Market Research

Residential Design Trends

The recent AIA Home Design Trends Survey asked more than 500 residential architects what they thought would be the most significant home design elements over the next ten years. Here are their Top 10 responses.

Architects tend to think about custom homes, not the great mass of other housing options; something to remember when interpreting the findings.

Architects tend to think about custom homes, not the great mass of other housing options; something to remember when interpreting the findings.

1 Technological integration becoming more prevalent, with both dedicated support for personal devices, along with automated controls for temperature, security and lighting

2 Increased consumer awareness about environmental health issues leading to more widespread use of low or no volatile organic compounds for paint and composite wood, natural fiber upholstery, carpets without polyvinyl chloride backing and air purification systems

3 Growing demand for design strategies that strengthen homes against natural disasters including elevating residences, windows with impact glazing, dedicated safe rooms and backup power generation

4 Increasing use of energy-efficient and other sustainable design elements and products such as solar panels, water reclamation systems and tankless water heaters

5 Aging-in-place and universal design elements to accommodate an aging population including wider hallways, added handrails and one-level living spaces

6 Kitchens serving as focal point of the home highlighted by open design concepts

7 Heavy emphasis and investment in outdoor living spaces

8 Need for space devoted to home offices reflecting changing work patterns

9 Infill development promoting smaller, better designed homes

10 Strong preference for urban lifestyle characteristics resulting in higher-density development that provide additional amenities to residents

Comment: When planning your marketing strategy, remember that this is what AIA members are thinking about, and that actual demand is influenced by developers, consumers, codes, remodeling of existing housing stock, and other forces. 

Source: AIA Press Release 2016-01-13.


Consolidation of Construction News Reports

Construction news services are used by many building product manufacturers to identify and track prospects and to gather market intelligence. At the beginning of the year there were five significant players in the business. Now there are only two.

iSqFt acquired BidClerk and CDC Publishing in May 2015 and then merged with CMD Group in August 2015.
This roll-up creates a powerhouse that competes with Dodge, recently spun-off from McGraw Hill.

While there are several local and regional plan rooms and publications that continue to serve local contractors and suppliers, this consolidation means that building product manufacturers now have just two sources of construction news reports and related lead and research services.

Good or bad news for building product manufacturers?

Depends on your point of view. There are fewer players and hence less competition that may lead to price increases. But my impression is that Dodge was so far ahead of the others in market share and resources, that the roll-up of the smaller firms may actually create an effective alternative to Dodge.

Eco-Labels improve performance?

As marketeers, we assume that a "green" label will be good for sales, especially if it is issued by a reputable credentialing agency. But is it possible that the label actually changes the way people behave?  Here is what a recent academic report found:
People tend to idealize eco-labeled products, but can eco-labeling have consequences for performance? To address this question, 48 university students were asked to undertake a color discrimination task adjacent to a desktop lamp that was either labeled environmentally friendlyor conventional(although they were identical). The light of the lamp labeled environmentally friendlywas rated as more comfortable. Notably, task performance was also better when the lamp was labeled environmentally friendly. Individual differences in environmental concern, but not pro-environmental consumer behavior and social desirability indexes, were related to the magnitude of the eco-label effect on performance. Whilst some previous studies have shown similar placebo-like effects of eco-labels on subjective ratings, this is the first study to show an eco-label effect for artifacts in the built environment on performance, and the first study to relate this effect to environmental concern. Psychological mechanisms that may underpin the eco-label effects are discussed.  (Emphasis added.)
 An interesting finding. We must be cautious about generalizing about the conclusions of one small experiment.

Journal of Environmental Psychology 42 (2015) 123-127 
"An eco-label effect in the built environment: Performance and comfort effects of labeling a light source environmentally friendly"
Authors: Patrik Sorqvist, Andreas Haga, Mattias Holmgren, Andre Hansla

Market Research and Social Media: Ceiling Case Study

Social media is a fast and inexpensive way to conduct market research.  Here is a case in point:

When one of my clients needed to know the relative demand for the several sizes of ceiling suspension grid, I posted a question on five LinkIn groups that attract contractors, design professionals, and building product dealers. Within a few days, I had 18 replies from across North America plus several from overseas.

The sample is too small and the survey instrument to informal to be statistically meaningful. And does not differentiate between geographic patterns or between commercial and "architectural" work. Still, it provided perspective that has proven helpful in understanding other available information. It also clarified where we needed to focus further research.

Key findings:

1. Of the respondents that gave percentage of use, 72% of market is 15/16", 28% is one form or another of 9/16", and an insignificant amount in the extra wide width.
2. These averages do not reflect individual patterns. Some use over 90% 15/16" grid and others primarily use the narrower width. It is important to know your specific niche.
3. In general, there is a perception that the narrower products look better.

See other comments, below:

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT 9/16" More visual options.  Allows for different profiles.
- An upgrade used with more expensive 2x2 panels, Its a small price in increased cost.
- high-end work is 60% slotted, 40% slimline
- Higher end office, hospital, car dealerships
- Architecturally, the 9/16" wide grids look better.
- 9/16" grid is an " ELITE " grid as it supports typically more expensive tile and carries a premium price over 15/16" grid.
- Two trends -- Hide the grid. Or use narrow grid.

Chicago Metallic 830 All-Aluminum 15/16"
- lower end offices and stores; vanilla box and retail
- Allows most choices for future remodelling. Tenants in spaces that need flexibility and growth potential will want continuity in design, and selecting a tile that will still be available in 2-3 years is an important factor.
- 15/16" Grid outsells 9/16" grid by a substantial amount. It is the least expensive option for grid and the tile that interfaces with it.
- 15/16" is a dated suspension system, why would any any end user choose that.
- In seismic areas I've used more 15/16.
- 15/16" (1" nominal), mainly because I believe it to be the product most often stocked by distributors, and therefore less apt to result in small custom orders or long lead times.
- Another reason is for installation tolerance. Narrow lines accentuate small errors in alignment. I understand the visual appeal argument, but just as narrow grout lines in tile might be preferred for the same reason, they make it more difficult to achieve a workmanlike final appearance. I can't believe this doesn't have an impact, however small, on installed cost.

