Technical Literature

Put Dates on Product Literature

Please put a date or version number on your sales literature, especially technical information. It will make it easier for your customers to use the most current literature, simplify communication between us, and help avoid conflicts due to reliance on out-of-date information.

Case-in-point: Two months ago, I carefully reviewed the data sheet from which this image was taken and made engineering decisions based upon it. Today, I received another copy of the data sheet. Even though it looks the same, has the data changed?

Neither the first or second data sheets are dated, so I can't tell if the manufacturer has published revised information unless I do a line-by-line comparison. And if I am going to do that, I might as well look at the competitor's information.

Would you trust anything this manufacturer says?

This test data was taken from a product data sheet for a wall panel product. The highlighted items show inconsistencies that impede legibility and raise questions about how carefully the company is in presenting its data. The errors in interpretation of test standards raise questions about the competency of the testing laboratory and the company's technical. These flaws raise questions about the accuracy of the other material in the manufacturer's presentation.
ORANGE Inconsistent Capitalization: One line has only first word capitalized, second line has both words capitalized.

LIGHT BLUE   Why is the zero doubled? The ASTM standard uses only a single zero. 

MUSTARD      The ASTM standard does not have a pass/fail option. It requires a value expressed as time.
DARK BLUE  Inconsistent use of Abbreviations: Why is it PSI in some locations and psi in another?
Even though they mean the same thing, the inconsistency impedes legibility.

PURPLE I have never seen "pound" abbreviated as "Lb". It is typically "lb" and sometimes "LB". The unusual capitalization impedes legibility.

GREEN AND RED  The green values are rounded. I know this because the precise values are shown in another piece of literature.  I like rounded numbers; they are easier to read and interpret and just as accurate given the precision of the test.  Why then are the red numbers not rounded?

Errors of these sorts occur too frequently in product literature. If you are responsible for your company's technical literature, use a good technical editor or specification consultant to review your documents before they are published.

Joke of the Day -- MSDS

I have received a Material Safety Data Sheet for building panels that are made almost entirely from cement and fine aggregate.  Look at some of the stupid errors it contains:
  • It lists "cement" as an ingredient, but does not indicate type nor its CAS number.
  • It does not mention ingredients that I know, from visual inspection, are included -- such as the fine aggregate.
  • It provides fire fighting instructions and advises against ignition sources -- for a non-combustible product.
  • It does not differentiate between exposure to dust from cutting and exposure to the intact concrete.
  • It advises against inhalation, but is silent about containing crystalline silica, a health hazard present in all concrete products.
  • It has asinine disposal requirements, for concrete, such as: "Disolve or mix the material with a combustible solvent and burn in a chemical incinerator equipped with and (sic) afterburner and scrubber." And,
  • We are advised to store the concrete panels in "a tightly enclosed container." 
But that errors in the MSDS report are not the funny part. The joke is that:

The manufacturer published the document!

Please - if you are responsible for your company's product literature, use common sense when you read the document. And if you do not feel qualified to review a document, ask the lab to explain their report or find a qualified consultant to help you.

Balancing Environmental and Performance Concerns


Environmental concerns often require finding a balance between environmental and performance concerns, as illustrated in the following case study:

Use Prudent Specifications with Titanium Dioxide
Michael Chusid, RA FCSI CCS – Letter to Editor, Environmental Building News, Vol.17 No.7

I read with interest your article on photoactive titanium dioxide (TiO2) in concrete [see EBN Vol. 16, No. 5]. I have been following the product launch of the material for several years, have published articles on the technology, and have spoken about the material at an American Concrete Institute's nanotechnology conference. My research has satisfied me that the material performs as the manufacturer claims with regards to the removal of organic grime (but not inorganic stains) from the surface of concrete and the depollution of nearby air.

White concrete at Jubilee Church, Rome
I note one inaccuracy in your article. Due to the small size of the particles and their low density on the surface of the concrete, TiO2 does not affect the visual properties of the concrete. The whiteness of the Jubilee Church results not from photoactive TiO2 but from white portland cement, white marble aggregate, and metakaolin—a bright white pozzolanic concrete additive.

CONCERNS
Despite my enthusiasm for photoactive concrete, I have some environmental concerns with the current generation of photoactive TiO. First, does photoactive TiO2 pose a threat to microorganisms when it enters into surface water or groundwater? The class of TiO2 used as a pigment—rutile—has a record of safe use. The class of TiO2 used in photoactive products, however—anatase—is comparatively rare in nature, and the behavior of its nano-sized particles in ecosystems has not been fully studied.

The catalytic characteristics of the material do not diminish with time. Consider what could happen, therefore, if a photoactive structure is demolished and concrete from the structure is used as riprap on the shore of a shallow sea. As the concrete erodes, what damage could be done when photoactive particles settle onto coral polyps or other vulnerable species?

I know this risk seems blown out of proportion in light of the product's proven benefits and given the small use of photoactive compounds today. But consider that the compounds are already finding inroads into many products worldwide—including disposable consumer products. Must we wait for another Silent Spring before establishing guidelines?

RECOMMENDATIONS
Prudence suggests that concrete producers and the project team should minimize the release of photoactive material into the environment. At the very least, a designer should discuss the risks with the building owner. Specifications should require the concrete supplier and the contractor to dispose of waste TiO2 in a manner that will not contaminate the environment. And a permanent plaque should be mounted on the building notifying future generations that the concrete may require special handling upon demolition.

We also need to study the byproducts of depollution. As photoactive TiO2removes pollutants, it forms new chemical compounds. While these chemical byproducts are considerably less environmentally hazardous than the pollutants they replace, there is no such thing as a free lunch in a closed ecosystem, and the potential runoff from a photoactive surface should be studied for environmental impact.

