feed, forcing you to visit their site for the body of the post. For sites that are ad-supported or have server limitations (as ours currently does) this makes sense. For most sites, though, I recommend against doing this. Posts have a much higher read-rate when readers do not need to go to another website, especially mobile users.

2. Include a distinctive signature. This is probably the easiest fix. Many successful bloggers have developed a distinctive sign-off line, signature, or logo (it has to be in the body of the post) that gets used at the bottom of every post. If I enjoyed a post enough to read all the way through it, I know who wrote it.

3. Use branded language. Got a particular turn of phrase you like? A good company slogan? Use them. More importantly, be consistent in the way you discuss your company and products. Do you sell "bricks" or "masonry"? Do you use post-industrial or pre-consumer recycled content? Hopefully you are already doing this in your marketing literature - if not, send me an email - and it's important to continue across your entire online presence.

4. Format post titles. I always know when I am reading one of the Gizmodo blogs because the posts show up like this recent post from Lifehacker: The Best Photography Apps for Your Android [Android]. The bracket tag at the end of the post sometimes gets silly, but it is a consistent element that I have learned to recognize.

5. Link to other pages on your site. When possible, link to previous posts or other resources on your website that pertain to the topic you are discussing. ReadWriteWeb is very good at this. Even ignoring any SEO benefits (see what I did there?) the links might provide, they serve a valuable purpose because when I click on one, it creates one of two effects: either I realize I am reading one of your posts, or I assume you are enough of an expert that some other blog is linking to your site. Either result is beneficial to you. Don't overdo it though; that gets tacky.

Most people probably do not subscribe to so many RSS feeds - yet - that individual blogs get lost in the tide. The people that do, though, are some of your biggest assets in a social media campaign. It is vital that they can identify the posts that come from you.


Google's New Image Format: WebP

Last night, Google released a new image format: WebP. Designed to compete with JPEG, they are claiming approximately 40% reduction in file size without, according to the post, "perceptibly compromising visual quality". Since images still make up almost two-thirds of web traffic, this is potentially a major step towards speeding up the web.

Here's a side-by-side from their comparison image gallery:

Michael Chusid has been a consultant to over 100 successful organizations in the building products industry. He serves an international clientele from offices in Los Angeles, California.
- Marketing Strategy, Start-Up, Repositioning
- Product Development, Testing, Approvals
- Advertising, Public Relations, Online Media
- Promotion, Continuing Education, Trade Shows
- Sales & Technical Literature, Guide Specifications

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