Green Advantage: Coming to a Job Site Near You

Green Advantage (GA) is filling one of the missing links in sustainable construction. No matter how carefully a project is designed, environmental goals may be compromised if construction crews do not understand principles of sustainability nor how to best manage a jobsite to protect the environment.

To meet this challenge, Green Advantage offers a personnel certification program by which a builder can demonstrate competency in these areas. Chusid Associates is providing marketing and technical support to the organization.

While the Green Advantage program has been gaining adherents since its launch in 1998, I believe it will soon gain critical mass and become part of the construction mainstream. One reason for this optimism is that USGBC has determined that a LEED Innovation Credit can be earned if 30 percent of a project's field supervisory personnel are Green Advantage Certified Practitioners. The Green Advantage Field Personnel Standard can also be embraced by building owners, designers, and contractors that are not pursuing LEED certification.

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100 Year Concrete Study

A 100-year scientific study of the properties of concrete recently concluded at the University of Wisconsin.  (http://www.ncptt.nps.gov/2010/university-concludes-100-year-concrete-study) The project was begun by a visionary professor of mechanics who understood the value longterm scientific research on a material that was, then, just beginning to gain the prominence it now holds in the world of construction.

Throughout most of the 20th century, while concrete was becoming the most widely used construction material on the planet, samples cast by Prof. Owen Withey and his students in 1910, 1923, and 1937 were aging in various storage conditions, accumulating valuable information about the nature of 1910 concrete and the nature of aging concrete.  About 2500 cylinders were cast in all.  Cylinders were tested at 20 years and again at 50 years, and results published.  100-year tests were recently done on the 1910 samples, and results will be published, although they have not been yet.

This study underscores the importance, when marketing construction products, of thinking in the long term and investing in it.  Endurance is one of the primary values of the built environment.  And slow change is one of the hallmarks of the construction industry.

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Pick up your sales to contractors

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid published 14 years ago. There have been dramatic changes during the intervening years. Now, many contractors are as connected in the field as they are in the office, thanks to mobile computing and wi-fi.


Technology, timing, and training are the keys to reaching busy contractors

Many of our customers are small contractors. They spend their days out on job sites or running around town in their pickup trucks. Because they are rarely in their offices, it's very difficult to make sales calls. Can you suggest ways to reach contractors like these? - G.C., marketing vice president

As you have discovered, the key members of contractors' staffs are usually out in the field, picking up materials, visiting plan rooms, and running jobs. Few small contractors keep regular office hours.

Technology can offer solutions. The growing use of cellular phones has made it possible to locate contractors in the field or in their truck cabs. Portable computers with fax modems are another means to reach contractors on the go.

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The Fifth "C" of Technical Literature

Marketing copy writers love literary flourishes -- a catchy headline, prose that elicits an emotional response, and even poetry. Yet building product literature is also a bastion for straight-forward technical elucidation.

Construction specification writers use a standard they call the "Four Cs" - a document should be:

  • Clear,
  • Concise,
  • Complete,
  • and Correct.
This is a good guideline to use when writing technical literature for building products. I would add, however, that sales collateral also needs a Fifth C:
  • Convincing.

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Triangle Fire Legacy

March 25, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire in New York City that killed 146 workers. This tragic event focused attention on fire safety in construction, and accelerated the acceptance of tighter building codes and life-safety regulations.

The Fire illustrates how disasters are frequently the progenitor of new construction technologies. Reforms sparked by the incident led to mandatory usage of many building products we now take for granted, including:
  • Panic bars on exit doors.
  • Automatic fire sprinklers.
  • Fire alarm systems.
  • Fire-resistant glass at egress paths.
This cause and effect relationship continues: Environmental disasters spawn sustainable construction. Hurricanes bring demands for airborne missile testing of wall systems. And floods inundate us with innovation.

The only way to redeem a tragedy is to learn from it.

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Top Ten in Continuing Education

A continuing education course written by Chusid Associates is "one of the top ten most popular Continuing Education courses of 2010", it was announced today by Laura Viscusi, publisher of Architectural Record. The course, “Form Follows Fun: Design Options in Modern Ceiling and Wall Systems,” published in the June 2010 issue of Architectural Record and available online, is sponsored by Ceilings Plus.

By reading the text of the article and taking an quiz on the topic, architects are able to receive one hour of continuing education credit required for AIA membership and, in most states, to maintain an architectural license.

According to Viscusi, 122,000 continuing education exams were received by her magazine. She continues. "This large quantity of test takers represents the number of architects and design professionals who took the time to learn from your course and thereby engaged with your brand." Additional architects also read the article without taking the exam.