Very limited demand. Most of that is for clean room, hospital, IT conditions, although one person mentioned seismic strength and wider bearing surface No one addressed the aesthetic potential of the wider grid, something that has only recently been promoted by manufacturers.

Contact me if I can assist you with your market research needs.  michael [at]

Buiding Tall with Big Builders

One of the themes of my career has been to understand the economic forces that shape the building products industry and drive the investment in new building products and technologies. The fragmented nature of the construction industry means that most new products have to be launched slowly, making relatively modest investments to seed demand and then increasing capacity as more people embrace the new technology.

Yet there are also mechanisms that can justify large scale investments to launch major new building products fully formed. A major builder, for example, can through its support behind a new product by offering the prospect of big sales right out of the gate.

I thought of this while reading Building Tall: My Life and the Invention of Construction Management, the autobiography of John L. Tishman, published 2011 by The University of Michigan Press.

The author rose through the ranks of the Tishman family's real estate development business to head its construction division. Since the family built for its own portfolio, it had an incentive to make design and construction decisions based upon total cost of ownership instead of construction first costs, and to experiment with construction innovations that would be too risky for a bottom-line driven general contractor. When the construction division started offering its unique perspective as a professional service to other companies, it became an independent business - Tishman Construction - a pioneer in the field of construction management.

The author reminisces that,
 "I have become convinced that successful design and construction innovations could have been effectively conceived and tried out only by an 'owner/builder.' A general contractor cannot afford to make or even to suggest radical innovations because his job is simpy to execute from existing plans and not to deviate from them; neither can an owner/developer whose company does not closely and personally oversee the actual job site construction. Only those deeply involved in the design and construction aspects of the project, and who have the benefit - and the needs - of being the owner/builder, or acting on behalf of an owner/builder, can do so. The Tishman Company as owner/buider could accept the risk of experimenting with new processes and materials -- because we were in a position to to bear the costs if something went wrong and to reap the benefits if the new methods or materials worked well." (Page 37). 
To expedite innovations, the firm created the Tishman Research Corporation, which partnered with various industrial manufacturers and trade subcontractors to do research on materials and systems. "...we were able to induce materials manufacturers to become more innovative by holding out the certainty that if the new product was good enough, Tishman Realty would buy and use it in a real-life, million-square-foot office building. Knowing that the product could be sold in quantity was enough of an enticement for a materials company to make the costly decision to refit a production line so that it could turn out new configurations of flooring or ceiling modules or of exterior panels. Without such a promise of sales in the offing, a manufacturer would be reluctant to invest in revamping its tools and procedures to manufacture a new or radically different product." (page 38)

Among the building product innovations the author discusses are:
  • One of the first buildings with only self-service elevators: Not only was this bold from a property owner's perspective, but "we immediately realized that the elevator cabs, since there wold be no operator present, would be vulnerable to vandalism and graffiti. I helped to come up with an answer to that problem." (Page 33) The solution was to make the control panels accessible from the interior of the cab where they could be easily maintained instead of installing them on the outside of the cab. (Page 41)
  • Panelized facades: "I had been working with Alcoa, and we had come up with a way to use their aluminum for the facade instead of bricks or stone and mortar. To put on bricks and mortar was a process that often took weeks, Alcoa's aluminum facade for...a building of twenty-seven stories, with the aluminum wrapping around three sides, was going to be installed in just five days." (Page 33 and 42) The firm staged the speedy installation as a PR event. Later, Tishman worked with Alcoa to develop aluminum alloys for improved, more corrosion resistant anodized aluminum.
  •  Increasing the size of ceiling tiles to the now standard 2 x 4 foot module in order to get more efficiency from fluorescent lamps. (Page 39)
  • Concrete structures left exposed as the finished surface. (Page 47)
  • Encapsulating venetian blinds between two panes of glass to reduce maintenance costs. (Page 47)
  • With LOF, a new way to temper glass to reduce the breakage being experienced by glass spandrel panels. (Page 50)
  • With U.S. Gypsum, the now standard gypsum board shaft wall system that eliminated weight and saved time in the construction of elevator shafts. (Page 55)
  • Demountable partition systems. (Page 56).
  • A rationalization of hotel bathroom construction by using pre-fabricated components such as wall-to-wall vanities and a one-handle faucet instead of separate hot and cold knobs. (Page 57)
  • Motion-detector light switches to conserve energy. (Page 58)
There are other owner/builders that have had and continue to play similar roles in the construction product industry -- setting the standards for product performance and encouraging investment through their purchasing power. For example, McDonalds Corporation breathed life into the quarry tile industry by selecting it as its low-maintenance choice for flooring. More recently, WalMart has done the same with polished concrete floors.

Building Tall is a personal memoir and the author and co-author can be forgiven if they focus only on the Tishman's successes. It would be interesting to read a more in-depth probe into the dynamics between big builders and building product manufacturers. The World Trade Center illustrates, for example, both the positive and negative potential for a manufacturer working with a big builder.

Early in my career, I worked for Inryco, a metal panel manufacturer. Collaborating with Tishman -- the construction manager for the original WTC -- Inryco developed the long-span floor deck system that was used in the Twin Towers. The potential of an enormous order enabled Inryco to invest in the R&D, testing, and tooling for what became an important part of its product line.

