Words that Sell

Mining Data from Illustrations

Forgive the pun title for this post -- but it this illustrations brings two topics to mind.

1. Mining is a huge market for construction materials! It is frequently overlooked by building product manufacturers more tuned into above ground construction. Mining -- particularly underground mining -- requires concrete and other structural materials, lighting and communications, plumbing and ventilation, tools and equipment, and more.

Most products used underground have to meet severe service conditions including dust, moisture, physical abuse, and fire/explosion resistance. Yet many of our clients have found that, with appropriate product modifications and a disciplined sales and marketing effort, new opportunities can open beneath their feet.

2. A good illustration is an invaluable sales tool. When I had had to learn about the mining business in a hurry, I realized I was in over my head. It began opening to me when I found this illustration, in Shotcrete magazine. Within minutes, I was able to grasp important mine construction concepts and familiarize myself with terminology.

Of course words are also important in marketing. Sometimes a single phrase can change a person's entire attitude. It happened to me when I saw this phrase:

 I can dig it!

Brand Names and the QWERTY Effect

Type the name of your company or brand.

How many of the characters are typed with the right hand? With the left hand?

According to recent research related to QWERTY keyboards, words typed primarily on with the right hand are associated with greater positivity than are words typed primarily with the left hand.

Published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review [Kyle Jasmin and Daniel Casasanto, The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes the meanings of words], the research abstract says:
The QWERTY keyboard mediates communication for millions of language users. Here, we investigated whether differences in the way words are typed correspond to differences in their meanings. Some words are spelled with more letters on the right side of the keyboard and others with more letters on the left. In three experiments, we tested whether asymmetries in the way people interact with keys on the right and left of the keyboard influence their evaluations of the emotional valence of the words. We found the predicted relationship between emotional valence and QWERTY key position across three languages (English, Spanish, and Dutch). Words with more right-side letters were rated as more positive in valence, on average, than words with more left-side letters: the QWERTY effect. This effect was strongest in new words coined after QWERTY was invented and was also found in pseudowords. Although these data are correlational, the discovery of a similar pattern across languages, which was strongest in neologisms, suggests that the QWERTY keyboard is shaping the meanings of words as people filter language through their fingers. Widespread typing introduces a new mechanism by which semantic changes in language can arise.
How does the word "feel"
The research raises many questions that should be explored before we understand the implications of handedness on marketing.

It clearly does not determine the fate of a brand:
  • BASF, a firm with many building product brands, has prospered despite being typed entirely with the left hand.
  • Pulp, a specialty glass manufacturer, cannot attribute its growth exclusively to being typed entirely with the right hand.
It is only in the past few decades, since the widespread acceptance of personal computers, that QWERTY has become such an important form of mediating communication; it is already on the decline among young folks who text with their thumbs, and future technologies may render it obsolete.

Still, the research offers an important reminder:  

When selecting a new corporate or brand name, 
consider how it feels to type. 

Your customers may be typing the name more frequently than they speak it. So the feel of typing the word must be considered along with the sound, look, and meanings associated with it.

Photo by MichaelMaggs, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:QWERTY_keyboard.jpg, accessed 2012-03-10,  and used under a  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 

Truth in (my own) Advertising

I recently received the following email:
Can you produce evidence that you are "North America’s leading product marketing and architectural consultant"? This is such a broad and outrageous statement that it gives me suspicion that any consultation advice or information coming from Chusid Associates is likewise suspicious. But if it is true, I am quite impressed.
I started describing Chusid Associates as "North America’s leading building product marketing and architectural technology consultant" about twenty years ago. The slogan was suggested by my father, a man with substantial marketing insight. "But," I protested, how can I say that? I have just a small business and there are lots of consultants with much bigger practices."
Dad replied, "There are lots of way to be a leader. You can lead by providing valuable insight and outstanding service to your clients, by being at the leading edge of innovations in your industry, and by being the most creative."

I learned a valuable lesson from my father, that day. And ever since, I have proudly described Chusid Associates as a leading consultant. It reminds me of the high aspirations I have for the work I do. To justify the claim of being "leading," my associates and I have to lead. It is a goal that inspires us to do our best.

