It is always good to ask customers for feedback. I asked Ed Davis, President of Ceilume, and here is what he posted on my LinkedIn page.
"Working with Michael Chusid as an architectural product marketing consultant has been a revelation for our company, and will certainly be the same for yours if you choose to engage his services.

His depth of knowledge and innate inquisitiveness will, in short order, have him telling you things about your product that you probably haven’t thought of, and finding potential marketing strategies and market niches that you have not considered. You hire a consultant to tell you things you don’t know, to augment your strengths, and to expand your thinking. Mr. Chusid will do all that and more.

Expect some assumptions you hold dear to be challenged. Expect established patterns of thought and procedure to be disrupted, in a good way. Expect Michael to function as a dedicated member of your staff, not as an outsider. Never one to shoot from the hip, his advice, when given, will always be thoughtful and insightful. Whether or not you choose to follow it, understand that it is carefully considered, and worth your careful consideration.

If you are looking for a “yes person” to confirm what you are already doing, Michael is most likely not your man. If you are looking for someone to help take your product or your business to the next level, Michael is the guy to get you there."

Quantum Business Start-Up
This cartoon brilliantly captures a quality that is essential to anyone starting a business or launching a new building product. Before the first spade of earth is turned to build a factory, for example, one has to be know that the project is a total success; even if it can't be observed yet.

Sustainability and Built-In Obsolescence

LED modules, like these from CREE, may offer an alternative to obsolescence
A lighting sales rep gave recently visited my office to demonstrate his new line of LED light fixtures. The product has outstanding performance in most of the ways I expect from a commercial-grade luminaire: uniform and controlled light distribution, good color balance, an attractive housing, and the amazingly high efficacy (illumination/power) of the latest breed of LED.

Then I asked the rep where I could get replacement LEDs when the current ones fail.  He hemmed and hawed and then admitted the manufacturer did not have a program to sell replacement lamps or electronic drivers. "But that doesn't matter," he said, because the components are warrantied for five years, and by then there will be better technology and you would just replace the entire fixture.

While the company's literature touts how much energy its fixtures would save compared to fixtures with older and less efficient light sources. Yet the literature is silent on the environmental costs of replacing the housing and other components that could, feasibly, last for decades.  Making the matter worse, the housing was not designed for ease of relamping, further reinforcing the throw-away mindset.

I learned about lamp obsolesce the hard way.  Years ago, at a yard sale, I found some funky looking, gently used, industrial grade fluorescent light fixtures for what I thought was a bargain price -- perfect for the dark basement I was fixing up.

It turned out that the units required a size and style of fluorescent tube that had gone out of production. Sure, replacement lamps were still available, but they cost more than replacing the entire fixture with newer models.
Hubbell Roadway RF LED Retrofit Kit
Some lighting manufacturers are trying to address this type of problem. Some, for example, make LED elements that can be used to retrofit their older products. Looking forward, other companies are developing LED modules that can be used interchangeably in a variety of luminaires. As LED technology improves, the company can offer upgraded modules that do not require entire fixtures to be replaced.

I believe innovative solutions like these provide a better value to buyers, reinforce the manufacturers' green branding, and create a platform that can carry the manufacturers further into the future than they would get with throw-away products.

The marketing take-away from this is that manufacturers claiming to offer green products must look at the entire product life cycle, and offer a strategy to minimize the impact of improved technology.  As a species, we can no longer accept the culture of planned obsolescence.

The Ultimate Roll-Up?

I was recently asked about the attractiveness of having a single company provide all elements of the building envelope, including roofing, foundation, exterior walls, cladding, windows, curtainwalls, entrances, storefronts, insulation, vapor barriers, and the rest. The question came from a business strategy firm, suggesting that some group of investors is seriously contemplating such a move.

At least one company is already well on its way to being able to offer complete building envelopes. Oldcastle is one of the company's that is well on its way toward offering a complete package, with strong positions in masonry, concrete, glass and glazing systems, curtainwalls, doors and skylights. Add a roofing manufacturing line, and they have it.*

The past few decades has seen strong trends towards "roll-ups" -- bringing many small producers under one corporate ownership -- in attempts to gain economy of scale and improve competitiveness by dominating an industry and combining related products into package.

Roll-ups are well established in some sectors. In lighting fixtures, for example, Hubbell has acquired over 20 previously independent brands, and electronic giant Philips recently acquired the sixteen brands that had been rolled-up by Genlyte. Assa Abbloy and just a few other firms now dominate door hardware.