More recently, I worked with Excend, a company funded by Hochtieff to commercialize an innovative type of micro-reinforced concrete. Excend believed their technology was a sure thing for use in the replacement WTC; it could produce stronger, lighter, and more blast resistant concrete than normally reinforced concrete. Moreover, Excend's parent company also owned Turner Construction, part of a joint venture with Tishman providing construction management services on the project.  After initial interest by the construction managers, however, Excend's technology was not accepted. Hochtief abandoned the venture despite (or because of) the significant investments it had already made.

The take away is that doing business with a big builder may be alluring, it is still business and not patronage. 

From the book publisher:
In this memoir, University of Michigan graduate John L. Tishman recounts the experiences and rationale that led him to create the entirely new profession now recognized and practiced as Construction Management. It evolved from his work as the construction leader of the "owner/builder" firm Tishman Realty & Construction, and his personal role as hands-on Construction Manager in the building of an astonishing array of some of the world's tallest and most complex projects.  These include
  • The world's first three 100-story towers—the original "twin towers" of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Hancock Tower in Chicago.              
  • The EPCOT Center at Disney World.
  • The Renaissance Center in Detroit.
  • New York's Madison Square Garden.
Tishman interweaves the stories behind the construction of these and many other important buildings and projects with personal reminiscences of his dealings with Henry Ford, Jr., Disney's Michael Eisner, casino magnate Steve Wynn, and many others into a practical history of the field of Construction Management, which he pioneered.

This book will be of interest not only to a general public intrigued by the stories and personalities behind many of the most iconic construction projects of the post–World War II period in the United States but to students of engineering and architecture and members of the new field of Construction Management.

Following the LEED

Suppose you want to determine how LEED, the green building rating system, effects marketing opportunities for your product. This used to be fairly simple to determine, as there was just one version of LEED and you could quickly scan the list prerequisites and credits to see which related to your product.

It is a bit more complicated now:
  • There are Multiple Versions of LEED for different types of projects, including New Construction, Existing Buildings, Core and Shell, Schools, etc. Many of these versions have the same or similar credits, but there are differences that have to be understood.
  • Then you get to look at the Pilot Credits, credits that can be incorporated on a trial basis into projects so USGBC can test new ideas. This list is updated frequently.
  • Regional Priorities give extra credit to some LEED credits for addressing especially sensitive regional concerns. This would be useful to plan regional sales efforts, but the data has to be teased out Zip Code by Zip Code.
  • And there are Credit Interpretation Reports, responses to questions by LEED users that can expand upon or change the scope of a credit.
  • (Don't forget to check the Errata.)
If you have a question about LEED, don't bother calling USGBC. Their "customer service" people are totally unfamiliar with LEED. When I finally got a phone number for the corporate office, the switchboard there immediately connected me back to customer service.
To where does all this LEED? (Pardon the pun.)

If you have difficulty understanding LEED, don't worry; in less than a year the next edition of LEED will be issued, and you can begin your LEED attempt to understand the system all over again.

Illustration from Daily Journal of Commerce.

Visit an Architecture School to See Future

Central China TV Headquarters, Beijing 2009
When I attended architectural school in the 1970's, one of the graduate level studios (not mine) explored the concept of linking highrise towers with horizontal connections. So it did not surprise me when, about 30 years later, buildings utilizing such concepts were actually constructed; the students had become principals in major design firms.

I am reminded of this by a visit to Southern California Institute of Architecture's presentation of their graduate students thesis projects.

Architectural schools represent a broad range of pedagogical approaches and philosophical underpinnings. Sci-Arc's amuses me; many of the projects on display appear to treat gravity as an optional design consideration. But their creative investigation of architectural forms challenges existing conventions, and suggest architectural trends that will impact the future of building materials. Take a look:
Chia-Ching Lang
Dave Bantz
Han-Yin Hsu
Qing Cao
Sheng-Ping Lin
Experiment from robotics lab.
You won't have to wait to wait 30 years until today's students become principals. In a few months, these new graduates will find jobs and begin influencing what materials are used in buildings currently being designed. Your ability to communicate with them and understand their architectural influences may be critical to your marketing success. For while it may be the principals from my graduating class that make the final call, these youngsters know far more about the realities of computer-aided design than the old geezers ever will.

Now, if only they would understand gravity...

...and if you think I am joking about gravity, take a look at how the emergency exit doors at the school are blocked. This is the second time this year I have visited the campus, and on both occasions the doors were blocked.

This suggests a second reason for you to visit the schools of architecture. The faculty is probably not teaching students about your products and technology. This creates an opportunity for you to cultivate relations with these future principals.

Sci-Arc photos by Vladimir Paperny.

These presentations from Hanley Wood's recent Foundations conference provide eye-opening research, challenge conventional wisdom, and will give you plenty to think about as you plan your next move:

The New Now: Marketing and Media for Construction
Frank Anton, CEO, Hanley Wood, LLC

Charting the Course of a Nonresidential Construction Recovery
Kermit Baker, Chief Economist, The American Institute of Architects

Housing Hits Bottom
Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moody’s Analytics

The Chaos Scenario
Bob Garfield, Editor at Large, “Advertising Age”; Co-host “On the Media” produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR; Author, “The Chaos Scenario”

Hanley Wood Housing 360: Insights Into Home Ownership
Kent W. Colton, President, The Colton Housing Group and Senior Fellow, Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies

Hanley Wood Housing 360: Insights Into Home Ownership Executive Summary
The Colton Housing Group, Kent W. Colton, Ph.D., Gopal Ahluwalia and Jay Shackford

5 Trends in Commercial Design
Ned Cramer, Editorial Director – Commercial Design Group, Hanley Wood, LLC

Residential Design Trends
Boyce Thompson, Editorial Director – Residential New Construction Group, Hanley Wood, LLC

Hot and Not: The Latest Trends in Housing
Jonathan Smoke, Executive Director - Research, Hanley Wood, LLC

Hanley Wood Marketing Conference

Please join Michael Chusid in attending this marketing conference for building product manufacturers:
Hanley Wood Foundations 2011
American Construction and Design Conference 
September 21 and 22 in Chicago

We know how challenging the past few years have been. The shifting economy, changing consumer attitudes, new forms of media and marketing—they’ve likely all been on your mind. Those are the things we kept in mind when we put together this conference.