Here is my email reply to my correspondent:
"Leading" has a range of meanings. Chusid Associates is leading in the sense of providing leadership or guidance, and advancing ideas that are often in the forefront of the industry. Each person can decide for themselves whether the description fits.

There is also the sense of leading that means being first; when I began practice about 30 years ago, I did not know anyone else providing the type of focus on building product marketing and technical consulting.

If you want evidence to prove the claim, speak to my clients. Most of them will tell you that Chusid Associates helps them create better business outcomes. Chusid Associates' work has also been recognized with awards of excellence from Construction Specifications Institute, Construction Writers Association, and other industry associations.

Perhaps it is hyperbole is to call Chusid Associates "the" leading, rather than "a" leading consultant. This type of puffery* is acceptable in general marketing claims. For example, Coke does not claim to be "a real thing;" it is "the real thing," and most consumers understand it in context. When, however, I provide the specifications about Chusid Associates' credentials and capabilities I try to be objective and avoid exaggerated promotional claims.

The claim that the company is a leader inspires me, every day, to do the best I can for my clients and to improve best industry practices in construction.
Thanks, Dad, for providing such leading advice.

* The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defined puffery as a "term frequently used to denote the exaggerations reasonably to be expected of a seller as to the degree of quality of his product, the truth or falsity of which cannot be precisely determined."

The Problem with Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is 
the illusion that it has taken place.”

- George Bernard Shaw

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.

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

Websites without Phone Numbers

If you want to do business, make it easy for your customers or prospects to find you.

That would seem to be obvious. Yet many building product websites do not list phone numbers or email contacts.

Case in point:  www.BoralBrick.com.  Boral is one of the largest brick manufacturers in North America. Yet their website does not list a phone number or email address on the front page or any of the customary, obvious locations. Even their Contact Us page omits contact info. It has just a form that I can use to send them an email -- if I am willing to give them all my contact info. Some calls are too urgent to wait until someone responds via email, and their form does not allow me to attach documents, copy others, or get a copy for my records.

While it is probably just a oversight, they even omit their phone number where they intended it to be. Their Privacy Policy page provides corporate boilerplate saying:
How To Contact Us
Should you have other questions or concerns about these privacy policies, please call us at [phone number] or send us an email at [email address].
After several minutes of searching, I did find their phone number -- at the bottom of a press release. But how many potential customers would have given up the search and moved on to another supplier's site?

For reference, Boral Brick can be reached at 800-5-BORAL-5.

By the way, spelling out phone numbers is cute and can be memorable, but it does not work anymore. Few mobile phones have letters associated with numerals on the "dial" pad anymore.

Utilitas, firmatas, et venustas: A Latin lesson for product literature designers

Written about 20 years ago, this essay has stood the test of time and continues to provide insight into building product sales and marketing.
I work for an ad agency that has just been hired to design product literature for a building product manufacturer. I have experience creating sales collateral pieces in other industries, but this is the first time I have done work for an architectural product maker. What do I need to know to meet the needs of my client's target audience: designers? - A.C., account executive

Like all sales collateral, building product literature must stimulate awareness of and interest to your firm's products. But unlike product literature used in other fields, building product literature must also provide designers with the information they need to engineer, detail, and specify products. While these objectives appear simple, designing an effective piece of product literature can be as challenging as designing a building.

Vitruvius, a classical Roman architecture critic, wrote that good architecture is characterized by "utilitas, firmatas, et venustas," which means, "utility, firmness, and delight." Like architecture, sales literature has to be useful; it must help someone evaluate and select appropriate materials for a project. It must have firmness; the information provided must be accurate, reliable, complete, and clear. Finally, the literature must also delight the senses by being visually attractive.Aesthetics are especially important if the piece is geared toward architects and designers. As visual thinkers, they are strongly motivated by pictures and the graphic appeal of catalogs. Whenever possible, the most important features and benefits. of a product should be expressed through illustrations or photos. Effective literature uses an architect's visual language for communicating information, such as isometric drawings that show several surfaces at once, poche patterns to differentiate materials, and other drawing techniques.

Text is important, especially in technical data sheets and engineering manuals, but not as effective as visual information. If architects wanted to spend their time reading, they would have gone to law school.