While roll-ups do have important competitive advantages, many suffer from the following syndromes:
  • They lose the edge in innovation to smaller, more flexible and entreprenurial business.
  • Promotion of individual brands suffer from having to follow a corporate model. For example, some of my clients have to use corporate websites that focus on selling to investors instead of to designers and builders.
  • Managers, striving to improve the profits of their division, become jealous of and competitive with each business units, to the detriment of the overall company.
  • Product offerings become so diverse, that individuals within the firm are unable to cross refer prospects or identify opportunities for other brands.
  • Size dilutes the expertise.  What salesman can be an authority on glass AND roofing AND insulation? In smaller companies, a prospect can deal directly with a principal or other senior personnel with true expertise in a field.
Indeed, I have been a consultant to many large firms and roll-ups that crumbled due to their mass, and were more competive when unrolled.

Further, roll-ups have to compete with companies that do not manufacture all parts of a system, but assemble or "package" products from multiple vendors into bid packages that also create economies of scale. Packagers also have the advantage of using the "best" product or a job without the limitations of having to use those from sister companies. They also have the flexibility to take advantage of attractive spot pricing.

In the final analysis, every general contractor is a packager, and already offers all elements of the building envelope.

* Pre-engineered metal building manufacturers do already offer a complete envelope, including walls, roofs, structure, and accessories. But that is a subject for another blog post.

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

Fax speed can propel you to competitive edge

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote more 20 years ago. We can look back at the introduction of fax technology for clues about how best to adopt newer communication technologies.

It seems as if I now send and receive more letters by facsimile than by U.S. mail. How can I make better use of the fax machine in my sales and marketing program? —T.M.J., vice president, sales and marketing

The phenomenally fast spread of fax machines throughout the industry leaves us wondering how we ever got along without them. Time is money; even overnight delivery of orders, sales directives, or product information can be too slow.

When writing a construction specification recently, I called two competing manufacturers for product information. One responded by overnight delivery. Not only did it cost the firm more than $10 for shipping plus the cost of the printed literature, it also cost the firm the chance to be specified. While I was still waiting for that manufacturer’s information, the second manufacturer responded by fax.

In fact, the fax arrived while I was still on the phone with the firm’s salesperson. We were able to clarify immediately which product met my requirements. By the time the competitor’s overnight package arrived, I had completed that section of the specification.
Increasingly inexpensive, fax machines are now ubiquitous in architectural and engineering offices and are becoming more common in jobsite trailers. For overseas work, fax may be the only way to quickly and reliably send written or graphic information. Many firms have more than one fax line to avoid busy signals.

A “shoe shine and a handshake” once epitomized face-to-face selling. Now we routinely buy over the telephone from faceless voices. But the need for graphic information in design and construction limited the use of telemarketing in building product sales. Salespeople and customers still had to meet to exchange drawings and sketches.

Fax machines have turned the telephone into a more useful tool for building product sales. Along with other new technologies, such as online computer communications, fax machines will enable manufacturers to reduce their field sales forces. A salesperson who could visit only five customers a day before can now contact dozens in the same time frame. Telemarketers should have fax machines on their desks so they can send and receive drawings while on the phone with customers.

Make fax a part of your field sales automation program, too. Salespeople should have access to fax machines wherever they work to avoid delays and to cut down on telephone tag. Salespeople who work out of their homes should have fax machines in their home offices. Those on the road can have a fax in their cars thanks to cellular telephones. Traveling salespeople can use a compact fax modem with a laptop computer to send and receive faxes without lugging around a separate fax machine. They may also want to consider an “electronic mailbox” at which to receive fax transmissions. Electronic mailboxes, offered by online information services such as CompuServe, store fax messages until the recipient can download them from a hotel room or even a pay phone along the highway.

Fax machines will change your marketing communications, as well. While “junk fax” should not be encouraged, you can use the fax judiciously to notify customers of special promotions or buying incentives.

An innovative maker of expansion joint covers recognized that most specifiers did not need complete information on each of the firm’s several hundred designs. The manufacturer also felt that as technology and testing status of its fire rated joint covers changed, printed data sheets would rapidly become obsolete. The solution was to distribute a summary catalog with an offer to fax full, updated information on products of interest. The firm offered a toll-free phone number for inquiries.

