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Guest Editorial

Engage audiences through your company Web site

By Richard Crabtree

January 2009- Right now, the market for steel and other non-precious metals, like most other commodities, is tightening, and the general economic crisis has hit the industry hard. That's the bad news.

The good news is that you can come out a winner on the other side of the downturn if you focus on your brand identity to engage shareholders and other audiences through your corporate Web site.

Stay in the game
When the economy slumps, corporate leaders tend to back away from communications as a cost-cutting measure. This is the wrong thing to do. Although you might save a little money initially, over time, you'll lose market share and investors will lose confidence.

Instead, use communications to your advantage. Project industry leadership and transparency to give shareholders what they really value. Let them know you're not in retreat by keeping your Web site continually updated with the information they need and always post corporate reports online, in tandem with distribution of print reports.

Your Web site gives you the chance to speak to the broadest spectrum of shareholders and other stakeholders possible, as well as to the general public, your immediate community, your peers and the media. It's an opportunity you can't ignore, and because of its reach, your Web site gives you high value for your communications dollars spent.

Set yourself apart
How are you different from your competitors? What makes your company unique? What do you do that no one else does? The answers to these questions are the foundation of your brand identity, which should be expressed consistently across all media.

However, some metals industry companies have yet to bring their brand messages to the Internet. Their corporate Web sites have an off-the-shelf or cookie-cutter appearance that fails to express their brand identities effectively enough for visitors to differentiate them.

Your company may work with commodities, but that doesn't mean your Web site should look utilitarian and generic. It should have all the polish of a retail site, with striking photography and compelling text that consistently correspond with your brand message.

Engage audiences
On your Web site, you need to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences, each of which has particular interests and needs, and the strategies to best reach these audiences must differ accordingly.

If your company has investors, for instance, many of them may be unfamiliar with the technical end of your business. At the same time, your buyers and vendors understand the types of metals and processes you use. You'll also want to keep the general public and the media informed.

To reach all these Web site visitors, consider dividing up your navigation, directing each audience to a specific section that gives them the information they expect and need in the language and imagery appropriate to each.

Other features that may keep visitors engaged and returning could include an online portfolio, a reference calculator, and a market news section for potential and current investors, a password-protected section so that clients can track orders, an educational Flash animation presentation and a glossary of metals industry terms for more general audiences.

The creative possibilities for the communication of your brand message are nearly limitless, even if your corporate culture leans more toward nuts-and-bolts practicality, and it's currently a great time to explore those possibilities.

Richard Crabtree is director of business relations/strategy at Salvato Coe + Gabor, a Columbus, Ohio-based graphic design and brand identity firm that works across all media. Clients include Worthington Industries, Claymont Steel and Globe Specialty Metals Inc. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or at 614/488-3131.

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