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Looking Big

“He who has a thing to sell 
and goes and whispers in a well 
is not as apt to get the dollars 
as he who climbs a tree and hollers.”

I learned this doggerel from Brian Smith, CEO and Founder of Ecolite Concrete. Chusid Associates began collaborating with him while his business was being run out of the garage behind his house. He envisioned building wall panels that were over twenty feet long, yet his only prototype was just 12 inches square. And he needed either an investor or a large order that would enable him to get a loan to build a factory and begin production.

Brian had founded Ugg Boots, a breakthrough in the fashion industry, and was now working his magic in construction. His philosophy is "we have to look like we are big and successful" before anyone would be willing to take a chance on his disruptive technology. While still working on code approvals and R&D, he also insisted on investing in branding, sales collateral with high production value, and aggressive PR.

Another Chusid Associates' client has a nationwide presence selling coatings and chemicals for floor finishes. The company is run by its entrepreneur without staff. All manufacturing is by private label, warehousing is by distribution, and accounting and other backroom functions, including marketing, are outsourced. Even though there is only one person in the office, the phone answering system still says, "Press 1 for Sales, 2 for Customer Service, 3 for Technical Assistance, 4 for Directions to our Plant...," reinforcing the image that the company is a big brand.

Outsourcing marketing can also be used by larger firms. Engelhard Corporation is a Fortune 500 business. Yet its MetaMax brand of a high-reactivity metakaolin, for use in concrete, was such a small part of its operations that it only merited a 1/4 time product manager. Yet by working with Chusid Associates, MetaMax was made to look like a large part of Engelhard's business by getting extensive publicity in the industry press, speaking at industry conferences, participating in standard's writing committees, taking the brand to trade shows, and creating a strong presence on the internet.

Of course, some of our clients want to stay below the radar. By looking like they are small businesses, they limit competition by keeping their competitors from knowing how profitable their market niche can be. But that is the subject for another blog post.

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PR - Silver Cloud in Recession

Most construction industry publications depend on contributed articles written by building product manufacturers or their PR consultants. The need for contributed work has grown in this Great Recession (what's so great about it?) as publishers have trimmed staff. On top of this, many manufacturers have had to cut back their expenditures for PR.

There is an upside to this downturn. It is easier than ever to place stories in the trade publications.

Publicists usually have to call editors. But in recent weeks, I have gotten calls from an unprecedented number of editors looking for content. They include magazines focused on:

  • Architectural design
  • Specifications
  • Sustainable building
  • Canadian construction
  • Interior construction
  • Structural engineering
  • Concrete repair
  • Jobsite management
  • Hospital construction
PR is surprisingly affordable. 

And wonderfully effective.

I invite you to contact me to discuss how you can take advantage of this boom in editorial opportunities. Call Michael Chusid at +1 818 774 0003.

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Reps who Write Specs can Ring up More Sales

By being able to lend a hand to architects, reps can lose the stigma of "salesman" and be recognized as an integral part of the design team 


This article is an encore of something Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. It remains true today.

Q. Getting our products named in an architect's specifications is an important part of our sales strategy. What would the advantages be if our reps knew how to write specs themselves? And how can they get the training they need? - C.B.F., sales manager

A. Let me answer your first question by relating an experience I had once while working at an architectural firm. 'Joe" was a building product sales representative who carried a roofing system I had never used. He called on me several times to introduce his company and explain the benefits of his product. I became interested in his product, but, like most architects, I couldn't devote the time to research and write a spec for it.

Then one day a storm destroyed the roofs of several local schools. An emergency school board meeting was held and my firm was awarded the contract to design the re-roofing. The next morning, Joe showed up at my office asking how he would help. Since I had a pressing deadline, I asked Joe to write the roofing spec while I assembled the rest of the bid documents. He took a seat in my conference room and several hours later presented me with a well-written specification section.

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Put ConsensusDocs on Reading List

An understanding of construction contracts is essential to anyone involved in building product sales. As a manufacturer, you may not be a party to the agreements between Owner, Designer, and Contractor, but the conditions of their contracts shapes the environment in which you have to perform, including warranties, submittals, access to site, payments, etc.

The American Institute of Architects' contract documents are used for most building projects, and you should be especially familiar with AIA A201 - General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.

Increasingly, however, the ConsensusDOCS system of contracts is being used. These documents have been endorsed by a coalition of 32 construction industry associations, and many find them to allocate risks and responsibilities more efficiently and fairly. Written in plain English and not legalese, they have also been developed to recognize new industry trends such as BIM, green construction, and integrated project delivery. Click here for sample documents.