To make a program like this even more efficient, consider using the new computer-based fax servers. These systems store product data sheets, test reports, article reprints, and other sales collateral on a hard disk and are linked to your customer database. When your salespeople receive an inquiry, they can call up or enter a customer profile, record the nature of the inquiry, and select appropriate product literature from a menu. The materials can be faxed directly from the computer before the conversation is over. Similar fax fulfillment services can be obtained from outside vendors such as McGraw Hill Inc.’s Product Facs program.

Make sure your product literature is readable by fax machine. Background colors or patterns that look good in print can be illegible when faxed.

Direct mail bounce-back cards and magazine reader service cards should be large enough to feed through a fax machine. Include your fax number and those of your reps on your product literature, advertising, stationery, and any form asking customers to submit information.

When shopping for a fax machine, look at those that can store the phone numbers of your sales offices, distributors, and others you communicate with regularly. A machine that can transmit to pre-programmed routing lists is a valuable time-saver when you have to communicate price or policy changes to many salespeople or customers across the country.

Emerging technologies promise to make the fax an even more important sales and marketing tool. Large format machines can transmit drawings as wide as 24 inches. Machines with high-resolution color capabilities give good reproductions of color photographs or images. Pay-for-use 900 numbers enable trade associations and others to automate fax delivery of standards and other documents they normally charge fees for.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1992

Social Media and the Paradox of Choice

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

The answer is not to limit choice, but to sharpen focus.
A new client recently asked me what I considered "essential social media" for a B2B company. Off the top of my head, I listed (in no particular order):
  • Blog
  • Twitter stream
  • Facebook fan page
  • LinkedIn profile for key executives and company
  • Email newsletter
  • YouTube channel
  • Online photo gallery
  • Website optimization
  • Wikipedia editing
  • Mobile landing page
...and then I paused to take a breath. Is it any wonder my client felt overwhelmed? Seeing the panic on his face, I considered the list and refocused. The first thing we did was narrow the list down by combining similar items:
  1. Website overhaul (which includes blog, mobile page, and SEO review)
  2. Online media gallery
  3. Social networking
  4. Email marketing
  5. Online brand monitoring
Suddenly we had a manageable list.  Sure, creating an "online media gallery strategy" takes more work than starting a YouTube channel, but it made it easier to see the full picture and start our next step: prioritizing.

We began with goal setting; what was the purpose of this online campaign? The client's experience showed that their existing sales network was very effective; the major needs were brand awareness, education, and maintaining customer loyalty. That suggested a single technology to me: email newsletters.

E-newsletters can be very effective at keeping your brand top-of-mind for both new prospects, who need education and awareness, and existing customers, who are reminded of past positive experiences. With the right set-up it is even easy to send multiple versions of your newsletter at once, each customized for a particular audience. Better yet, all of the other online options we discussed suddenly became part of a single project by contributing content to the newsletter, building awareness of it, and building a subscriber base.

It is also important to remember that no company can be successful in every social media venue, so it is always acceptable - encouraged even - to pick the few you want to focus on and ignore the rest. Redesigning the social media mix is fairly simple, so there is little opportunity cost involved. Still, this experience with my client was a good example of how asking the right questions and focusing on goals can change a seemingly impossible list of options into a single manageable project.

How a 100-year-old company learns new tricks

Fast Company's interview with Newell Rubbermaid's E-Business leader Bert DuMars contains some interesting ideas that could work for building product marketing. (Check out the full article here.) DuMars markets a company with many brands, from consumer products Rubbermaid and Sharpie to commercial brands like Kirsch window treatments and Irwin Tools. Here, he describes letting one brand run ahead and try new things:

In the case of social media marketing and community building, our pioneer brand was Graco Baby products. Once the pioneer brand has shown success we internally communicate how they approached the opportunity and the tactics and strategies they used. To continue the learning from the pioneer brand effort, we hold monthly, weekly and sometimes more often small, internal teleconferences with several of our brands to discuss questions, new ideas and any issues we run into.

DuMars has the advantage of a huge number of potential pioneers, each with a consumer audience. Any company can learn from the concept, though. By identifying one product or technique that has good traction in the market, then learning to press that advantage, a company can bring those lessons back home to apply to other products.

And here, DuMars talks about using online consumer reviews to discover and overcome problems.

When we launched our Produce Saver food storage product the first 7 reviews came back as two 5-Star and five 1-Star reviews. That is quite a difference but good to know. We contacted the five 1-Star reviewers and found out they were not following the instructions on how to use the product. We immediately put additional instruction information on the product page and wrote a blog post on how to use Produce Saver for best results.

