AFTER 13 years marketing its Kwikastrip product Forsite Manufacturing has decided to get animated.
The £2 million-turnover company produces specialist items for reinforced concrete applications. Its main is product is Kwikastrip, a system which allows bent-up reinforcing bars to be cast into walls in a special casing, which can later be opened up, so that the bars can be cranked out to form starter bars for another wall or floor.
Confused? So were Forsite's potential customers.
'We always had a problem conveying to people what it was and how it worked,' admits the firm's managing director, Derek Brown.
So, he and his sales force always used one-on-one presentations to get the message across.
Now all that has changed. Mr Brown has invested £7,000 in film animation that shows the product in action, step by step. And for the animation firm he used, a whole new potential client base has opened up.
It all started at the Civils '98 show at the NEC last year. Mel Cornish, business development manager for fledgling animation firm Impact Interactive, visited the exhibition to find out what the various stands had to offer and to assess whether the firm's specialist animation techniques could help.
Impact Interactive started life within parent audio-visual equipment company Lanyfax, as a way of showing major clients how their expensive board room fit-outs would look. Then 18 months ago it broke free as an independent business. It is now based at Broadlands, near Ascot, in Berkshire.
Impact came to Forsite's attention when Ms Cornish fired off a mail-shot after Civils '98.
Large scale architectural animations had formed most of Impact's business until then but, after a meeting with Forsite, both firms realised that animation could be very useful as a marketing tool for smaller firms.
'People tend to think this sort of technology is just for the big boys but we can provide all sorts of packages, depending on what people need,' says Ms Cornish.
Architect Adam Carter, one of Impact's three animation engineers, was called in to sort out with Mr Brown what Forsite wanted to show and what they wanted to use the animations for.
'We have to try to develop a picture of what they want to do,' says Mr Carter. 'Quite often people base their idea of what they want on other animations they have seen - but they may be complex, which can make it a very expensive business.
'There is usually a simpler way of doing what you want to do, which is much more cost-
Mr Brown agrees. He explains that one of the added advantages of this technology over a video is that there is nothing to distract attention away from your product and what it's doing. Shooting a video on site which clearly showed fixing, concreting, striking the formwork and pulling out the bars would present enormous difficulties.
After the initial meeting, Mr Carter took away a Kwikastrip system, which he used to develop the animation over the following five weeks.
The technology and methods Mr Carter uses for a product animation like Forsite's are the same as he would use for an
architect's walk-through concept building. But he finds there are new challenges in developing a product-oriented animation.
'What's different is the way the message is put across. You may be trying to sell a product or trying to show how it works, rather than just demonstrating what it will look like,' he says.
Forsite now plans to use the animation in a host of new applications: for presentations to clients; on CD-Rom to send out to potential specifiers; to produce 'stills' which will go into future brochures; it will be shown at trade exhibitions and, in a simplified form, on the Internet.
Mr Brown has tested the animation in a series of seminars for engineers before Christmas, the firm's first ever group presentation. He recalls one of the events:
'I was particularly spoilt because the person before me had a bit of a flat delivery,' he says. 'Then I came on with my all-singing, all-dancing presentation and everyone visibly woke up.'
And the effect is not short-term. Feedback following such seminars has improved. 'Since then I have had a steady trickle of specifications for the product - more than usual,' he says.
All in all, Mr Brown concludes, it was £7,000 well spent.
'It was not cheap, but then again when you put the price against all the uses, I am sure it would not take too long to recoup it - and more besides,' he says.