Thirdly, the photocatalytic reaction can draw calcium out of the calcium silicate hydrate (CSH) that is the cementitious component of concrete, accelerating erosion. This degradation is estimated to be “just a fraction of a millimeter per decade,” a rate that can amount to a fraction of a centimeter per century and could be especially visible at corners or other surface relief. Adding metakaolin to the concrete mixture enriches the CSH content of the concrete and may retard erosion. Moreover, the erosion of the concrete can also release photoactive compounds into the environment.

I remain optimistic that photoactive titanium dioxide is a valuable tool for making the environment cleaner and healthier. This goal, however, will be achieved only if we make informed tradeoffs between environmental benefits and risks.

******************UPDATE **********************
The first comment below draws our attention to a recent study by the EU* that finds nano "TiO2 nanomaterials with the characteristics as indicated below, at a concentration up to 25% as a UV-filter in sunscreens, can be considered to not pose any risk of adverse affects in humans after application on healthy, intact or sunburnt skin." While tightly worded and qualified, it sounds like a positive assessment.

The report, however,  DOES NOT ADDRESS MY CONCERNS. My blog post concerns environmental impacts of construction use of anatase TiO2, the highly photocatalytic type; the EU report considers human health, regards TiO2 that "are mainly the rutile form" and taht "do not have a substantially high photocatalytic activity." It still leaves unaddressed the question I posed about corals and other vulnerable species. 

There are many differences between human health and environmental health. One is that a building will stand for many years while consumer products like sunscreens can be removed distribution channels quickly. The report points out that, "If any new evidence emerges in the future... then the SCCS may consider revising this assessment." It is not so easy to revise a building or highway.

If you are the one that posted the report, please contact me to discuss this topic further.

*Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) Opinion on Titanium Dioxide (nano form), COLIPA No. S75, 22 July 2013.


Metrication Update

Two examples of metrication crossed my desk recently, demonstrating opposing approaches to implementing metric units in the building products industry.

1. One of my clients is converting its sales literature from inch-pound to metric (with inch-pound units also shown in parentheses).

#11 1-3/8" dia.
2. The Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI), reversing its decade-old endorsement of a soft-conversion to metric, now urges its members to use inch-denominated size markings.

The various approaches represent the different market conditions confronting each organization.

In the first instance, the US-based firm is aggressively moving into international markets and needs to speak the lingua franca used for most of the world's construction. The change will not harm domestic sales, since the company uses digital-fabrication to make bespoke parts without regard for the designer's system of measurement.

CRSI, on the other hand, focuses on regional and national promotion. As a commodity product, little quantities of rebar is exported. The industry began marking its product in nominal metric sizes when it looked like the Federal government was serious about enforcing a 1991 Presidential Executive Order mandating metrication. However, the Federal Highway Administration (FWA) retracted the requirement in 2008, and most building construction in the US remains firmly inch-pound. (The primary exceptions Government agencies such as the Department of Defense.)

Traditional rebar diameters are stated in 1/8 inch increments; #3 = 3/8 in. diameter, #12 = 12/8 in. = 1.5 in. These units just make sense when constructing a 1 ft. thick wall with 3/4 inch concrete coverage over rebar that must be spaced to allow passage of 1-1/2 in. dia. coarse aggregate. In CRSI's soft conversion, these correspond to #10 (9.525 mm) and #40 (38.1 mm) respectively. Soft conversion reduce the cost of producers, but frustrated everyone else. Builders using inch-pound had to convert sizes to traditional nomenclature to calculate positioning. And fractions of a millimeter confounded those used to using real metric sizes, where #30 bars have 30 mm dia.

LESSONS LEARNED
Many US industry sectors are now firmly metricated. (When was the last time you bought a fifth of whiskey?) Yet it is unlikely that there will be a comprehensive countrywide construction conversion anytime in the foreseeable future.

Until then, each building product manufacturer will have to "weigh and measure" whether and when to embrace metric based on their unique marketing "metrics."

-----------
By the way:

"Metrication" is term for adopting metric measurements.
"Metrification" is term for using poetic meter.

Specifying Nothing

"We...have actually found the majority of the known objects,"
This linguistic gem was part of an NPR newscast about the potential for a collision between earth and a a "near earth object" such as an asteroid.

Eros Asteroid, Photo by JPL/JHUAPL
It should come as a relief that we have already found what is known.

It would be shocking to know objects that had not been found. Or if we failed to know objects that had been found.

Yet figures of speech like this abound in building product technical literature. I once wrote that a water repellent "penetrates up to a quarter inch or more." While it sounds good as a marketing claim, it actually means nothing, since a material that lays on the surface would also satisfy this claim.

Recently, I saw a product claim that "our material meets ASTM E84." This says nothing, because a test conducted according to the standard (for surface burning characteristics of a material) yields a numeric value, not a pass/fail criterion that can be met.

Send me your favorite example of a product claim that doesn't say anything.

-------------

Post Script:

A comment on the NPR site refers to the title of the news segment:

"Asteroids Pose Less Risk To Earth Than Thought"

The commentator says, "I completely agree!!! Thought poses a huge amount of risk to the earth. Way more than asteroids."

I was taught that construction specifications must be written not only to say what was meant, but in a way that can not be misinterpreted.

QR Codes Go Mainstream

As we have been predicting, QR codes are arriving at some sort of critical mass in the US, and suddenly, you see them everywhere.  Home depot has them on store displays.  They’re on the news.  A headstone maker is putting them on gravestones.

They may look like a maze puzzle to you, but to a smart phone with a (free) QR-reader app, they are a link to information, like a bar code on steroids.