While a building product company can't rely on end-user reviews for feedback the way Newell Rubbermaid can, this technique does carry lessons for us. Could you test a new product with trusted installers? How would you gather their experience and use it to improve future projects' performance? Would your installers appreciate an online forum with product reviews and tips?

Chusid Associates can help you pioneer a new idea or gather and use product feedback. Inspired? Give us a call.

World of Concrete 2011 is Earlier Than 2010

Chusid Associates helped multiple clients prepare for WOC 2010 (six of our clients were at the show) so we know just how pressured it can become.  Mark your calendar now, while you’re calm and rational, to set up a WOC prep gameplan that will get you to the show without ulcers or excessive overtime, or call us if you’d like help planning your show, executing your booth, scheduling and press conferences and speaking opportunities, and creating all the needed presentation and support materials.  

Speaking of speaking opportunities, the deadline for topic and speaker proposals is April 9, 2010.

How to Build a Business: Lessons from Architectural History

As an architect consulting to building product manufacturers, I often draw upon the rich legacy of architectural history for inspiration.

For example, when faced with a large, complex, and daunting project, such as launching a new building product, I remember Daniel Burnham (b. 1846 – d. 1912), an architect responsible for some of the first skyscrapers, major projects like the World's Columbian Exposition, and the planning document that played a major role in shaping Chicago.

Befitting his large and ambitious projects, he is remembered for his exhortation:

"Make no little plans.
They have no magic to stir men's blood
and probably will not themselves
be realized."

An earlier exponent of this philosophy was Abbot Suger, who initiated the 12th Century rebuilding of the great Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, in France, one of the first great Gothic buildings. He dared dream on a scale beyond his means to realize.
After the west facade and narthex was constructed, he skipped the nave that runs most of the length of the building, and moved on to the construction of the chancel at the eastern end of the projected building.

There was a considerable distance between the two ends, and the infill construction was not completed for another hundred years. Yet he had the vision that inspired the project, and has continued to inspire worshipers for over eight hundred years.

While building a business requires attention to a myriad of small details, it is the big audacious goal is also essential to the success of an enterprise.

The Six Construction Industries

Fundamental to marketing is the concept of segmenting markets. The construction industry is too large and diverse to be dealt with as a whole. This excerpt from an presentation in 1984 offers insight into how to segment construction:

The Six Construction Industries
Here in Washington we often choose to talk about the ‘building industry,’ and discuss issues like changes in the levels of employment, changes in quality and safety, changes in productivity, changes in opportunities and risks from foreign competition, as if it were a single industry. I don’t think this makes much sense.

In many ways the building industry is no more monolithic than the transportation industry. The transportation industry includes the airlines industry, the railroad industry, the trucking industry, and the shipping industry. There is little crossover between the organizations, the institutions, the skilled manpower, the technologies, and the R&D base that are utilized by those sectors of the transportation industry.

Practically no Federal policy can affect each of the separate industries within transportation. But since you don’t want too many units that report to the president, you can create a Department of Transportation and lump all of those things that have to do with movement under it. It also is useful to talk about a transportation industry for economists who want to make measures of the national economic sectors. It avoids having that many more pages of statistics if you can somehow or other have a number that represents the contribution of the transportation industry to the gross national product.

The building industry, or the building industries, as I prefer to call them, are combined for much the same reason. It makes sense to look at the several building industries if what one wants to identify is expected changes in the industry.

For our purposes, it seems to me there are six industries which react quite differently to those kinds of issues:

• The first is the housing industry (Architect as product designer) – the collection of organizations, technologies, skills and financial mechanisms whose purpose is to convert raw land, usually purchased on a speculative basis, into dwelling units that can be sold or rented to individuals and families. The major distinction for the purpose of analysis is that this process is begun before there is a buyer in mind. The builder of these houses builds a house against a potential market, not against clients who come to them and say “These are our needs, and we want a house of this kind.” Very few houses in the country are done that way, and I put those in the fourth category.

• The second is what I call the manufactured building industry. I call this a separate industry because it is a collection of organizations, technology, labor and financial mechanisms whose purpose is not to convert land into buildings, but rather to manufacture off-site units that are anywhere from the whole unit to subassemblies, which can be transported to the site. A few companies like the Ryland Corporation own house manufacturing capabilities, as well as build conventionally, and I’m sure we can find all kinds of exceptions at the margin for each of these.