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Labeling Packaging and Products

A new hand-held inkjet printer has potential marketing benefits for building products. The Handjet Printer from EBS Ink-Jet Systems can apply any text to almost any surface. While it is primarily designed for applying labels to packaging or products, it can also be used to print notes, quickly and legibly onto a product to simplify field installation.

This could be especially useful for customized products fabricated with CAD/CAM equipment where each part can be potentially unique. In current practice, such a product would be shipped into the field labeled with a part number. One would then have to look at a set of drawings to identify its location in a project. The drawings may also have notes indicating erection sequence, attachment locations, warnings, and other information related installation of the part.

With the Handjet, these notes could be readily printed on the part itself, simplifying the installers time cross referencing between the parts and the drawings. The convenience, and potential labor savings, can become a marketable feature of your product.

Similarly, information typically found in an maintenance manual could be printed on a product, simplifying building operations.

I can visualize other uses for the technology: In-plant applications include quality control, inventory. and shipping. In the field, it could be used to create attention-getting notes to installers or other trades people. And as job site robots come into use (and they will), ink jet printers like this could be used to mark survey and layout points to speed installation.

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How NOT to post technical data

While looking for photometric information on HID lighting, I visited the website of a major producer. After searching the site for half an hour, I called their technical service line. Their representative was very helpful, and told me where to look on the webpage. When I followed her instructions, I found this:

Names and identifying brand information removed where possible

The text is a little hard to read in this screen shot; it says:
"You have been redirected to http://XXXX/b2c/init.do?shop=GL-L0 in a new browser window. Please continue browsing the XXXX  web site within this browser window." 
What you do not see is the technical information I needed, which means, were I a designer, they would have lost the sale. Why not? Because I use a pop-up blocker when I surf the net. The customer service rep recommended I turn the blocker off to browse their site.

Yeah; right. Let me turn off my virus protection while I'm at it.

Here's the problem: pop-up ads are a type of spam. Not legally, yet, but in terms of how they effect the web browsing experience, and how people react to them. They are also among the easiest types of spam to block; websites usually need to ask permission to open a new window, and pop-up blockers are set to always respond "no".

Not everyone uses pop-up blockers, but the number that do is steadily growing. More importantly, most, if not all, early adopters use them. In other words, the people most likely to be searching for non-established, high-performance new building products.

This is the same problem I have with Flash intros to websites; why are you putting a potential technological barrier between your customer and your product?

The advantage to using a pop-up is site visitors can access new resources without using their place on the current page. This is most useful when the new resource exists outside of your site. For example, if I wanted to show you something on the Concrete Decor Show & Spring Training blog I would set it to open in a new window because I want to share their site but do not want you to leave mine. This lighting company's use of pop-ups does not make sense, because the technical information is still within their website.

Pop-ups are one of those design tools that currently live in a grey area. Using them is not "wrong", but they are annoying enough, poorly used, that it almost does not matter. If you feel your website benefits from using pop-ups sparingly, use them. But never hide important information behind one.

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Another Magazine goes Online Only

Masonry Construction is the latest trade publication to drop its print edition and become online only. This trend has important implications for advertising and PR.

An announcement from its editor explains:
Being nimble and quick on your feet are necessary when business prospects become challenging. As unpleasant as they may be, sometimes changes are necessary. Masonry contractors know this as well as anyone. The publishing environment has been very similar the past couple of years. So we are moving in a different direction and have ceased publishing the print edition of Masonry Construction magazine. But along with this, there is also good news: Masonry Construction will still appear in various electronic formats to keep you up to date about the masonry industry.
No doubt the Great Recession was a factor, but it also reflects changes in how the industry gets its information. Watch for Masonry Construction and others to start publishing for mobile devices that contractors can read in the field.

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PR motivates customers to take action.

Measuring the real penetration of PR articles in magazines and online is virtually impossible, so it’s always nice to get a little feedback from the field.

We recently placed a case-study article in a major construction magazine for one of our clients. The article's byline names our client's marketing manager as one of the authors.

Within two weeks of publication, the marketing manager got an inquiry from the structural engineer at a company that makes architectural products used in conjunction with his own, one of the largest companies in the industry.  The engineer congratulated him on being a published author, praised the article, and asked for information about a new product mentioned in the article.

It should be noted that this article appeared in a magazine with a ‘non-proprietary’ policy, meaning that the brand and product names were never specified. The brand equity in the article consisted of our client’s name on the byline, images credited to the company, and a chance to tell a convincing story.  That was enough for a reader who was motivated to inquire.

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Are "Likes" more valuable than "Tweets"?