When you join us at Foundations 2011, you’ll get information to help increase your marketing efficiency, generate more leads, and deal with changing attitudes. And hopefully put your mind at ease.

Registration is free and by invitation only, so contact your Hanley Wood representative, then reserve your spot today. Register now
Wednesday, Sept. 21
3 p.m. Welcome

3:05 p.m. The New Now: Marketing and Media for Construction
In these changing times, many building-product marketers have taken the opportunity to explore and refine their marketing methods. Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton reveals the marketing trends and best practices uncovered by a recent proprietary independent-market-research study conducted by Hanley Wood.
4 p.m. State of the Economy: Commercial Building Industry
In late 2010, the commercial-building industry was showing some positive momentum. American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chief Economist Kermit Baker explores the current state and what’s ahead.
4:45 p.m. State of the Economy: Residential Building Industry
As the U.S. economy shows signs of rebounding, will the residential housing market follow suit? Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, discusses events impacting the industry and offers his forecast.
5:30 p.m. Hanley Wood Windy City Happy Hour

Thursday, Sept. 22

8 a.m. Shifting From the Old Model of Media and Marketing to the New
Bob Garfield is a prominent commentator and analyst of advertising and marketing. His new Ad Age column, Listenomics, explores 21st-century marketing and media, and he’ll share insights on making the move to a new marketing model.
9:10 a.m. Housing 360: Insight Into Home Ownership
According to the headlines, consumer attitudes and ideas about home ownership and remodeling have changed dramatically. Discover what 3,000 diverse consumers disclosed about home ownership, renting, and remodeling in this proprietary Hanley Wood survey, presented by Kent Colton, senior fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. 
10:15 a.m. What’s New: Design Trends
What’s the next big thing in design? Ned Cramer, editorial director of the Hanley Wood commercial design group, and Boyce Thompson, editorial director of the residential new construction group at Hanley Wood, present the latest trends popping up in the commercial and residential design arenas, and explain why they’re likely to show staying power.
11:15 a.m. What’s Hot? What’s Not?
Hanley Wood Market Intelligence is the housing industry's leading independent housing research source. Jonathan Smoke, executive director of research, provides an overview of hot (and not-so-hot) housing markets.
12:15 p.m. Closing Comments

12:30 p.m. Lunch and Adjourn

Don't use trade show to evaluate US market.

It is easy to get lost among the other exhibitors
at a trade show unless you know what
you want to achieve and have a plan.
Foreign manufacturers sometimes exhibit at North American tradeshows, "to see what are our prospects in the US?" This is seldom an effective type of market research.

There is a classic parable about two sales reps sent to a distant country to peddle shoes. After a day, one sent a message to company headquarters, "Coming home on next boat; no one wears shoes here." The other cabled, "Send lots of shoes; no one wears shoes here." But neither would have a valid impression of the true market if they formed their opinions while visiting the beach.

A company from the Netherlands, for example, exhibited at a recent World of Concrete. Not only is their brand unfamiliar in the US, their product category and technology are also foreign to US contractors without international experience.  The staff working the booth were unable to address technology transfer issues such as US building codes. Even their booth and sales skills reflected a European aesthetic and approach to business that does not communicate effectively to North Americans. Yet they were trying to judge the attitudes of American customers.

The Dutch exhibitors were frustrated since they did not know how to explain their product to American contractors. They were trying to "sell" instead of trying to "learn". Their mission may have been more successful if their effort was designed as a real market research opportunity.

For example, they could have conducted "aisle intercept" survey, asking people passing their booth to stop and answer a few questions. A drawing for a trip to Holland would have caught attendees interest and begun the process of building goodwill.

An Italian exhibitor had invested in a 400 sq. ft. island booth in which they had assembled a structure built with their building system - a material costing more than domestic products. Their system may have had benefits that justified the costs, but we will never know. That's because none of the eight executives working the booth spoke fluent English. While they had employed a translator, the individual struggled with the technical jargon of construction.  More, the firm built their demonstration project around the perimeter of their island, then sat inside the display as if they were hiding behind walls. One hopes that, at least, they enjoyed their junket to Vegas.

What are the alternatives
Before investing in the expense of exhibiting at a trade show, do some due diligence. It can be helpful, for example, to attend the trade show as a participant before deciding to exhibit. This gives you the chance to see your potential competitors. And informal discussions with people attending the show can also help you understand the market. Some of Chusid Associates' clients go further, hiring us to "walk the show" with them, so we can point out trends and identify key players.

You can also use a show for private presentations. One of our clients had us recruit targeted prospects to private demonstrations where our client could hold brief but highly informative interviews. Similarly, trade shows are a great opportunity for focus groups, since you can recruit a panel that reflects regional diversity.

One final suggestion: If you are exhibiting at a trade show to "stick a finger in the wind" as a way to judge a market, have your signage and literature translated into English. And avoid using idioms like "sticking a finger in the wind," an expression that might not translate well.

Post Occupancy Evaluation

A seminal work on POE.
Sometimes, the key measurements of a building product can be assessed by physical properties. But many products must also be measured by human factors and how well they meet the emotional, physiological, and psychological needs of a building owner, tenant, or user. For example, lighting can measured in lux or watts per square meter. But it can also be measured by its effect on sales revenue and workplace productivity.

Sometimes these factors can be studied in a laboratory. But in other instances, the only meaningful way to study them is to go into a building to measure the behavior of people using the facility and collect feedback. Consider, for example, a hospital, where design can actually influence patient outcomes, as measured by the amount of pain medication the average patient requires. This type of research is sometimes referred to as post-occupancy evaluation.