• The third industry I call the commercial developers. I mean by this people who buy raw land and convert it into buildings other than housing – people who develop industrial parks, people who develop shopping centers, or people who develop office buildings. Again, the character of this industry is that there is no client in advance. There’s a prospective market out there, and there’s land, and there’s investment to be made in building something on this land which will eventually be leased or sold to a set of users which will emerge.

• The fourth industry, is the one that most of us think about when we talk about ‘the building industry.’ It is the conventional collection of organizations, design and engineering firms, banking institutions, general contractors and subcontractors, regulatory bodies, etc. that build buildings for specific clients: an agency of the Government, a private client, or sometimes a wealthy family. The client sets the requirements, decides on where they’re going to locate, usually purchase their own land, and then enter into a process in which a design is created for them that’s eventually put out to competitive bids. The ‘building industry’ listed here is the only industry in which competitive bidding occurs. It is practically the only industry of building where there will be a major change if there is a technological breakthrough. It’s the one building industry where bidding can reflect market conditions as a result of change in prices.

None of the industries listed above really have much competitive bidding. Sometimes market competition works in the housing industry, but only over a long period of time. The major impact of the housing industry, as we’ve mentioned already this morning, is what it cost to buy the land, and what is the mortgage rate that they have to pay? We used to speculate we could practically build a house for nothing, and it wouldn’t change the price which people would pay for housing, because the market price for housing was determined by a whole lot of factors other than the technology of building.

• The fifth industry, the remodeling industry, is one we sometimes forget. Of the $250 billion that represent s our 10 percent of the gross national product, is included almost $50 billion in this remodeling industry. This probably does not include rehabilitation of existing buildings in the sense that an architect and contractor might do it, nor does it include rehabilitation of the kind that homebuilders do. It means the remodeling industry that sells things from aluminum storm sash, to screen doors, to new store fronts for small businesses; that is financed by short-term financing rather than increases in mortgages. It is not regulated by the building codes, by and large. For a long time, it could be characterized by the blue suede shoe type of salesman.

• The sixth industry, and the one that OTA chose not to cover in this workshop, is what I call the heavy construction industries. These industries build highways, dams and facilities. Their clients are primarily public agencies and utilities.

Chusid Associates uses a similar methodology when we begin segmenting the construction industry as part of a marketing plan for our clients. Of course, there are additional segments such as DIY and the Operations and Maintenance business. And there are other ways to segment the "industries". But we will save them for future posts.

By John P. Eberhard, former Executive Director of the Advisory Board on the Built Environment at the National Academy of Sciences. From: Technology & the Future of the U.S. Construction Industry, AIA Press, 1986. The entire report is available online.

SixthSense and the Future of Construction

Whatever you are doing, STOP.

Take three minutes to see the future of computing. What will this mean to the way architects, engineers, builders, and the public select, purchase, and use your building products?

What will it mean to the future of your company and how you do business.

This is not something over the horizon; this moves the horizon.

Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology | Video on

The Six Construction Industries

"The construction industry is like a great big gray glob. Just when you think you have your arms around it, it squeezes out somewhere else."
My mentor, Harold Simpson, PE, was fond of saying this. His point was that every building product marketing strategy has to begin by segmenting the industry so you know where to aim.

For example, John Eberhard says what we typically call the building "industry" should really be thought of as the building "industries," and describes six different industries or segments:

1. HOUSING INDUSTRY: Converts raw land, usually purchased on a speculative basis, into dwelling units that can be sold or rented.

2. MANUFACTURED BUILDING INDUSTRY: Manufactures off-site units that can be anywhere from whole units to sub-assemblies which can be transported to the site.

3. COMMERCIAL DEVELOPERS: Buys raw land and converts it into buildings other than housing, without having a client in advance.

4. "THE BUILDING INDUSTRY": All the institutions and actors that builds a building for a specific client. The client determines the requirements, usually purchases the land, then selects the designers and builders through bidding or another process.

5. THE REMODELING INDUSTRY: Characterized, in many cases, as work done with short-term financing. While Eberhard does not go into detail on this sector, remodeling can be further subdivided into residential and non-residential, DIY, and maintenance services.