Most current applications simply use the code to link to a website.  At Home Depot, a QR code attached to a display model links you to the Home Depot web page about the product. The gravestone-maker similarly uses the QR code to link to a web page about the deceased.  (The code, etched in stone, will probably outlast the web page.)


It is possible to pack plain text directly into a QR code, too. For example, the really dense QR code depicted here contains the first two paragraphs of this post.

What is it worth to building products manufacturers?  For starters, you could link all your product data and online instruction videos to a QR code right on your product packaging.  A contractor shopping at the distributor’s warehouse could find out everything he needs from the most accurate source: you.  On the jobsite, he could access instant video instruction for workers. You could link him to customer service and technical support just as easily.

You can put a QR on your business card, too, for direct link to your website.

For the time being, while QR codes are still a novelty, they offer tempting guerrilla marketing opportunities.  People will be curious and scan them just to find out what they link to.  Print them on cards and leave a few at big job sites, on Home Depot shelves, at union halls.  You can print them on stickers and find interesting places to attach them: a hard hat, a tool box, a product package.

They won’t be novel for long, though.  Acceptance is moving rapidly.

How do Spec Writers Decide?

The following is from the blog of Liz O'Sullivan, AIA, CSI, CCS, LEED AP, NCARB, a Denver architectural specifications writer.

One for Construction Product Manufacturers: How do Spec Writers Decide What Products to Specify?

Maybe in a perfect world, spec writers would research ALL the available products, and specify ALL of the products that meet the project requirements.  Think of the competition that would create, and the potential cost savings to the Owner because of that competition… and think of the additional costs to the Owner for the time the specifier would have to spend on all that research!

The construction industry generally seems to agree that having 3 competitors provides enough competition to get a fair price for a product.  I believe that the law of diminishing returns would apply to a practice of researching and specifying any more than 3 comparable products, or “equals”.

So how do spec writers select those three products?  Sometimes the Owner tells the design team what they want us to specify.1  If an Owner doesn’t have a preference, the Architect often makes selections based on aesthetic requirements.2  And, if neither the Owner nor the Architect has a preference, the specifier makes product selections.

Last night, I got a comment from Kirk Wood about the third situation.  Kirk was wondering if it’s a case of “who you know” rather than “what you have to offer” that determines which manufacturers’ products get specified by spec writers.

First, I have to mention that the manufacturers’ reps that spec writers know best are those whose products we have researched and have had questions about; the reps we know best are those whose products we know best.  We know these reps through the process of researching the products we were specifying, NOT the other way around.  It’s NOT that we know them, so we spec their products; it’s that they rep products that we spec, so we turn to them when we have questions about the products (compatibility, pricing, product options, availability, et cetera).

So how do specifiers know about these products or manufacturers in the first place? 
When preparing specification sections for a project, many of us start with commercially available master specifications.  (I use MasterSpec, by ARCOM.)  These master specifications usually list available manufacturers for the products we’re specifying, and many of us start the selection process there.3

Moving ahead from the master is where, due to time and budget constraints, the process of product selection has the capacity to get random…

When possible, we select products and manufacturers that we are familiar with, and we do research to make sure that these familiar products work for the specific project.  If we haven’t ever researched any of these products before, they’re unfamiliar, so we start from the list provided by the master specification, and research those.  It’s a very rare situation when all the products listed in a master specification will meet the project requirements.  So, I research the listed products until I get three that meet the project requirements.

Here’s how I go about this:  I start with the list, and delete those that don’t work.

A manufacturer’s website with too many barriers to entry will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer’s website with no information, just contact information for the manufacturer’s rep, will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer’s website that is running too slowly will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer that has NO WEBSITE is OFF THE LIST.

It’s not who you know.  I’m not saying that product selection isn’t a bit random at times, but generally, if a manufacturer has clear, easily accessible, easily navigable, correct, quickly available, concise, complete, and non-conflicting4, information on the internet, that manufacturer’s products are more likely to get specified.

Spec writers are a predictable breed of design professional.  We prefer to see things published, in print, rather than to listen to someone tell us about them.  We’re skeptics, and aren’t likely to blindly accept things that we can’t independently verify.  We are detail-oriented and generally are not interested in information beyond the technical.  Most of us are introverts, and a lot of us would rather write than talk (can you tell?).

So, my advice to manufacturers is the following:  Have a good website.  Have a good technical information department.  Have great manufacturer’s representatives!  Encourage your reps to join CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute.5

Being active in CSI is not about getting spec writers to know you so that they’ll spec your products; it truly does not work that way.  Being active in CSI is about getting spec writers to realize that you, a local manufacturer’s rep, are there to answer our questions, and to help educate us about your products, and about comparable products (your competitors’ products).

Reps should become resources for spec writers.  Specifiers aren’t really susceptible to old-style salesman techniques; we’re skeptics, remember?  Don’t go to CSI meetings and try to “sell.”  Go to CSI meetings and let design professionals know that you’re there, and when you’re given the opportunity, educate us about your products (and about how they compare to your competitors’ products.)