According to a new study, getting your event "Likes" on Facebook can be 67% more profitable than having the same event Tweeted. The study, published by ticket seller Eventbrite, demonstrated how messages on each site contributed to increased ticket sales:

[Eventbrite] announced Wednesday that an average tweet about an event drove 80 cents in ticket sales during the past six months, whereas an average Facebook Like drove $1.34.
At first glance it is unsurprising that Facebook generated more ticket sales, if for no other reason than it has more members. But it is remarkable that each "Like" generated proportionately so much more.

I suspect this is because Facebook is more strongly focused on "Friends". A lot of that has to do with the undifferentiated nature of Twitter traffic - I frequently miss posts from my friends amidst the tide of information - versus Facebook's stronger focus on "Friends". More than that, though, Facebook feels more like a personal recommendation while Twitter is just "information".

It is also worth noting that the strongest results came from post-purchase Likes. In other words, it has more impact if your friend has bought ticket and is attending, as opposed to just sharing the webpage of an interesting event.

What does this mean to building product manufacturers?
This demonstrates that social media word of mouth is still a powerful force. Twitter is great at generating traffic, but those are often short, high bounce rate visits that do not convert to sales. Facebook's Likes are more than just link-sharing, though. They are personal endorsements, especially if they follow purchases or interactions with a product.

To take advantage of this, put a Like button on the order confirmation page of your site, if you offer online purchasing. If not, consider following each purchase with a "Thank You" email that contains the Like button. Similarly, reach out to people involved with the project that used your material; encourage them to share their experience, even if they were not the one that made the selection and purchase. QR codes may be a good way to reach on-site users; create a QR code that links directly to a Like button, and put it on your packaging so contractors can share their enjoyment of your product.

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Conference: Composite Materials & Digital Manufacturing

Take a look at new materials and technologies that may be important to building product manufacturers. Chusid Associates is attending, and looks forward to seeing you there.

Material beyond Materials:  
A Composite Tectonics Conference on Advanced Materials and Digital Manufacturing in Architecture and Construction

Friday, March 25 through Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hosted by Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc),
Los Angeles, CA

Fostering direct exchange between architects and companies invested in the field of advanced materials and fabrication technologies, SCI-Arc hosts Material beyond Materials—a composite tectonics conference on advanced materials and digital manufacturing.

Taking place on the SCI-Arc campus in downtown Los Angeles, the two-day forum is open to the public and will explore technological advances in composite materials, innovations in construction, and current design discourse—with some of the most important names in today’s building, fabrication and design industries.

Material beyond Materials combines progressive presentations in the fields of architecture, the arts, engineering and materials research. Conference participants will present and discuss their most innovative ideas, projects and positions concerning materials, technology and the impact on the architecture and construction disciplines and professions.

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Burying your dirt

Sooner or later everyone - and every company - will have some dirt, some embarrassing information, somewhere online. Eventually it will be less of a social problem for individuals, because everyone will have some, but for companies it could still be an embarrassment.

Sally Adee, writing for NewScientist.com, has an intriguing suggestion on how to manage this dirt: bury it.

While you might think that reducing your internet presence is the way to go, you'd be wrong. The key to managing your reputation is to spend more time online, not less. The advocates of this approach argue that polishing your online persona could soon join healthy eating and exercise in your arsenal of everyday life-maintenance chores.
 She relates this to the Law of Surfing - the idea that web surfers rarely look past the first page of results. Which means you don't need to eliminate your dirt, just make sure there are 15-20 more interesting (in a SEO way) links above it.

How do you achieve this? Promote yourself. Tell the story you want to tell about your company; tell it loudly, tell it often, tell it in many locations. Social media is a good route for this because the Big Four (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube) tend to pop up high in search results. So does Wikipedia, if you have a presence there.

What else can you do? Write a few articles for respectable online publications, send out press releases on the news wire, blog, and participate in a lot of forums. The more the better. If there is a bad news story, respond to it so your reply becomes a bigger news item than the actual story.

In other words, a standard, if aggressive, SEO plan.

Ideally, this is a game you will play on offense, not defense. Don't wait until someone posts something nasty about your company, or the wrong person gets copied on what should have been an intra-office memo; start now so you already hold those top spots. Then most of your dirt will automatically go straight where it belongs.

Underground.

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Putting the Brakes on Substitutions

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. Substitutions remain an issue, and the article is still relevant.

Be involved in the entire specification process, and you'll increase the chances that the specs will be followed.

The only people who benefit from substitutions are the subcontractors and suppliers who win bids from competitors and then boost their profits by supplying lower-cost materials than those specified. Everybody else loses. This means that building product manufacturers have something in common with the specifier, general contractor, and building owner: You all want the project delivered as designed and specified.

So, instead of seeing yourself as the hapless victim of substitutions, act as an ally to the design team. From this position, you can influence the design and contracting procedures to help avoid or control substitutions.