6. HEAVY CONSTRUCTION: Highways, dams, railroads, utilities, etc.

Eberhard was Executive Director of Advisory Board on the Built Environment at the National Academy of Sciences. He describes these industries in Chapter 11 of Technology and the Future of the US Construction Industry, Congress of the United States Office of Technology Assessment, 1986.  I highly recommend this short essay. It is available on Google Books and as a PDF download.

Where will your next great marketing idea come from?

If you are reading only the design and construction trade publications, you will usually be following the market rather than creating them.

I was thinking about this while reading Journal of Healthcare Protection Management, Vol 25 No 2, a journal published by International Association of Healthcare Safety and Security. Its articles are written mostly by healthcare facility management professionals and discuss concerns that may still be below the radar of designers and the building product manufacturers that serve the industry.

For example, an article by David Corbin, "Designing a 'Safe Room' on a Medical Nursing Unit Floor" describes an experiment at Faulkner Hospital, Boston. They observed an increase in violence by "at risk" patients. Following
extensive planning, they remodeled a patient room so it could be used with patients deemed to be a security risk, but without the sterility of a prison or psych hospital room. The table below identifies some of the changes. (Click to enlarge.)Note that it the changes affect hardware, cabinetry, communication systems, plumbingware, specialties, and other types of building materials. While this was one room in one hospital, it could mark a trend that may expand to include the hardening of walls, lighting, finishes, etc.

Another article in the same issue, "The SEO (Security Entrance Officer): A Wave of the Future of Healthcare Security," by Edward Panell, describes efforts by a hospital in Seattle to provide better control of entry into its facility. By the time a phenomenon becomes a TLA (Three Letter Acronym), it may well be on its way towards becoming a wave. While the Seattle Hospital solved its problems with aggressive staffing, it is possible to imagine that future hospitals may require different types of entrances, hardware, controls, monitoring equipment, and other building products.

When Chusid Associates did an extensive healthcare market research project in the 1980s, it was a time when the trend was to make hospitals "warmer" and more accessible. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging. One of our clients is already profiting from the increased security in healthcare.

Trends like these are occurring in all building types. Building product manufacturers who want to be leaders in their market segments should monitor leading indicators, and conduct fresh market research on a regular basis.

Marketing 101 - Part 4


The other day I saw a startling piece of advertising. It was on a truck operated by a dog-poop scooping service (yes, there are such things, at least here in Southern California.) The truck had nice graphics explaining what they did and their contact info, but it was the copyline right in the middle of it that impacted me deeply… and I am a hardened copywriter with many years’ experience:

“Your dog’s ‘biscuits’ are our bread and butter.”

That line is a classic example of the slippery slope we embark on when following the temptation to be clever.

Everybody wants to be clever. Everybody’s heard a really good ad copyline, sometime, that really made you laugh. When you’re designing ads for your own company, it’s really tempting to be clever.

I have to admit that I will remember the dog biscuit line forever. It creates a vivid image in my mind. And advertising is about being memorable, getting attention, right?

Partially right. Advertising is about making the product or the brand memorable. And the biscuit line certainly did that.

So what’s wrong with it? Why do I call it a slippery slope?

Because, honestly, I don’t want to meet the person who thought to link dog poop to the phrase “bread and butter.” I don’t want to shake his hand. I don’t want to smell his breath. I can’t imagine doing business with him.

Clever and on-target can be very powerful. Clever but off target is confusing: it gets attention to your ad, but simultaneously steals attention away from your real message. Clever by itself isn’t automatically good.

The problem is, when you think of something really clever, pride of authorship can cloud your judgment. The urge to spread your bon mot around may make it difficult to know whether or not it’s appropriate.

How, then, to keep from going off the rails? The best way is to make sure that any ad you run meets three simple tests:

1) Before you write or design any ad, decide what the message should be, your advertising strategy. Define the task. Then let the cleverness begin, but make sure that any ad you consider stays on message. If it gets attention but nothing else, move on to the next concept.

2) Is the overall tone compatible with your company and product image?

3) The most successful ad-guy I ever knew said, “Never make ugly.” It was the rule that trumped all others.

To be on the safe side, if you write anything, get a few opinions on it as though it were written by someone else.

These basic rules can help keep your marketing from going wild. I take this stuff seriously. Every ad you publish releases ideas into the public consciousness. It should be approached responsibility, just as much as we’re trying to be responsible about what we release out of our smokestacks and into the atmosphere.

If we’re not careful about our ads… well, I don’t think I can ever look seriously at a basket of biscuits again.