One of our clients sells a pre-engineered building system for schoolhouse construction. His customers have been very happy and have written nice testimonials for him. But testimonials, no matter how effusive, can go only so far to establish credibility. My client wanted a more effective tool for convincing school boards to look favorably upon his unique solution.

We proposed to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation comparing two facilities, one built with conventional construction and the other with the pre-engineered system, to understand how the buildings effect the performance of students and faculty. Armed with findings based upon student test scores, faculty turnover, absenteeism, community satisfaction, and other criteria, our client hopes to be able to offer solid evidence that will convince architects and school districts to take a closer look at his system

Sandra Goodman, Ph.D., an associate of Chusid Associates, is a psychologist cross trained in building design and is available to discuss post occupancy evaluation with you. She has conducted post-occupancy evaluations for a major architectural firm, helping to identify lessons that could be applied to other projects, and her skills can also help a building product manufacturer design better products and assess the impact products have on building users.

Post-Occupancy Behavioral Study

Sandra Goodman, Ph.D., our Research Director, participated in the following investigation. While this study was done for an Architectural Firm, similar investigations can provide valuable market research for building product manufacturers.

Does uncertainty sell?

Part of the benefit of expertise, says conventional wisdom, is certainty in the answers it produces. Complete factual accuracy, combined with a total absence of doubt. In fact, that is one of the defining characteristics of expertise, and a part that most sales reps strive to project when asserting their own expertise.

Recent research by Stanford Professor Zakary Tormala suggests a different possibility. In his study, experts that showed uncertainty were found to be more persuasive, while non-experts benefited more from certainty. These findings could have significant implications for companies building a digital marketing program, both in terms of the content you create and user generated content.

The finding that experts should show uncertainty to be persuasive is, at first glance, very counter-intuitive. We go to experts for their certainty, and so we can feel certain ourselves. Looking at it more deeply, though, it might not be so surprising.

First, remember that many questions asked of experts are not purely factual. This means there is no objective "right answer"; there are conditionally-correct answers, and deductive chains based on particular assumptions, but very few absolutes. Especially since so much in construction depends on the project's specific goals. Which is more important: durability, sustainability, functionality, or cost? When purely factual questions do arise, certainty is a benefit. What's your product's R value? Can I get it in red?

For more complex answers, however, expressing some doubt or reservation strengthens your position because it shows you understand how complex the issue is. In fact, Professor Tormala also found that changing your answers later could also improve persuasiveness. (I've been thinking about what I said last time, and upon further reflection...)

He postulates this is because of the surprise factor. We expect experts to display certainty; when they do not, potentially calling their expertise into question, it is notable so we pay more attention to what they say. I suspect this is a large part of it, but also think it helps the audience relate to the expert by making them more approachable, and less of a distant, perfect theorist.

Conversely, non-experts benefit from displaying certainty. This is important to remember if you are developing a Facebook page, forum, blog comment area, or similar interactive site. Look for the users that seem certain your product is the best, and are certain about why. Promote them; nurture the relationship, invite them to do guest posts, get them to work your trade show booth, and help the rest of your clients feel as certain as they are.

Maybe your sales rep shouldn't be local?

New research suggests that you may be more successful if you conduct your negotiations over long distance rather than nearby. If further research validates the findings and shows broader applicability, it could suggest new strategies for conducting sales negotiations. For example, it may be better negotiate via long distance instead of from across town.

Note that this research does not compare distance negotiations to face-to-face negotiations. However digital technologies are increasing the amount of negotiation done at a distance. 

According to a press release from The University of Texas:
Adding physical distance between people during negotiations may lead to more mutually beneficial outcomes...  Psychologist Marlone Henderson examined how negotiations that don't take place in person may be affected by distance. He compared distant negotiators (several thousand feet away) with those who are nearby (a few feet away) in three separate studies. While much work has examined the consequences of different forms of non-face-to-face communication, previous research has not examined the effects of physical distance between negotiators independent of other factors. 
"People tend to concentrate on higher priority items when there is more distance between them by looking at issues in a more abstract way," says Henderson. "They go beyond just thinking about their pursuit of the options presented to them and consider higher-level motives driving their priorities."
Stay tuned for more developments.

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. 

The survey seems to imply that this seemingly large amount of wasted time is due to poor information tools, and not to the work habits of specifiers. It also does not provide insight into how this value may have changed over time. For example, twenty years ago a lot of time was "wasted" filing hard copies of sales catalogs.
Specifiers use manufacturer's websites more frequently than other recognized resources. From a raw percentage standpoint, manufacturer's websites are used twice as often as in-house sources and three times as often as product database websites. 
Not investigated is the value of "product database websites" in driving specifiers to a manufacturers website. I assume "product database websites" includes,,, and others. It would be interesting to know how these various databases compare.
...relatively frequent use of manufacturer's websites is not necessarily a reflection of a high level of satisfaction when getting information. ...manufacturer's web offerings [have] customer dissatisfaction rates of between 20% and 50%...
This matches my experience. There are a lot of websites that are not helpful in finding product information or facilitating product selection and use.

Website deficiencies reported by the survey include:
No guide specifications. 
    46% average response. 54% cite as reason to not return to site.
The importance of offering a guide spec on your website varies with product. Many building products are commodities that do not require guide specifications. Other products are components that are intended to be integrated into larger assemblies or systems; such products may not require a guide specification for themselves.
Product information not easy to "cut and paste".
   40% average response. 74% cite as reason to not return to site.
The ability to cut and paste is useful for incorporating information into a report or email to improve the flow of information among the project team. Difficulties arise when text is treated as a graphic element in a webpage design, or images are incorporated into "flash" presentations. Not only does this make it hard for the specifier to use, it makes it harder for search engines to find your information.