Why specs go astray
Substitutions occur throughout the design process. You know the scenario: An architect calls and asks for assistance evaluating your product for a job. After a long discussion, you agree on details and specifications, and the architect says it's just the solution he's been looking for. But when the project appears in the plan rooms, the spec is based on your competitor's product, and you aren't even named as an acceptable manufacturer. What happened?

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More Plant Design Inspiration

In addition to my previous post, "Vegitecture", I've recently come across several other plants incorporated into architecture that will hopefully inspire you and your future product designs.





Designers Claesson Koivisto Rune, Front, Jean-Marie Massaud and Luca Nichetto presented furniture for incorporating plants into office spaces for Swedish brand Offecct at the Stockholm Furniture Fair this year.







French designer Patrick Nadeau has created an installation for Italian brand Boffi, consisting of hanging domes covered in living plants that create an interior "rainforest" illusion.


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Building Codes Save Lives

Innovative building product manufacturers must frequently deal with expensive frustrating building code agencies and local enforcement jurisdictions. Yet the process of creating and enforcing standards helps to save lives and reduce property damage.

This was borne out by the recent earthquakes in Japan, as this dramatic video of swaying buildings testifies:

We must also recognize the ingenuity of the design and construction industry that strives learn from our failures to create safer structures.

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LinkedIn Today: The next big social tool?

LinkedIn announced the launch of LinkedIn Today last week, their new daily digital newspaper. It's still too soon to say for sure, but I predict this will quickly become one of the major tools for social media marketing.

In a nutshell, LinkedIn Today is a cross between a news aggregator and a social bookmarking site. It brings you the top daily stories from selected categories (and recommends new categories based on user profiles); more importantly for our purposes, it draws those stories from articles shared by your contacts.

Suppose you connect with me on LinkedIn. If I share an interesting article about QR codes it will show up on your LinkedIn Today page. Since I work in the construction and marketing industries, it could also show up on the page of anyone interested in those industries. If they read the article and share it with their contacts, it will spread even further. And if, several iterations down the line, someone wants to know who originally posted this article, they can view its history and all the conversations happening about it.

Which means you want articles about your company and products appearing there. Best way to make that happen? Get active on LinkedIn yourself, and be sure you have a "Share on LinkedIn" button on all your posts, articles, and webpages.

Social bookmarking sites, such as Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon, never really caught on for business use. The content on those sites tends to be decidedly NSFW (Not Safe For Work), so they never built a critical mass of professional users. LinkedIn, by contrast, is starting with that critical mass. Architects are already gathering to discuss the latest building products and get their questions answered, which means they are very likely to share interesting articles, and read those shared by their contacts.

I will be experimenting with the system in the coming days and share my observations. When you start using it, let me know about your experiences, and share any interesting lessons learned.

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Help a Reporter Out, Get PR

Help a Reporter Out (HARO - helpareporter.com) allows journalists to find and connect with industry experts and other information sources. When a journalist posts a query about something related to your company or industry, you can contact the journalist and offer your services.

As a construction industry marketeer, your daily email will be full of queries that may not relate to your niche product. But creative PR pros will find a way to work their interests into many pitches.

By responding to a reporter's request for news, you can position yourself as an industry or product expert, get credited or quoted in the article, and increase your company's publicity for free.

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Can Twitter really increase your traffic? Yes.

I was digging through our blog's lifetime analytics recently and noticed something surprising: Twitter is the third highest source of referral traffic to our blog.


#1 and #2 are Google and our company homepage. 

The total number of visitors that come from Twitter is still relatively small; it's completely dwarfed by search engine traffic, for example. The bounce rate (the percentage of people that exit the site after viewing only a single page) is also fairly high, which makes sense; people will follow a link from Twitter to a specific page, read that article, and leave. 

That means dollar-for-dollar we would get more return from focusing on SEO and Pay-Per-Click ads than on Twitter. But consider this: we spend almost no time or money generating Twitter traffic. Our posts are automatically tweeted; when our followers on Twitter see the article and enjoy it they re-tweet it, and that generates our traffic. 

There is, of course, time required to set up and maintain a profile, monitor replies, and make new connections, but that is a small time investment. The benefit is a passively generated traffic source that produces steady results.

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Good advice, in any language

Watch this:



This short video from Vodafone is remarkable for two reasons.

First, it's an excellent reminder to us all to be more aware of our computing environment. (As I type this I realize I've let myself slouch in my chair again. One moment please...that's better!) We as a species are still adapting to our sedentary lifestyle, and the stresses of sitting and computing all day can be very damaging to your body. Please take care of yourself: give your workstation an ergonomic upgrade, take regular breaks from your computer, stretch and move around, and stay well-hydrated.