We’re all in this construction industry together.  The primary goal that all of us have is to get a building built for an Owner, and to make a living doing it.  When one manufacturer’s product is more appropriate for a project than another’s, that’s the one that should be used in the project.  I think that, objectively, we can all agree on that.  The best way to make sure that the most appropriate products are being incorporated into the project is for manufacturers and their reps to make their best efforts to educate spec writers.  And if there are a bunch of equally appropriate products, then specifying 3 of them is a good way to get a fair price for the Owner’s project.
Notes:
  1. Ah, yes – the natural question is, “How does the Owner pick the products that they want us to spec?”  Well, that’s always a bit perplexing.  Many of the products that Owners require in their technical guidelines aren’t actually comparable, but are written as if they are.  Many of the products in the Owners’ technical guides have been discontinued, and listed manufacturers have gone out of business.  Some of the products and manufacturers never existed – curious typos and misspellings have created shadowy products or manufacturers that somehow get repeated, project after project…  Truly, a mystery.
  2. When the Architect makes product selections, the spec writer researches the Architect’s desired products, and if they meet the project requirements, and are compatible with other specified products, the spec writer specs the product or products selected by the Architect.  If there are comparable products, or “equals”, selected by the Architect, the specifier will include those.  If there really aren’t exact equals, the specifier will usually indicate that the Architect’s selected product is the “Basis of Design,” and will allow substitution requests for products that almost meet the specifications.  The Architect will decide if proposed substitutions are acceptable.
  3. More than once, I have suggested to a manufacturer’s rep that they should contact ARCOM, MasterSpec’s publisher, to see if they can get their products listed.  If spec writers don’t know you exist, we can’t specify your products…
  4. Yes, I have reported conflicts between different bits of technical information on a manufacturer’s website.  Come on, people!
  5. CSI’s website: www.csinet.org
Thank you, Liz.
------------------------------
COMMENTS David Stutzman posted the following comment on Liz's post:
 
I might add one more thing for manufacturers to do. When called or emailed, please respond promptly. I cannot tell you how many times I have filled out the contact form on a manufacturer’s website because the architect selected their product and then waited and waited. I recall one that did follow up by phone several months later. I asked what project the call was about. The caller had no idea. Neither did I. That ended the conversation and left an impression that will not be forgotten.

Life-cycle assessments of products

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote 20 years ago. To a limited extent, increased attention to environmental sustainability have increased focus on life cycle performance of buildings. LEED, for example, requires buildings to be commissioned to ascertain that mechanical systems perform as required. Also, the "cradle-to-cradle" concept encourages examination of the flow of materials from extraction to re-purposing.


Operational costs typically, 
exceed construction costs.

Tools that can help architects make life-cycle assessments of products

The architectural community too often disregards the life-cycle costs and operation of buildings. This attitude is not expressed overtly but nonetheless permeates architectural practice:
  • We grovel before a project's bid price and all but disregard a building's cash flow, the streams of operational and maintenance expenses, financing, revenue and tax consequences, which spell economic success or failure to a building owner. 
  • When designing an addition or renovation, we too often fail to involve the building's maintenance staff in a serious discussion about their resources, schedules, and experience with the building's existing materials and systems.
  • We rarely retain qualified building maintenance consultants on our design teams.
  • And frequently, we pass along a hodgepodge of submittals and call it an Operation and Maintenance Manual without considering whether the accumulation really communicates.
Over the economic life of a building, operation and maintenance costs will typically equal or exceed first costs. And when we consider how a maintenance program can affect a building's resale or salvage value, the importance of building maintainability becomes even more apparent.

Building Economics
Building design and product selection decisions should be made with benefit of life-cycle cost analysis. Recently issued ASTM standards provide the building industry with clear guidelines for performing an economic analysis of building designs and components. In a life-cycle cost study, each future cash flow must be adjusted for anticipated inflation and escalation and then discounted to a present value. When performed manually, these time-consuming calculations limit the use of life-cycle cost analysis. New computer-based programs, however, make it much easier to conduct life-cycle installations.

Even though calculations have been simplified, a building life-cycle cost investigation still remains difficult because reliable data on product longevity, maintenance schedules, and operation and maintenance expenses are difficult to obtain. How soon will a roof really be repaired or replaced? How frequently will various types of door operators require servicing? How will the selection of a sealant or weatherstripping affect energy use? Such information is not contained in the typical references found in an architectural office, but a new family of facility management publications and references is beginning to fill this gap. For example, Means Facilities Maintenance Standards [now out of date] discusses the mechanisms that contribute to building deterioration, and building maintenance scheduling and management.

Architects must also take more initiative to discuss maintenance issues with their clients and consultants and to collect and analyze the maintenance history of their buildings. This information must then be transmitted to the drafters and specifiers who actually make product decisions.

Product Data
Although building product manufacturers and trade associations are a primary source of product information, few offer well documented data on their product's life-cycle performance, offering only inconclusive laboratory testing or anecdotal case studies to document their claims. They claim they are unable to predict a product's life-cycle because of conditions beyond a manufacturer's control, such as environmental conditions or maintenance procedures. Yet these variables can be quantified and applied to a sampling of historic product performance data. The resulting analysis could be used as a valid basis for predicting product performance and comparing product alternatives.

Some manufacturers have responded to the need for better information about product life-cycle costs. USG Interiors, Inc., for example, offers a computerized comparison of relocatable partitions and drywall partitions. called DesignAid for Walls, the program enables a designer to consider the economic impact of partition relocation, financing alternatives, tax benefits and accelerated depreciation, and the escalation of waste disposal costs associated with drywall partition remodeling. A similar USG DesignAid program compares several floor construction and wire distribution systems to determine life-cycle costs vis-a-vis workstation relocation. [Chusid Associates wrote both DesignAid programs.]

Building productivity is
also a life cycle factor.

Operational Assurance
Since many architects assume "building maintenance" means "janitorial services" or occasional redecorating, it would be useful to introduce a new term into our professional patois. "Operational assurance" is a concept more familiar to industrial engineers who must assure that manufacturing equipment is kept at optimum operating capacity. An operational assurance approach to buildings must consider the building operational goals and specify systems and products in view of their longevity and the ease and cost of their maintenance, repair, and replacement. Operational assurance can be applied not just to mechanical and electrical systems, but to the building envelope, finishes, and other architectural components as well.