Too many clicks required to find technical information.
   33% average response. 54% cite as reason to not return to site.
Technical info is too embedded in descriptive language.
   33% average response. 91% cite as reason to not return to site.
This finding confuses me. Sometimes the most useful information is communicated in a case study or technical report; not all information can be communicated in a tabular format. Perhaps the complaint is really about sales hyperbole.
Marketing oriented, too little technical info.
   23% average response. 16% cite as reason to not return to site.
This finding is flawed because technical information is also part of marketing communication. More, some websites are intended to motivate the viewer to call the manufacturer or sales rep for more information; some firms still need the human factor involved to engineer the correct solution to a customer's problem.
Not certain info is most current.
  20% average response. 59% cite as reason to not return to site.
There is a timeless battle between "marketing" and "manufacturing," and it takes a committed effort to keep the two in sync. The problem is especially hard with long lead time items; a product specified today may not be manufactured for a year or more. Still, from a product liability perspective, customers are entitled to assume information in your product presentation is current, so watch out.

I thank CSPEC for permission to report on their findings. As with all market research, judgment is required to interpret research for a particular application.

Upside-Down Back Cover

Advertisements on the back cover of a magazine command a premium rate for the extra visibility. Pavestone takes the concept to a new level. By running their ad upside-down with regard to the rest of the magazine, they create an appearance that the ad is really the front cover of a magazine. This illusion is heightened by a layout that looks like the masthead and teaser headlines found on a real magazine cover.

I do not know if the concept wins them any more business, but I give them credit for originality.

Mega-Sized A/E/C Firms

AECOM has redefined what it means to be a large A/E/C consulting firm. It is now a Fortune 500 company with clients in more than 100 countries and annual revenue of $6.3 billion.  URS Corporation, a global provider of engineering, construction and technical services, has revenue of almost $9 billion.

Can building product sales and marketing techniques that work in other parts of the construction industry scale-up to deal with such behemoths?

A new white paper from SMPS Foundation, offers insight:

Supersized Competition: What You Need to Know About the Creation of A/E/C Megafirms by Alexandra S. Brown, and Scott E. Mickle, CPSM, BD & Marketing Director, LandDesign

SMPS Foundation is affiliated with the Society for Marketing Professional Services, a group focusing on marketing of design and construction. So while the report focuses on on marketing professional services, you will be able to glean tips applicable to marketing bricks and sticks.

Other recent white papers from SMPS Foudation include:
A summary of these reports, and links to previous SMPS reports, is available.

Social Networking Use Doubles Among Older Internet Users

According to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project report:
While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools. Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010.
What does this mean to building product marketers? A few things.

First, it continues the trend of adoption. People comfortable navigating social networks for their personal life will be more willing and able to use them at work. Developing the habit of sharing favorite pictures with family and friends also prepares them to share your content with co-workers.

Second, it's another nail in the coffin of the "Digital Native" myth that the youngest person in the office is the one most likely to use the internet at work. The day when heads of architecture and construction firms will have their own Facebook profiles isn't some distant future event; it's already here.

Third, keep this in mind as you design your shiny new website and Facebook fan page. There are important generational differences in how users navigate through a page and find information (for example, younger users are better able to adapt to non-standard navigational schemes), so designing exclusively for one audience may alienate an important demographic from your audience.

I would assume that this trend also means "older users" are increasingly willing to experiment with other new media, such as podcasts and phone apps. We considered and rejected a podcast idea a while back because the audience demographics didn't match our target audience well enough, but it may be time to reconsider that.

Frederic on ReadWriteWeb also notes that, according to the report:
No matter the growing popularity of social networking services among older users, email and online news sites are still far more popular than Facebook and Twitter among this age group. Overall, 92% of all older adults and 89% of all seniors send or read email daily. With regards to online news gathering, 76% of older adults get their news online and 42% say they do so daily. Among seniors, about 62% look for news online and 34% say that they do so daily.

H/T ReadWriteWeb
In other words, even with increased cross-generational adoption, it's still important to match your medium to your audience. 

The Market for Renovating Existing Buildings

The construction industry is too big to capture all at once, so successful building product marketeers look for segments that they can penetrate and dominate. The market for renovating existing buildings is often overlooked by many building product manufacturers. Maybe they are under the illusion that market for historic buildings is only for firms that make reproductions of antique materials. There is a place for period piece manufacturers, but the biggest challenge in rehabbing old buildings is to integrate NEW materials and technologies into the existing structure. Early in my architectural career, for example, I got to remodel the Manitowoc, Wisconsin court house ( While some locations in the building required specialists to recreate or repair historic materials, most of our challenges were to find new materials that could tie into existing materials -- physically and aesthetically.  

I am reminded about this while reading a summary of the market posted by Restore Media, publishers Traditional Buildings and other media focusing on the existing building sector. It is reprinted below with permission.

Traditional building is an estimated $170 billion market, including both residential and non-residential historic restoration, renovation and new construction in historical styles. The market’s professionals—contractors, building owners, facility managers, developers, planners, preservationists, architects, custom builders, interior designers and tradesmen—buy and specify an estimated $50 billion of building materials per year.

As of this year, 2010, just under 30% of the U.S. housing stock is more than 55 years old. Likewise, about 25% of the commercial, institutional and public buildings are now 55 years old or older. From 1995 to 2010, old buildings, as a percentage of total building inventory, have grown by 8.2%. Add to this the old buildings built between 1953 and 1972, and the old building inventory swells to nearly 53% of the U.S. total building inventory.