In addition to the importance of the message is the way in which it is delivered. The video's title, descriptive text, and most of the comments are in Spanish, but the content is delivered so it transcends any language barrier. Using simple, clear animation they make a frequently confusing topic simple and universally accessible.

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CWA Standout: Chusid Associates

Ceilings Plus Image 
Re-published from the Construction Writers Awards Newsletter, CWA eXchange March 2011

Michael Chusid couldn’t make up his mind between a career in architecture or marketing, so he found a way to combine both. After earning degrees in design and architecture, he worked in product development for a building product firm, and then spent a decade in architectural practice. These experiences taught him how much architects depend on manufacturers for design inspiration and technical support. Recognizing an opportunity, Chusid Associates was born.

Since then, the firm has been a marketing and technical consultant to more than 200 building product manufacturers, and has produced some standout entries in the Construction Writers Association’s (CWA) journalism, photography and corporate communications awards. In 2010, the firm captured three CWA awards, winning in both the corporate communications and e-newsletter categories, and receiving an honorable mention for the Godfrey Award.

Chusid, a Fellow of the Construction Specifications Institute, loves writing about building products, and utilizes his experience as a registered architect, product designer, and certified construction specifier to help building products manufacturers connect with design professionals and contractors. “Our work helps clients sell their products, but our most important service is helping our client’s customers avoid selecting the wrong material for a given construction need,” said Chusid.

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Present infographics using real objects

Infographics (short for Information Graphics) have gained popularity online as simple, clear (when done well), and often amusing ways of communicating what could otherwise be very bland or difficult-to-grasp information. Peter ├śrntoft has a new set of infographics up using physical objects in the place of the usual bar charts, pie graphs, and other common means of comparing sets of data.

Headscarf used as an infographic
His work is inspirational and exciting, and worth checking out if you are looking for new ways to communicate your story. Plus, it works very well for manufacturers of such concrete materials as, well, concrete.

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"Please be considerate of his time"

I requested information from a vendor about one of their key products on Monday. On Wednesday I got a call from one of their reps. I asked several questions he did not know the answer to. He offered to give me the phone number of their in-house expert; I asked if the expert was available to talk now. The sales rep put me on hold - after getting my permission, but I swear he just put the receiver down on his desk; I could hear his in-office conversation - for several minutes before informing me the expert was not available.

Alright, said I, please ask him to call me later. Absolutely, said the rep. But when his follow-up email arrived that afternoon it contained instructions for me to contact the expert, closing with this line:

"Please be considerate of his time."

Seriously? Isn't that Day One of sales training? Especially since this sales rep was in no way considerate of my time (two day delay on call-back, placing me on hold, making me do the follow-up).

I can only conclude from this statement that their in-house technical expert is attempting to defuse explosives or perform neurosurgery and cannot afford distraction. I cannot confirm this, though, as I will not be having further contact with, or sending money to, this company.

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"Please be considerate of his time"

I requested information from a vendor about one of their key products on Monday. On Wednesday I got a call from one of their reps. I asked several questions he did not know the answer to. He offered to give me the phone number of their in-house expert; I asked if the expert was available to talk now. The sales rep put me on hold - after getting my permission, but I swear he just put the receiver down on his desk; I could hear his in-office conversation - for several minutes before informing me the expert was not available.

Alright, said I, please ask him to call me later. Absolutely, said the rep. But when his follow-up email arrived that afternoon it contained instructions for me to contact the expert, closing with this line:

"Please be considerate of his time."

Seriously? Isn't that Day One of sales training? Especially since this sales rep was in no way considerate of my time (two day delay on call-back, placing me on hold, making me do the follow-up).


I can only conclude from this statement that their in-house technical expert is attempting to defuse explosives or perform neurosurgery and cannot afford distraction. I cannot confirm this, though, as I will not be having further contact with, or sending money to, this company.

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Reach Editors at CWA Conference

Call for Speakers - CWA Annual Conference

The Construction Writers Association (CWA) is an organization of editors and journalists covering construction. Speaking at their conference is an effective and efficient way to get your PR message across to these opinion shapers.
CWA is accepting proposals from potential speakers for its annual conference to be held in San Antonio this fall. The deadline is Monday, April 4, 2011 to submit speaker proposals.

Potential ideas for submittals include: economic forecast data;  new or current engineering or equipment applications or technologies; green buildings; visionary concepts in leadership development; industry leaders; marketing communications, public relations or social media best practices, ideas or visionary concepts; top construction projects both national and international; subjects related to renovation and preservation of historic landmarks; recycling ideas (buildings or products); subjects related to building near bodies of water.