Media jockeys vs. technocrats
Although aesthetics are important, they can receive too much emphasis. "Media jockeys" - graphic designers and other ad agency staff - know how to get readers emotionally attracted to a product, but too often they don't understand the technical data. They may create a beautiful page full of exciting images but product selection data can get lost in advertising hyperbole.

On the other hand, many manufacturers are staffed with technocrats who are so intent on talking about roofing or windows that they forget that the product will be part of an entire building. Other technocrats have great product knowledge but can't write catalog copy that communicates information to someone considering their product for the first time. The best sales literature balances aesthetics and technology.

Literature sells
Most architectural and engineering firms have large libraries of product literature. There are so many products available that no individual can have a comprehensive knowledge of them all If building products are the palette with which designers create, then the more catalogs available, the larger the palette of design options. [Update: Today, every designer has an internet full of product literature, creating a different set of challenges.]

The brochure or catalog is often the manufacturer's only contact with a specifier. If an architect can't find information quickly and easily, the literature has failed to serve its purpose.

Different pieces serve different goals. The type of information that is helpful to a specifier early in the design process is different from the information needed during preparation of construction documents. In the preliminary design phase, general information is needed so product selection decisions can be made quickly. Later, designers need complete technical information and supporting documentation to detail and specify a product. Although general and specific information can be included in the same brochure, it is usually better to create separate pieces of literature for each.

Depending on the type of product, sales literature can contain details, engineering criteria, installation and operation instructions, warranty information, code approvals, and much more. An architect writing specifications for product material usually works from master specifications. But many products are not written up in commercially available master specifications, so manufacturers must provide guide specifications to help the architect.

The word "specifications" has two meanings when marketing building products. Design professionals use it to mean project requirements, and manufacturers use it to refer to product capabilities. Product literature must be written and organized so that specifiers can readily determine where the projects requirements and the product's capabilities overlap.

All the architectural product literature for a product line should be assembled into a three-ring binder. It's easier for architects to find a conspicuous notebook in their crowded offices; individual brochures are easily misplaced in project files. The binder on the architect's shelf also serves as an advertisement for the building product manufacturer.

Keeping up with concerns
The construction industry never stands still. New technologies are developed, building codes change, and manufacturers merge and downsize. Construction marketers should avoid using product literature that is more than five years old.

With changing social concerns, product literature now gives more emphasis to building materials' environmental features. Metric units are becoming more common, to accommodate federal construction policies and international construction. And for many manufacturers, it is also important to translate product literature, especially installation instructions, into Spanish and other languages to accommodate international markets and a changing labor pool.

Electronic media have already made a huge difference in how architects select products. A large number of building product manufacturers are currently evaluating the development of CD-ROM's or Web sites. [Update: Obviously out of date. If I wrote this today, it would talk about BIM and mobile apps.]

During the next decades, the nature of construction information will change even more dramatically. Architects and engineers will shift from creating paper drawings of their buildings to creating computerized building models. Manufacturers will provide computer models of their products to be incorporated into the virtual models. The challenge, however, will not be to put existing product information onto computers, but to use computers to create new relationships between suppliers and specifiers, and to add value by offering better access to information. [Update: This is still the challenge.]

Send us your questions about building product marketing and we will answer them. Send to: michaelchusid@chusid.com.

Previously published in Construction Marketing Today

Creating New Words

Construction is a field where new technologies and practices often justify the invention of a new term. As an example, I coined the phrase, "studcast" to describe a new type of wall panel that consisted of a hybrid of prefabricated light-gage steel frame with a thin precast concrete veneer. I offered the term to all the manufacturers of this type of product, and most of them now use it to as a standardized, simple, and descriptive term.

However, some invented terms are unnecessary and can lead to confusion.  A case in point is the recently coined term, "civionics".

I first encountered the term in the article "New civionics technologies for structural health monitoring" in the November 2010 issue of CE News. While the article shares valuable information about the evolving science of structural health monitoring. I question whether the use of the term "civionics" was equally valuable.