Capability in operational assurance planning would enable an architectural or engineering firm to differentiate itself from its competitors and position itself for growth in industrial, commercial, or institutional markets. Maintenance programming, value engineering, training of the building staff, and post-occupancy evaluation also could be lucrative extended services and could lead to a continuing relationship with a client.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Progressive Architecture, ©1991.

The Computerized Jobsite

Contractors use metal containers to store their tools on a construction jobsite. This practice has been updated for use with the newest tools on the jobsite, computer and other digital communication tools.

For example, the BIM Kiosk from Modulus Consulting takes the computer out of the job trailer and puts it into the middle of the action. Instead of using large tables stacked high with a printed set of water stained and wind blown plans, the crew can refer directly to digitized versions of all the project documents and access all the resources on the web.

For the building product manufacturer, this is yet more evidence that your product literature, shop drawings, technical data submittals, Material Safety Data Sheets, and other information has to be ready for digital use in the field. For example, it becomes more practical then ever to use video instead of print for installation instructions, and for your customer service and technical advisers to use Skype instead of relying on phone calls.

The Fifth "C" of Technical Literature

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

Construction specification writers use a standard they call the "Four Cs" - a document should be:
  • Clear,
  • Concise,
  • Complete,
  • and Correct.
This is a good guideline to use when writing technical literature for building products. I would add, however, that sales collateral also needs a Fifth C:
  • Convincing.
I learned this from Bryan J. Varner, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP, an attorney in Santa Rosa, CA. Bryan says that his arguments in court, even on technical points of law or interpretation of documents, have to be convincing to win over a judge or jury. Similarly, the technical arguments in product literature have to be convincing if they are to win over a skeptical designer, builder, or building owner.

One does not need to resort to hyperbole or slogans to be convincing. Knowing what a designer or builder (or, a worst case scenario, a judge) needs to know, organizing your information thoughtfully, and using easy-to-understand prose can make a very convincing case. Good graphics - photos or technical illustrations that explain a technical point, can also help convince the skeptic.

If your literature does not satisfy these Five Cs - it makes your customer's job more difficult. This then, will require another C:
  • Caffine.
This point is made convincingly by a promotional mug used by Conspectus, an East-Coast construction consultant. I have another C to describe their mug:
  • Cute.
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UPDATE 2012-JUNE-28

To go viral, online marketing also has to be
  • Contagious
if it is to achieve "word of mouse".

How NOT to post technical data

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

Names and identifying brand information removed where possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samples on Beaded Chains

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

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

Use long-term cost benefits to your advantage

This is an encore presentation of an article Michael Chusid wrote about 20 years ago. It's message is still current.
 
I often encounter price resistance when selling my company’s top-of-the-line building products. Even though I explain that the product lasts longer and has lower operating costs, many customers can’t see past the initial costs. How can I overcome this sticker shock?—D. N. S. , sales manager

Developers and building owners think of their projects as an investment. In addition to construction costs, they analyze operating costs, potential income, and resale value. To overcome price resistance, present your product as an investment instead of an expense.

In some cases, this can be done by focusing on how your product adds value to a building. Developers recognize this principle when they spend extra on building finishes or fashionable interiors. Their investment is repaid by making it easier to sell the property or attract higher rental income.

Other products can be positioned as expenses necessary to protect a property’s income potential. A major hotel chain, for example, invests in backup air-conditioning equipment because they realize their inventory of rooms is worthless if they can’t guarantee comfort.

Tout up-front savings
Another approach is to emphasize the “first cost” of your product. In addition to purchase price, this includes the design, construction, and financing costs necessary to put your product into service. You can sell the first-cost benefits of your product if, for example, it costs less to install or enables faster completion of a project.

A still broader view of costs is a lifecycle cost analysis, which considers the cost of owning a product, not just purchasing it. This is significant because the total of a building’s maintenance, energy, insurance, tax, interest, and other ownership expenses usually exceed construction costs.

Life-cycle affordability is key
Life-cycle cost analysis has long been used by mechanical engineers; it is fairly simple to compare the cost of additional insulation or more-efficient equipment to projected energy savings. But in recent years, life-cycle affordability has become increasingly important. Environmental concerns, for example, have shifted attention from construction costs to issues such as energy consumption and building materials disposal. Institutions like the Army Corps of Engineers have begun to require life-cycle cost analyses of proposed projects. A recent publication from the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM Standards on Building Economics, establishes procedures for investigating the life-cycle costs of building materials. And computer programs have simplified the extensive number crunching required for life-cycle cost calculations.

Many manufacturers claim life-cycle benefits in their advertising, using bar charts to show how their products’ costs compare to competitors. Such claims have more impact if your customers can examine the supporting data. You can use computerized presentations to show them results for a specific product.

USG Interiors is one company that uses computerized life-cycle cost analyses to position its relocatable office partitions against lower priced conventional drywall partitions. The program considers such variables as the client’s tax bracket, material and labor costs, project size and complexity, mortgage terms, and the accelerated depreciation allowed to relocatable partitions. It also asks the customer how often remodeling will occur. The program then compares the life-cycle benefit of USG’s reusable partitions with the demolition costs of removing drywall partitions. This gives USG a powerful sales tool to use with financially oriented customers who may not perceive the product’s technical or aesthetic benefits. In addition, getting the customer to say yes to all the input data increases his acceptance of the program’s conclusions.
From a life-cycle cost analysis prepared by Chusid Associates.
Are your products priced right?
Conducting a life-cycle cost analysis for your product can be a fruitful marketing exercise. For example, do you know what factors most affect the affordability of your product and your competitors’ products? Can you substantiate product durability or quantify maintenance costs? Would your products be more affordable if there were more demand for salvaged or recycled components?