Chusid Associates is active in CWA and is preparing proposals on behalf of several of our clients. Contact us if we can assist you in developing a proposal.

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Who's posting pictures on Facebook?

According to data released by Pixable, age is no longer a strong indicator of who posts pictures to Facebook. The difference between 26-year-olds (most photos) and 46-year-olds was only 30%. Still a significant gap, but that's still over 400 photos per user in the over-40 demographic.

As notable, it is estimated there will be over 100 billion photos on Facebook by Summer 2011.

Most building product manufacturers will likely never have or need substantial galleries on Facebook or similar social networks, but this new data points to two important conclusions:

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Mobile Phones - Another View

"I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone."

-- Bjarne Stroustrup,
computer scientist

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Signs of Change: Android is #1

CNN Money reports that Android is now the most commonly used smartphone operating system in the United States. As the article puts it, "a stunning race to the top from a platform that didn't exist just 27 months ago."

Interestingly, most of this growth seems to have come at the expense of Blackberry, and to a lesser extent Microsoft. Apple's market share has decreased slightly, but remained mostly stable. Smartphone adoption also increased more than 10% last year, so I suspect much of Android's success is coming from new smartphone owners that are buying the newest, shiniest model available, rather than abandoning their old phones.

What does this mean for marketers?
The field is now more tightly packed. Early in 2010, Blackberry had nearly 50% of the smartphone market, with Apple in second place at less than 30%. Now, Apple, Blackberry, and Android are within about 5% of each other. This means it is no longer as viable a strategy to design a system-specific app unless you plan to make versions for each operating system. Even as the new front-runner, an Android-only app will ignore almost 70% of the market. The only exception to this is if you have done enough market research to know that your clients have a strong preference; this is, however, not likely to be the case.

Instead, look at creating web-based apps. Make these more than dedicated mobile sites by including functionality that clients will need while out of their office, and make it easier to treat it as a "dedicated app" by including instructions to install a shortcut on your smartphone's home screen.

Part of Android's success, in my opinion, comes from the same strategy that helped Microsoft beat Apple in the world of PCs: their operating system is not tied to a specific hardware. This means people can shop around more easily for lower price, and  feature sets that better meet their needs. But it also means there is less predictability about what features any given smartphone will offer. Design your web apps and mobile web pages around the most common features (touch screen, some form of keyboard, cameras, etc.), and do not be overly reliant on advanced features that may not be standard (gyroscopes, GPS, video).

It will be interesting to see how the continued emergence of tablets into mobile computing will effect these rankings. Will iPad's popularity and early technological  leadership help Apple retake the lead, or will Android-based tablets win out for the same reasons their phones did?

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Stop Substitution Abuse

Develop strategies to convince specifiers to 'just say no.'

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago.


I work closely with architects to get my products specified. I don't mind when they take "or equal" bids, as long as I'm competing apples to apples. But most of the time, contractors use cheaper products that don't meet the spec, and the architects let them get away with it. Does it make sense to call on architects when they allow so many substitutions? - UH., sales rep

Once upon a time, architects thoroughly researched building products and specified only those promising the highest performance for the lowest price. Contractors then dutifully furnished and installed the specified products, fearing that to deviate from the construction documents would incur the wrath of their clients and increase liability. At least that's the mythology of the construction industry. In the real marketplace, architectural specifications are frequently challenged by contractors and vendors hoping to make product substitutions that put them in better financial or competitive positions.

Occasional substitutions are a sign of a healthy competitive marketplace. When the substitution process is not abused, it makes buildings more affordable, stimulates product innovation, and responds to fluctuating market prices and availability. In fact, most bid documents even spell out procedures that encourage the orderly submittal and review of substitutions.

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A handy visual guide to modern architecture

To help start your week off right, enjoy this nice infographic summarizing the styles of several well-known modern architects:

Modern Architecture 101

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Press Conference Preparation

When planning a successful press conference, here are important steps and time lines to consider:

A month before the event:

  • Select a media-trained speaker who is very knowledgeable about your product or service.
  • Reserve the room. (Consider a date and time that isn't too early, that will not conflict with a large competitor or a lunch break (unless you provide a quality lunch replacement), and try not to plan it on the first or last day of a convention.)
  • Send press releases to the press well in advance so they can help publicize your event.
  • Promote the event to other applicable media outlets (magazines, newspapers, online press, blogs, TV, and radio).
  • Promote the event to local media.
  • Create a slide show or other visuals.
  • Hire a professional videographer to film the event (for B-roll footage, website use, general promotion).
  • Prepare and print a press kit or save an electronic press kit on a USB drive or website.

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Making Roadblocks into Stepping-Stones

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote almost 20 years ago. Code issues continue to be part of the building product marketing. The challenges today may be even greater since issues like building sustainability have added new requirements to the codes.