Traditional building is defined as the restoration, renovation, maintenance and preservation of historic buildings, architecturally important buildings or both. It includes the new construction of period-style or contextual additions and buildings, such as “new old" houses, traditional neighborhood developments, commercial/ institutional infill and adaptive reuse. For a glossary of traditional building terms, see below.
Old houses, schools, churches, hotels, house museums, retail and office buildings, as well as public buildings like historic post offices, courthouses and state capitals, are part of the $170 billion traditional building market if they are historically and architecturally significant and in need of expansion or repair. 
  • The integrity of the location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
  • A building that is an excellent example of a style, period, or method of construction.
  • A site where a historical event occurred or an important person lived or worked.
  • A structure that represents a turning point in architectural design, planning or technology.
  • A site that has yielded or is likely to yield important historical information.
(Source: "AIA Guide to Historic Preservation 2001")


An aging building stock: by the end of 2010, 28% of America’s housing inventory will be 56 years old or older; 52% will be 35 years old and getting older. There are over 41 million houses in this age bracket.

The federal government manages 430,000 buildings, most of which are historic. (Source: "Carying for the Past, Managing for the Future: Federal Stewardship and America's Historic Legacy")
There are 14,000 historic districts.

There are 24,000 schools built before 1951, most or all within walking distance of older neighborhoods. (Source: U.S. Department of Education)
Changes in federal funding programs have strengthened historic preservation’s connection to urban planning and community development. For example, since 1992, $10.4 billion has been apportioned for transportation enhancement programs with a major traditional building component. (Source: "Transportation Enhancement Activities: Appointments for FY 1992-2008," U.S. Department of Transportation)
Public transportation is available to 60% of older, established and historic neighborhoods compared with 75% of new housing that has no access to public transportation.

The cost of fuel and resulting government emphasis on public transportation, infrastructure, urban revitalization and context-sensitive design have reversed the tide of suburban flight. For example, there are now more residential housing units on Wall Street than there are offices.

According to the Urban Land Institute, by the year 2050 the U.S. urban population will grow by 300 million people.

According to the Metropolitan Institute, there will be 55,000 multi-housing units built in the next 40 years, much of this from the adaptive reuse of historic buildings on commercial and transportation corridors.
According to the Department of Energy, there will be twice as much commercial and institutional renovation than new construction in the next 20 years.

The Department of Interior approves federal historic tax credits for approximately $3.5 billion in historic restoration and renovation per year. In 2006 alone, federal tax credit projects jumped 15% to 1,253.

As of 2008, 29 states were offering additional state historic tax credits to encourage the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Of these, 23 states offer a tax credit to homeowners. (Source: The National Trust for Historic Preservation)
The National Main Street Center has rehabbed over 180,000 historic buildings on main streets across America. (Source: National Main Street Center)

Despite declining real estate values in 2007-2008, price appreciation for older buildings in close-in neighborhoods has held steady or increased.

The construction of buildings accounts for nearly 50% of new greenhouse gas emissions. Building demolition accounts for 75% of landfills. There is a shift away from new to 'renew", from new construction to restoration, renovation and adaptive reuse.(Source: “Trends in Building Related Energy and Carbon Emissions: Actual and Alternate Scenarios,” Energy Information Administration)
By 2007 22 states, 55 cities, 11 counties, 8 towns and 11 federal agencies had adopted green building initiatives. Governors in 25 states have adopted climate action plans with 14 more now developing plans. In Arlington Virginia, for example, municipal buildings must be LEED rated, by law. (Source: USGBC) 
The U.S. Green Building Council recently approved LEED points for the “embodied energy” in existing buildings. This will make tear-down and re-build projects less likely in the future. It will drive the growth of “greening” existing and historic buildings, already well underway in Portland, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The professionals who work on traditional buildings have unique information needs and interests based on the special challenges and, in some cases, government regulations that historic buildings require. Extensive research is always required before breaking ground. At the very least, designing and building to fit an existing neighborhood or vernacular tradition require an aesthetic sensitivity to classical architecture: the right scale, proportions and materials. In a complex historic restoration and renovation, professionals are challenged by a whole range of issues, from restoring or replicating historic products, to meeting Department of Interior (National Park Service) federal tax credit standards.

Architects play a very important role in traditional building, both on high end residential period homes and historic commercial/institutional/public work.

The traditional building architecture firm:
  • does a yearly construction volume of $10,960,000 (average size firm);
  • has an average 18 employees;
  • operates in a local/regional market but because of its specialized historic work, also serves clients nationally and internationally;
  • relies on commercial/public and institutional historic restoration, renovation and traditional-style new construction as significant parts of its work; and
  • breaks out into large firms (20 architects or more on staff) that typically do commercial/public/institutional work only and small to medium-size firms that do high-end residential and light commercial work.
According to the AIA, 30% of all architect billings are from government work.
(Source: "AIA Firm Survey; Traditional Building Audience Research 2008")

TRADITIONAL BUILDING CONTRACTOR PROFILE The general contractor, restoration/renovation contractor and custom (period-style) builder play an important role in traditional building

The traditional building contractor:
  • is a firm with a yearly construction volume of $7,780,000 (average size firm);
  • builds for an average $300 or higher per construction foot;
  • has an average of 10 employees;
  • operates in a local/regional market but will follow local clients to national and international destinations; and
  • relies on traditional building as a significant part of its work.
Very large firms ($50 million or more) typically do commercial/public/institutional work only, while small to medium-size firms do high-end residential and light commercial projects.