A life-cycle cost investigation I once conducted for a water-conserving plumbing system helped the manufacturer establish a competitive price for its product. Another time I compared the life-cycle costs of 12 roofing systems. Even though my client’s roofing system had outstanding durability, the study showed its high initial cost was not offset by low life-cycle maintenance costs. This insight helped clarify the manufacturer’s marketing alternatives.

While life-cycle costs can be an important sales tool, you must still tailor your presentation to each individual customer. Many price objections are simple requests for more information or reassurances. Other objections may be based on unquantifiable concerns about performance, appearance, or reliability. Bringing out a technical looking spreadsheet could confuse some customers or miss their main concerns.

For some customers, delivering a job for the lowest initial cost will always outweigh life-cycle considerations. But in other cases, a life-cycle cost argument may be just what is needed to close a sale. It can help customers justify to themselves or to their clients the decision to use a more expensive product. Or it can be a subtle way of pointing out a competitor’s shortcomings. Most importantly, it can change the focus of a sales presentation from the cost of your product to the value of your product.


Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid. Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1994

Does your documentation suck?

Beyond features & benefits, beyond good relationship building, beyond even budgetary restraints, sometimes your customers choose a product based on a single reason: they go with the company that offers the best documentation.

Over at the Mindtouch blog, Mark Fidelman suggests It’s Not Your Product, Your Documentation Just Sucks.
Do we really have to wade through your 400 page text-based manual you’ve posted online in order to find out why an error keeps us from using your software? Worse, when we finally find the answer it’s incomplete. So what do we do? A Google search and find the answer elsewhere.
Great advice, and a well thought-out post (although the end turns a bit into a sales pitch for "customer experience" software). And especially important to remember in the construction industry.

Mark makes the case that many companies will blame every department for the problem (It's a sales problem! No, marketing! No, tech support!) before looking at their documentation. Based on what I've seen in the building product industry, I would agree. Just last month at World of Concrete, a dozen companies told me they were having trouble reaching architects, but they knew it wasn't their guide spec because they've been using the same "tried and true" document for over three decades!

Fine, but is it possible that in the past 30 years your product has changed a little bit? Or the way people search for information is slightly different? If so, then maybe it's time you update your technical documentation for the new millennium.

Even many companies that have good, meaning functional, documentation miss some important opportunities. Starting with a simple one: did you make it possible for clients to include your documentation in their specs, or easy? Did you provide data or answers?

From Mark's post:
Most organizations are optimized for short term revenue growth not in building a sustainable relationship with their customers.

That may have worked in a pre-internet world, but it’s not going to fly now. Why? Because your prospective customers are going elsewhere for support. That elsewhere may be your competition.
The move to digital by the construction world has been slower than the mainstream business community, but it is happening. There is a real perception now that finding the information online is "faster" than a phone call or email. And that's true, if your site is structured well enough that the first search finds the needed information. If not, then your client is going to waste a lot of time finding it. Or they will call, but only after they've become frustrated.

Which means that having good documentation does not mean just print documentation. It means posting it online, and understanding that digital media is used differently than print. Posting that 400 page pdf Mark describes is functionally the same as posting nothing at all.

CSI Awards for Building Product Manufacturers

Getting an award from a industry organization can be good for business. Awards draw attention to you or your firm and demonstrate your leadership. They are a way of recognizing the contributions of individuals and motivating them to continue to excel. And you can nominate a customer - a great way to build customer relations. Besides, getting an award just feels great!

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) gives several awards annually that may apply to building product manufacturers and their employees. The deadline for submitting nominations is May 6, 2011, and awards will be presented at CSI Convention during the CONSTRUCT tradeshow in September. Consider the following:
  • Construction Technology Award
  • Excellence in Construction Information (EICI) Award
  • Technical Document Award
Construction Technology Award
This award is presented for:
a) Development or use of new materials, methods, technology or project delivery systems used in the building lifecycle; or
b) Development or use of existing materials, methods or technology in a new or innovative manner for the building lifecycle.

Excellence in Construction Information Award
In the Product Documentation Category, the award recognizes excellence, originality or creativity in processes, tools, or documents used in development or construction of the built environment. Nominations may be submitted for, but not limited to:
  • Manufacturers Website
  • Guide Specification
  • Or other Product Information that is used by a project team that contributes to a successful project.
Judging will be for adherence to:
  • CSI standards as outlined in The Project Resource Manual – CSI Manual of Practice.
  • CSI principle of the Four C’s in preparing written documentation: Clear, Concise, Complete, and Correct.
There is also an Innovation Category for forms of construction documentation and processes for presenting construction related information for which there is no established method, or for a modification to an established CSI standard that improves the presentation method, processes or allows for a response to a special project need.

Technical Document Award
Award is presented for a single outstanding accomplishment in technical writing other than project specifications.


Chusid Associates is available to help you take advantage of these or other award programs.

Unbinding the power of binders: Know how a product binder functions for an architect, and design yours accordingly

This is an encore of a column Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. While the use of three-ring binders has decreased as more information goes online, binders still have their place. Further, some of the concepts used to organize hard copy sales literature are transferable to your internet-based presentation.
 
When I send a catalog to an architect, I put it in a three-ring binder, accompanied by product data sheets and other technical information. As a cost-cutting measure, can I send the literature without a binder? And if I do use a binder, how should it be organized and presented to have maximum sales impact?—G.B., president

A sign in my dentist’s office says, “You don’t have to brush all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep.” Similarly, you don’t have to put all your literature in a three-ring binder, just the pieces you want an architect to keep.