The author, Nathan Yang, defines the term as "the synergistic combination of civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, photonics, and other disciplines for [structural health monitoring]. This definition suggests that "civionics" is an equivalent term for "structural health monitoring", a field that already encompasses a variety of disciplines. Indeed, electrical and computer engineering are already integrated into the practice of civil engineering. In this case, "civionics" is a word of of questionable value in a field already cluttered with jargon.

A search of the CE News website reviews that "civionic" has not previously been used in the publication. Similarly, a search of the internet reveals that the term has few users -- most of its occurrences on the internet result from one site quoting another. A similar concern has been raised by a commentator on Google Talk who opines, "All of the references describe [civionics] as an emerging field, yet they seem to point in a circular manner as to establishing the notability of this term. Wikipedia is not a place to establish notability. So if this term is not widely used in the engineering field, it should not have an article here." Nor, in my opinion, should notability be established by an oblique reference in a magazine article.

But marketing is marketing, and I note that the author of the CE News article works for a company that sells electronics to the Civil Engineering community. Maybe he feels his company will benefit from embracing new term. How ironic, then, that the term "civionic" does not appear in his website, either.


A tagline can be an invaluable part of your brand. A good tagline has to be short, memorable, properly positioned, and on-target to communicate to your prospects and customers.

Here are examples of taglines developed by Chusid Associates:

A Step Up 
Zephyr Metalcraft
The tagline references their primary product, yet also captures the premium quality of their custom made monumental stairways.

The Renaissance of Fine Plasters
TexSton Industries
The use of the term, "renaissance" speaks to the Italian heritage of the firm's venetian plasters, and also to its role in reviving and updating an ancient craft.

Anchors that Hold Fast. Delivered Fast.
Heckmann Building Products
At a glance, a customer knows what the company makes and is reassured of the performance of both the products and the service.

Setting the Standard for Concrete Colors
Davis Colors
Their color cards used to say: Color Standards for Concrete. A minor change casts the firm as the industry leader.

Make Space for Grove Shims
Grove Products, Inc.
Little things on construction job sites are often overlooked, as are the companies that make them. Of course, making space is what shims are all about.

The Difference in Densifiers 
Lythic Solutions
For a brand new company with a new type of densifiers, we needed to emphasize that their products were different than all the established brands.

The Harder, Faster, Better Plaster
CTS Cement Manufacturing - Eisenwall Brand
The rhyme and meter of these product attributes flows like poetry.

Note that some of these taglines have been retired.  Each worked well in its day and helped the client advance to the next level.

Good Grammer "are" Important

Sales literature for the XYZ Skylight Company boosts that the firm offers "consistent quality" and their structural drawings are "professionally reviewed."  Unfortunately, their sales corresponsdence and literature demonstrates neither of these attributes.

A recent cover letter introducing the company contains numerous grammar and spelling errors. For example, the letter's first paragraph states:
"XYZ is a manufacturer of commercial heavy-duty skylights; who delivers and installs."
Maybe they mean that they, "also deliver and install their product," but who knows?
"Our skylight systems is designed based on the principals of pressure equalization, more commonly known as the rain screen principal."
As my junior high school English teacher drilled into me, the, "The principle is that the principal is your pal."

There are similar errors in the company's brochure, too.

Recommendation: Don't rely on your computer's spell checker alone. Have your sales correspondence and literature copy edited by someone with the talent for catching errors. If you don't, your customers will. (Specifiers are especially keen on spotting mistakes of this kind.)

Worst Marketing Communication of the Week

Messaging - the noun - is a popular term in marketing. It is, indeed, important to "get your messaging right," but this includes more than just the words you choose. It's not just what you say, it's the way that you say it. Everything you offer in a marketing communication becomes part of your messaging, like it or not.

Case in Point:

This sign - freehanded in magic marker on a piece of corrugated plastic - was stuck among the weeds alongside a freeway entrance ramp that serves two of the most upscale neighborhoods in Los Angeles. During my first, brief impression of it, I was not filled with confidence that the advertiser knew anything about making big money. Even if I had been able to stop laughing before the car behind me started honking, I would not have written down the phone number.

The advertiser chose the right audience: plenty of people using that entrance ramp have money to invest.

However, a crucial piece of his messaging goes counter to his message.