Codes and regulations may seem like hurdles to marketers, but they also present opportunities


I'm putting together a business plan for a new building material. What sort of approvals do I need from the building codes and other regulatory agencies, and how do these approvals affect the introduction of a new building product?- C.V., consultant

All marketers must understand the regulatory environment their products compete in. For building materials makers, this means working within the complex framework of regulations, standards, certifications, and the testing labs and other agencies that govern the way we build.

Most companies first encounter building codes and other regulatory agencies when they are told, "Your product can't be used on this project. It's not approved." You are correct to be looking at the necessary approvals as part of your marketing plan. With foresight, the approval process can be a stepping-stone rather than a roadblock to market penetration.

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Signs of Change: China converting phone booths to WiFi hotspots

I don't know if this belongs under "internet news" or "recycling", but at the end of last year China announced plans to convert its existing network of public phone booths to WiFi hotspots. It is not certain yet, but it sounds like access will be free, putting China a long way towards achieving universal WiFi coverage.

At least, for those that can afford smartphones or laptops.

As the largest emerging economy in the world, what happens in China can be a good predictive model for the US, especially businesses with global aspirations. And this report tells us a couple of things about what's going on in China.

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Samples on Beaded Chains

In an era of high tech marketing, remember that customers still want to see and touch samples.

An effective way to do this, especially for small samples, is on a beaded chain. The chain can be conveniently hung in a sample library in a designers office, or behind the counter in a distributor's showroom. They take up less room than a wall-hung display board. They are usually inexpensive to produce and ship in a compact package. Customers can readily remove a single piece if needed for further examination or a mock-up. And the chain keeps your samples together, so you can keep your act together.

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Twitter, Facebook can be policed as "advertisements"

England's Advertising Standards Authority now has powers to police Facebook, Twitter, and other online content as if they were advertisements, starting today. This means these communications must meet the same standards regarding misleading, confusing, and offensive material. For now this only applies to British companies (and companies doing business in England) and the penalties are very mild, but this is likely to set a new precedent that will grow in both severity and international adoption.

Interestingly, and understandably, the new policy only applies to company generated content, and excludes user generated content (UGC). This means your customers' comments will not get dinged for being exaggerated, misleading, or untrue. This is another point in favor of UGC and testimonials/word-of-mouth, but hopefully no one will use the opportunity to encourage customers to lie. The line between "company speech" and "personal speech" is very vague right now, but that type of behavior would clearly fail the test for "personal speech".

We've already seen the FCC crack down on bloggers, requiring disclosure if they received "gifts" from companies they are reviewing, so it is likely only a matter of time until similar regulations are applied to US firms.

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How to make a great iPhone app: Bradley ColorSpec

Bathroom fixture manufacturer Bradley recently released the Bradley ColorSpec iPhone app, and it is impressively well done. Be sure to check it out as an example of what can - and should - be done with building product apps.

Guided Tour

The home page is very pretty and eye-catching. I was expecting a standard digital catalog, so this was a pleasant surprise. You can select a product line, get more information about Bradley, or choose from the bottom menu: Materials, Color, Gallery, Favorites, and Locator.


Selecting one of the product lines brings you to a page with tiles of the various options within that line.
You can then view a color in closer detail

Get information on complimentary colors and the relevant partitions.

And - best of all - email the color to a contact, or request more information from a rep.

You can also create a list of your favorites for later reference.
Or visit a project photo gallery.
These are not linked to the color samples, making it harder to find photos of your favorites, and there are very few images. I suspect they will expand this section in future revisions.

Other features help you select patterns using a color chart, and locate reps using Google maps. 

Bugs or features?

The front page is very attractive, but it was unclear until I played with it a bit which parts were clickable buttons, and what they would do. More importantly, when I tried to email a rep, nothing happened visibly. I can't tell if it sent an invisible message to a rep to contact me later, or if the button is broken. 

Other than that, the app works very well and was intuitive to learn. My only other comment - not a criticism, just an observation - is that it provides almost no functionality. In other words, it will be very useful to existing customers trying to select the right material, but does little to draw in new ones. Why should someone download an app that's little more than your - very nicely done - digital product literature? What's in it for them, and what would convince them, if they do, to make a purchase?

My observation is about how the program is used, though; not about its quality. It is important to start app design by deciding clearly what you are trying to accomplish, because it is impossible to make one app that does everything. Better to focus on doing one thing well than everything badly. 

The Bradley ColorSpec app does its one thing very well. It will be a useful tool for designers and installers in the field, or possibly even at their desks, that looks good and works reliably. 

Kudos!

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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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