If your primary purpose is to generate brand awareness or stimulate the recipient to make an inquiry, you can send your literature in a plain envelope or simple folder. But if you want the designer to keep the literature and refer to it in the future, then you should consider binding your materials.

Though there seems to be increasing use of paperback binding systems for building product sales literature, vinyl-clad (Update: Consider a more environmentally sustainable material instead of vinyl) three-ring notebooks are by far the most frequently used system. They can be assembled at moderate cost in small quantities, and offer flexibility to add to or modify a presentation. They also allow designers to remove pages as required for copying, tracing (this was important in the era of pencil-aided design), or distributing to design team members.
More importantly, notebooks address architects’ storage needs. Few architectural offices have an organized system for storing and retrieving individual brochures or product data sheets. Most loose literature pieces quickly become lost in the flood of information that flows through design offices. At best, a loose brochure may be stuck in a project file for use on a current project. But once there, it is unavailable for future reference. Binders, on the other hand, are too big to misplace in desktop clutter.

Bookshelves filled with product binders are important to the image of a design office. When prospective clients visit, the binder libraries help reassure them that the firm has the requisite technical expertise. Binders enhance your image, too; sending a binder instead of loose sheets shows you understand how architects work. It also communicates that your products have technical backup and your firm has the resources to support your relationship with designers.

Your binder gives you presence in a designer’s library. Think of it as your billboard on an architect’s shelf. While it may not have strong impact, it does have a high frequency of exposure. Every time an architect researches something in his library, or even just walks past the bookshelves, this billboard-on-a-binder exposes your brand name. Furthermore, your binder gives you visibility when the architect goes to the library to pick a product.

Building a better binder
The spine of your binder is the part most exposed to the traffic through an architect’s library, so pay special attention to its design. Most architects organize their libraries according to the MasterFormat 16-division (there are more divisions now) indexing system, so label the spine with the appropriate MasterFormat division or five-digit (six now) section numbers. Select an attention-getting color scheme that sets your book apart from other manufacturers in the division or section.

While your company or brand name should be on the spine, this may not be the most important text. For example, a water-repellent manufacturer with low name recognition realized that putting its company name in big letters on the spine would not motivate architects to pull the binder off the shelf. Instead, the company printed its product category prominently on the spine to appeal to specifiers trying to solve moisture problems.

Your next consideration is the binder’s front cover art. Most covers just repeat the company and brand names and product category. This may be acceptable in some instances, such as when you have to use the same binder in several market segments. But in general, you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so use the cover art to reinforce your product positioning or provide an overview of the product line.

For just a few cents more per piece, a binder can be fabricated with a pocket inside the front cover. The pocket is a useful place for shipping and storing samples, computer disks, catalog update sheets, and other items that don’t readily fit onto the binder rings. The pocket also encourages designers to store notes and sketches they make while studying your materials. This personalizes the binder and makes it more likely the binder will be used again.

Also, the inside front cover should have sleeves for business cards. Get two business card sleeves so you can insert a card from a local dealer or rep and a card from someone in the corporate office.

One further comment on the construction of your binder concerns recycling. To make room for new binders in their libraries, architects remove obsolete binders. Environmentally conscientious designers will attempt to reuse old binders. You can contribute to their environmental efforts by using binders with clear plastic covers and printed inserts instead of opaque vinyl with silk screened art. When the printed insert is removed (and recycled), the remaining binder is as good as new. In addition, the printed inserts allow you to use four-color art and to produce different cover art for each market segment you service.

The cover letters sent with most catalogs say little more than, “here is the catalog you asked for.” You can keep the letter brief and still recap key product benefits, explain your company’s strengths, list where your material has been used in the recipient’s community, identify your local distributors, or offer a promotional incentive. The letter is your chance to put a personal face on your company and further your relationship with the recipient.

Include a registration card or reply device, such as a postage-paid card or a fax-back survey. Use the reply device to build and update your mail list, to ask about current projects, or to get customer satisfaction feedback. If you depend on sales people or dealers to distribute your binder in their territories, code the reply devices so you can track whether your rep is actually getting the binders into circulation.

After the spine, the next most visible spot in your binder is what the recipient sees when he opens the front cover. Too often, this space is wasted on a drab table of contents or company history. Instead, bring some color and life to this page. Possibilities include your firm’s overview brochure, an ad reprint, or another piece of literature designed to build the reader’s interest, support your positioning, or explain your product line.

Finally, the key to an effective binder is a well-organized product presentation that allows a designer to find information quickly. Tabbed dividers are helpful. Some successful binders have a tab for each product line or model number (for example, residential windows, commercial windows, architectural windows). Others are organized by the type of information presented (for example, design guidelines, technical references, case studies, installation instructions, costs). Before determining how to organize your binder, review your marketing strategy and analyze the process a typical designer uses to select and specify your product.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, © 1995

Gigabyte-Sized Photos add interest to website

A new digital photographic technique has exciting potential for building product presentations, websites, and social media.

Back in the days of film photography, I would take a dozen or more overlapping photos of a scenic panorama, then cut and paste individual snapshots together to show the entire vista. Software like Photoshop made the job easier as one could "stitch" images together digitally, even automatically. Recent advances take this a step further, making it simple to stitch together dozens of images. The composite files, which can contain gigabytes of information, capture an awesome amount of detail.

For example, this image of the most recent presidential inauguration is made up of 220 separate exposures. The composite image size is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels.