Getting all the pieces right requires both insight and wide vision. It's easy to get wrapped up in crafting the message and get seduced into any of a number of pitfalls: publicity articles that strike the wrong tone because they're selling too hard; ads that try to be clever for a product that really needs to convey honesty and transparency; and websites so carefully designed to control User experience that they make access to information difficult or irritating.

Professional marketing people have to develop the ability to stand outside the work occasionally and see how it looks to the target. Unless they know how to make Big Money In Real Estate.

"Scriptio Continua" Online Addresses

When telling someone about this website, I explain the address is, "building product marketing dot com, written as one word without spaces or punctuation."

"Written as one word without spaces or punctuation" has become common in daily language as we exchange e-mail and website addresses. To my ear and tongue, the phrase sounds and feels clumsy and inefficient.

Fortunately, there is a more elegant way to say, "written as one word without spaces or punctuation," and that is the Latin phrase "scriptio continua."

"Scriptio continua" means "continuous script" and is a writing style used in ancient Greek, Latin, and other languages. For example,


(This is written in scriptio continua.)

I believe it its time to bring back the term. It allows me to say, simply and concisely, "Visit my website at building product marketing dot com, scriptio continua."

My proposal will not work, however, if I have to explain "scriptio continua" every time I use the phrase. One person, alone, cannot change the language or reinvigorate an archaic term. But working together, it can happen very quickly.

If you feel my proposal has any merit, I invite you to embrace and use "scriptio continua" in your spoken communications. More importantly, please use the power of social media to spread the word about "scriptio continua."

Repost this on your blogs and facebook page, twit it, digg it, share it with the other tools of cybermedia to make "scriptio continua" part of our common language.


P.S. A Google search on "scriptio continua" today returns about 24,300 hits. I will report changes in this result from time to time on this blog.

Does Publicity Work?

On the tradeshow floor at world of Concrete, I was talking to a sales executive of a product manufacturing company, exploring the possibility of my doing some publicity work for them.  He was very polite and patient, but finally asked me point blank, “Does publicity actually lead to sales?”

I had to tell him, “Honestly, it’s hard to be sure.  We occasionally get word that during a sales inquiry, there was mention of having read an article.  We sometimes even get email to the authors.  But it’s not often.  I have the impression publicity helps, but I honestly couldn’t prove it.”

I left that booth and went to see one of my clients, who was exhibiting two aisles over.  They were having a fantastic show.  He told me that the business they did on the first day of World of Concrete alone would have more than justified the expense of coming to the show.  The same thing for the second day, and the third.  They had written one immense order, about two containers of a material that’s generally sold in 5 gallon buckets.  They had a verbal commitment for another container, and hint that it would lead to about 20 more containers over the coming year.  They were giddy with their success, after exactly one year in business.

And then my client said, “If you’d like me to write a testimonial letter for you, I’d be happy to.  We know very well the impact of what you’ve been doing.  I have guys come in here and say, I read about this stuff, and then I went to your website, and then…”

I went back to the first booth and told him what I’d heard.  He said he wanted to visit our office and meet with us.  I was grateful.

The harder the times, the more minutely the budget is scrutinized, and every dollar spent has to be justified.  Often the bottom-line value of marketing is difficult to track.  This may be why marketing is typically the first budget cut when there’s a downturn in the industry.

When articles about your product get published, it’s difficult to track who actually reads them.  Being able ton trace a sale back to an article usual only happens by luck.  But it happens  enough that I believe Publicity works, even though its effect is not instantaneous and is hard to measure. 

But don’t expect Publicity to be a replacement for Sales.  It’s support for Sales.  They work together.  Publicity, advertising and other forms of promotion generate interest, which may become leads.  They help create the critical mass of awareness and product knowledge. Then Sales has a chance to do its job.

If Sales is all about closing, Marketing is about opening.  It’s a way of getting customers into the door of the store, so that Sales can do its stuff.

Words That Sell

While I dare say that most architects have not actually read John Ruskin's 19th Century book of architectural criticism, The Stones of Venice, but they all know his name. This quote may have seemed quaint during recent decades of throwaway buildings, but it may be coming back into fashion in a more environmental age:

"When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that in a is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that people will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, 'See! This our parents did for us.'"