is the Internet just another holiday ornament?

by Paul Swift, CSI



I recently read a very informative and thought-provoking article in the February 2000 issue of the Construction Specifier, titled "Building Product Information Technology". The author told a holiday story of how he instructed his staff to decorate their workspaces with several hundred discarded CD-ROMs, previously distributed by manufacturers. CD-ROMs were becoming ineffective at his firm, as technology advanced. He suggested that there are several ways that manufacturers could improve the level of product information available to design professionals through technology.

I couldn't help but laugh about how a decision, made several years ago, led our company to take a "wait and see" approach regarding CD-ROM technology. Remember how CD-ROMs were going to replace product binders? We gambled on a longer-term solution, the Internet. In retrospect, this choice essentially saved us thousands of dollars and kept us out of the Christmas ornament business!

Three years ago, our organization made a strategic decision to invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in developing our own site (internally, I might add) to provide comprehensive information to design professionals and contractors. We organized our own "Action Team" to address and design a site containing design features about our products, product photographs, comparison charts, specifications, and of course, downloadable shop drawings. Did I mention, that we wanted to develop a site that was easy to navigate and speedy?

Presently, we are much further along in achieving our goals. Still, we are nowhere near completion. We have positioned ourselves as an industry leader when it comes to product information on the Internet.

Unfortunately, feeling confident with a strong web presence doesn't necessarily guarantee that designers will use our site. We've run into several obstacles that pose more financial considerations. I'll mention just a few unanswered "marketing" questions that we still face.

  1. Will design professionals accept a transition from traditional print media to Internet driven product promotion?
  2. Can I start spending less on printed catalogs/binders and shift more marketing dollars towards building product search engines?
  3. Which search engines should we invest in?
  4. How can I promote the use of our own site that we've invested so heavily in?

Where do these unanswered questions leave a manufacturer committed to growth? Today's Cyber-World hasn't given us the chance to take a wait and see approach with Internet Technology. We have been forced to do a better job in evaluating every marketing dollar spent in all types of media. We want personal relationships to continue to drive the product selection process. We just want technology to enhance the entire construction process.

At our company, we've taken the approach to continue to improve upon our own site. We've reduced the number of pages in our technical binders in hope of driving design professionals to our site. We are in the process of scaling back the dollars invested in traditional print media and reallocating those investment dollars in other areas. We want to invest more in the building products search engines that have the best chance to survive, long term.

We, as manufacturers, do need your help though. Constructive comments and dialogue drive the process of improvement. Authors, like those in The Construction Specifier, should be commended for helping us learn from errors and mistakes made by some manufacturers. His article went a long way in assisting us map out an Internet strategy for years to come.

Can I just say, I just hope the Internet doesn't become the next "ornament" at your firm's next Holiday party???

2000 Paul Swift, CSI, Marketing Manager, 
Nystrom Building Products 

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