While an ordinary camera with a wide angle lens could capture the same view, it would not allow the viewer to zoom in to see details like the following:
When viewed online, one can see an amazing amount of visual information. In addition to the president, one can pan and zoom in to see thousands of individuals and details of Washington. For example, these architectural details are just below the dome of the Capitol:
If you have ever used Google Earth or the satellite or street views on Google Maps, you already know how powerful composite images can be. What is new is that an inexpensive device from Gigapan Systems now makes it possible for almost anybody with a digital camera to create gigabyte images that are easy to display and manipulate online. While the "pro" model costs $900, for only $300,
"the GigaPan Epic robotic camera mount makes it fun and easy to capture gigapixel panoramas with most compact digital cameras and works seamlessly with GigaPan Stitch software and GigaPan.com. Compact and lightweight, yet powerful and durable - the GigaPan EPIC is ideal for travel and adventure."
MARKETING USE

Scale: One of the challenges of architecture and engineering is to be able to move between scales. The architect needs to see an entire space or even an entire building within the context of its environment, but also has to understand how a doorknob or window detail fits into the the project. The structural engineer must understand how forces get distributed throughout an entire structure, but must also pay attention to individual joint and anchorage details.

GigaPan allows you to present your products in context. Beneath the overall composite, you can show thumbnails of interesting close-ups. When a thumbnail is clicked, the software zooms from the macro image to the indicated item.

Discovery:
A typical photograph will capture a viewer's attention for a fraction of a second. But a GigaPan invites a viewer to explore, increasing his or her time on your website page where other product-related messages can also be displayed.

Games and Contests:
This may be the ultimate "Where's Waldo" puzzle. A contest can encourage viewers to search an image to find your treasure or clues. Information about your product can be embedded throughout the image. Games like these can be especially attractive to a younger audience that grew up playing online games.

Technical and Quality Control Issues:
The stitching works not only with vast vistas, but also with micro photography. This opens many opportunities for use in technical presentations or for offering evidence of quality control.  Click here for micro images of insects.

Training and Presentations:
Complex products, machines, and systems can be made easier to understand when the viewer can move around and get in close to see parts of interest.

Social Media and Mobile Media:
These giga images can be inserted into websites or e-mail and used in other social media applications. They offer a way to display large images on a small mobile platform like an iPad or smart phone.

Search Engine Optimization:
Images can be posted at the GigaPan website and linked into Google Earth. Undoubtedly, other platforms will embrace the format and they will become integrated into video and photo sharing sites. These sites allow the use of tags and keywords that can help search engines and potential customers find you.

New Advertising and Publishing Format:
I can imagine giga photos as a type of online banner ad that allows one to zoom in or out to get more information. An entire catalog or magazine could be captured in a single giga image.


Final Thoughts:
I am sure I have just touched the surface what will emerge from this technology. Eventually you will be able to use systems like this to transmit real time images, and photos like this will be integrated into building information models (BIM) and virtual reality worlds.

I invite you to contact Chusid Associates to discuss how giga photos can be most useful in your marketing mix.
-----------------
Here are links to a few architectural or construction images from the GigaPan website:
Burj Khalifa Tower
Burning Man Waffle Structure
Frank Gehry's Fred and Ginger Building
Quarry
Leonardo Dialogo (nanotechnology art) - Interior
Union Station, Washington DC - Interior
Building after gutting by fire - forensic record

Another publisher of panoramic giga photos is at www.360cities.net.

Put Dates on Product Literature

The following was first published nearly 20 years ago. While it addresses printed product literature, the same recommendations apply to online product literature.

When I asked an architect friend to critique my product literature, he said I should mark each piece with a date of issue. Since no one ever told me this before, I would like your opinion. -S.K., President

If your friend's experience is like mine, he is deluged with new catalogs every year. It is frustrating to have two slightly different versions of a catalog and not know which is more recent. Building-product literature should clearly indicate the date it is issued.

Some manufacturers mark literature with a form number indicating an issue date in code. However, you cannot depend on the specifier or contractor to translate your code. It is better to identify the month and year clearly in a prominent location such as the bottom of a data sheet. It may even be appropriate to state the date of superseded issues, for instance: "Effective May 1991 (supersedes August 1989)."

Some manufacturers fear that dating their literature will out-date it more quickly. But without an issue date, a specifier is likely to assume that your product is old until proven recent. When this happens he may call you -- or may select another product with more reliable dating. In either case, you have increased his uncertainty about your product.

Dating literature also helps your product liability management. By alerting a specifier to the date of publication, you are sharing responsibility with your customer to determine whether or not a piece of literature is acceptably current. When you do not provide that information, you may have increased liability for conforming to claims made in old product literature.

Copyright dates alone do not provide sufficient information to establish issue date. That's because several versions of the same document can be issued in a single year. Also, literature may he issued in preparation for a change that may not take effect until the following year.

Clearly dated literature makes it easier to discuss products over the telephone and to verify that each party is referring to the same data sheet. Dates also make it easier to refer to specific pieces of literature in a specification, contract, or shop drawing submittal. A dating program should be implemented during the normal revision or reprinting process.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

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

Landscape Orientation for Online Newsletters

Most paper-based documents use a "portrait" orientation, with the long dimension of the page vertical. However, most computer monitors are in a "landscape" orientation with the longer dimension in a horizontal direction. Most internet-based documents still use the portrait orientation. This can make it awkward to see an entire page at a size that is still legible.

As an alternative, check out how this e-newsletter uses a landscape format to create pages that fit naturally on a monitor.



The newsletter, published by Los Angeles Chapter of CSI, allows a variety of page layouts. It is based on an 8.5 x 11 inch format, so it can still be printed on conventional paper if required.

I expect we will see more of this format for all sorts of documents, including technical data sheets, brochures, and sales sheets as well as for newsletters.