(Source: Traditional Building and Period Homes Audience Research 2008)

  • Quality products and service
  • Availability; short, and/or predictable lead times
  • A great website that addresses the professional’s needs and interests
  • Product brochures to share with clients
  • Technical support, accessed via an 800 number
  • Personal service offering solutions to problems
  • Market segment expertise
  • Continuing education credits
  • Shared risk and call-back resolution
  • Design flexibility
  • Period-accurate and authentic products
  • Options and choices presented in a good/ better/ best scenario
  • Comparative analysis vs. other product brands/competitors
  • Proven but unique products
  • Green products that last a long time and can be repaired
(Source: Restore Media, LLC, Audience Research, 2008)

(order of importance but varies by product type and project demands)

  • Quality
  • Durability
  • Historical accuracy
  • Ability to match custom specs
  • Availability/lead time
  • Manufacturer reputation/dependability
  • Green attributes
  • Low maintenance
  • Customer service and support
  • Ease of installation
  • Price
  • Terms
(Source: Restore Media, LLC, Audience Research 2008)

The greatest benefit of historic preservation is the protection and interpretation of our cultural heritage. Buildings are a true record of the period or society that created them. They are a primary source of historical information. The historic and social value of preserving older neighborhoods, restoring a landmark county courthouse or adaptive use of railroad stations or other underutilized buildings across the country far exceeds the direct economic benefits. Preservation makes a significant contribution to the beauty and enjoyment of our cities, towns and rural landscapes and to the quality of life in these special places.

At the same time, the economic benefits of preservation are not inconsequential. Solid documentation exists regarding benefits to the tax base of communities and stimulation of the economy.

Both public and private owners have come to realize the economic benefits of preservation. Savings in costs, materials and energy in the adaptive use or preservation of existing buildings are significant. In adaptive-reuse projects, the cost per square foot can be substantially less than that for new construction. In addition, both energy and natural resources can be saved by re-using existing structures rather than constructing buildings using new manufactured materials delivered to the jobsite.

Owners of buildings that are recognized historic landmarks or are located in designated historic districts may qualify for other financial benefits. Federal tax laws and Internal Revenue Service regulations provide tax credits for the restoration of commercial buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. State and local grants and special tax deductions may also be available.

(Source: "The American Institute of Architects Guide to Historic Preservation")

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one set of interrelated community-building challenges.

CNU advocates the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments and the preservation of our built legacy.

Physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

(Source: Congress for New Urbanism Charter 2001)

Preservation: applying the measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity and materials of a historic property. Preservation work generally focuses on the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic fabric rather than extensive replacement or new construction.

Rehabilitation: adapting a property for continuing or new compatible use through repair, alteration and additions, while preserving those portions or features that convey its historical, cultural or architectural values.

Restoration: accurately depicting the form, materials, features and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time. Restoration retains as much of the historic period fabric as possible. Inconsistent features may need to be removed and missing features faithfully reconstructed in accordance with the restoration period.

Reconstruction: depicting by means of new construction the form, materials, features and character of a historic property that no longer exists, as it appeared at a particular period of time, in its historic location.

(Source: "The American Institute of Architects Guide to Historic Preservation")

AIA Historic Resources Committee (HRC)
American Institute of Building Design (AIBD)
Association for Preservation Technology Intl. (APTI)
Congress for the New Urbanism
Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America (ICA CA)
International Network Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU)
National Town Builders Association
The National Trust for Historic Preservation
New Urban Guild (NUG)
Preservation Action
Preservation Education Institute (PEI)
Preservation Trades Network (PTN)
The Urban Land Institute 

Water Usage in Buildings

While the efficiency of plumbing fixtures comes immediately to mind when thinking about water conservation, concerns about water usage affect many other categories of building products. Just as many buildings attempt to go off the power grid by generating electricity on site, designers are now looking for ways to take buildings off the water grid by collecting and reusing water on site. Roofing, wall cladding, and sitework must all be re-evaluated in terms of their use in water systems. On-site water storage and processing requires new types of tanks and structural systems. And surfaces that are self-cleaning or otherwise reduce the amount of water used for maintenance are being introduced.

A conceptual study of a highrise designed to optimize rain collection illustrates the growing interest in water efficient architecture. Designed by architectural student:
they decided to design a tower, whose structure will allow for capturing and processing as much rainfall as possible to provide ... water for its inhabitants.  ...we focused at shaping and modeling the surface of the roof to capture as much rainfall as possible. Under a roof's surface, there are water reservoirs in the form of a large funnel and reed fields, which serve as a hydro botanic water treatment unit. The unit processes water into usable water that is further transmitted to apartments. 
A network of gutters on the external surfaces of the building is designed to capture rainfall flowing down the building. such flowing rainfall is transmitted to floors and its surplus is stored in a reservoir under the building. water captured and processed by the building may be used for flushing toilets, feeding washing machines, watering plants, cleaning floors and other domestic applications.
As is appropriate for a student project, the design is more of an exploration of ideas than a practical scheme for construction, but suggests where design may go when water becomes part of the design program. (For the record, one of my student projects, during the 1970's, also focused on water conservation and was equally idealistic. I became so wrapped up in the theoretical implications that I never finished the presentation drawings.) 

For product managers looking into water-usage related opportunities, McGraw Hill has recently published:
Water Use in Buildings: Achieving Business Performance Benefits through Efficiency

This 40-page printed report (available as hard copy or PDF) reviews the role of water efficiency in buildings.  Among other topics, the report covers: involvement and importance of water efficiency, business benefits of water-efficient practices and methods, drivers and obstacles to water efficiency, types of water-efficient products and methods and sources of information behind product selection and use.
Charts throughout the report demonstrate detailed information and successful strategies in order to take advantage of opportunities in the water-efficiency market. For example, the top two motivators to the incorporation of water-efficient practices & products are illustrated in chart form. Energy use reduction is the number one motivator at 78%, and operating cost reduction is 84%. High-efficiency toilets, water-saving sinks, and waterless urinals are all products associated with these cost reductions.
The link between energy and water continues to become transparent and widespread. Both government drivers and the desire to lower energy costs are expected to lead to faster adoption of water-efficiency products and practices. This report finds that 85% of industry players rank water efficiency as a very important part of a green building in 2013, up from 69% in 2008.  Overall, the report research finds that water-efficient products and practices have been embraced for the green buildings of tomorrow.