Website Marketing: Pathway To The Future Or Necessary Evil?

August 17, 2005

Nonwovens Industry’s first-ever review of the Web reveals how nonwovens companies stack up

Nonwovens Industry’s first-ever review of the Web reveals just how nonwovens companies stack up in the newly wired world

o state the obvious, the Internet is a powerful place. Once just a fringe curiosity for multinational corporations with vast marketing budgets, websites have become a mainstream necessity for large and small companies alike. Considering the varied scope and myriad niches of our business, it’s not surprising that in nonwovens opinions vary with regard to the relevance of having a presence on the Web. While some companies consider websites critical marketing vehicles of growing importance, others dismiss them as merely a perfunctory (and unwelcome) expenditure brought on by “dot com mania.”

A review of nonwovens websites illustrates this difference of opinion sharply. While some websites stand out from the crowd by putting their marketing budgets to the task, other companies have joined in merely to avoid being left behind. These low-end websites—on-line brochures, really—seem to say, “We’re here because we can’t not be.” Either way, new nonwovens home pages are being launched at a steady pace, proving that—like it or not—Internet marketing now represents a key aspect of promoting and selling nonwovens.

One advantage of the so-called “digital revolution” for nonwovens is that our industry—which has grown accustomed to being “the new kid on the block”—is suddenly put on a relatively even playing field with competing (older) industries such as paper and textiles. If the Web is a whole new world where we’re all relative newcomers—and if squatters’ rights don’t count for much—the true test comes down to which companies can make a name for themselves and their products through aggressive, highly effective Internet marketing strategies.

When it comes to who’s doing what on the Web, there’s no mistaking the fact that here—like everywhere else—size is an advantage. Enormous consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, are using the Internet to make the most of their far-reaching marketing powers and have created phenomenal websites designed to attract consumers and promote the company and its products. Smaller nonwovens companies, on the other hand, have more restrictive budgets and an audience that is less web savvy. In between these two extremes are large, diversified industrial companies such as Fort James, Green Bay, WI, that use their websites to focus on end use markets and products, targeting the consumer sector rather than the nonwovens industry.

How Do Nonwovens Rate?
How much of a splash have nonwovens companies made so far? With visibility on popular search engines being one indication, nonwovens websites are making their mark. While in our survey Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) found 70 websites for “nonwoven” and almost 2500 web pages, AltaVista (http://www.altavista.com) turned up 8000 web pages. AOL retrieved 50 category matches and 481 websites for “nonwoven” and excite (http://www.excite.com) came up with more than 1000 hits for the same query.

As for the logistics of our study, approximately eighty websites were reviewed for this article, all of which represent the roll goods segment of the nonwovens industry. Criteria for this review included ease of navigation, quality and amount of information, quality and number of links, organization and design presentation. Also considered were unique graphic features and time-saving functions such as indexes, menus and short cuts.

In terms of overall observations, most roll goods websites do a good job of presenting visitors—whether they are stockholders, customers or consumers—with information about the company’s merits. The majority of small and medium-sized websites offer an overview rather than specific technical data on products, applications and markets. At their most vague, these home pages resemble brochures, with some offering a slightly higher level of information (comparable to a product catalog or even, at best, an annual report). Detailed technical data on processes, products and applications is the exception rather than the rule among roll goods websites. While sales department contact information (such as e-mail links and toll-free numbers) are ubiquitous, very few nonwovens websites are actually equipped to handle e-transactions.

Standard website features include a company overview/history, a list of offices and plant locations worldwide, recent company news and product/market/application information, which ranges from brief to detailed depending on the site. At many sites, visitors can order publications such as annual reports, brochures and company newsletters on-line. Larger sites often include search engines, current and archived press releases, financial reports, stock quotes, contact information by department, employment information and Y2K updates. Certain larger sites also include “For Employees Only” pages that can only be accessed with a company ID code.

Usually found under a “Contact Us” section, information request forms are a common feature among nonwovens websites, and many companies are making the most of this opportunity not only to offer an expanded form of customer service but to gather important marketing information. Through these forms, companies can determine who’s browsing, where they are from, what brought them there, what they are looking for specifically and what they think of the website.

Given the degree of competition in our industry, it should come as no surprise that there is very little company-to-company linking going on among nonwovens websites. While companies may offer links to software companies, publications, associations and other related organizations, links to complementary industry suppliers were nearly non-existent. What is surprising, however, is that many companies are not taking advantage of linking as an easy opportunity to draw visitors to parent, subsidiary and affiliate companies.

Despite the fact that many companies are relatively new to the Internet, there were fewer websites under construction than expected. In terms of design, each site was different, and even the smallest and least sophisticated sites do manage to put a unique stamp on the Web. Graphics is an area where many nonwovens websites could use some improvement, with a good number of sites lacking visual appeal. Overall, attention grabbing strategies such as animated logos and text, scrolling marquees, slide shows and demonstrations are not common among nonwovens websites.

What follows is a review of the Top 10 industry websites based on a subjective weighing of the above-outlined criteria.

1. Johns Manville (http://www.jm.com)
First place goes to the website of the world’s sixth largest roll goods producer Johns Manville, Denver, CO. While it’s obviously important to point out that nonwoven roll goods only make up a portion of this website’s focus—as opposed to smaller home pages that exclusively promote nonwovens—jm.com is a superior website that stands out from the crowd. Offering highly detailed, thorough technical information on nonwovens and filtration products—including key benefits, roll specifications, physical characteristics and performance features—the site offers a plethora of product links in a well-organized, application-based format. This site’s only limitation with regard to internal linking is that it’s not easy to get “Home” from many of the web pages. More than making up for this drawback, however, is the variety of external links to “Business Partners” and “Industry Associations”. Despite the fact that this list was more comprehensive than those offered by most other roll goods sites, many of the links were directed toward end use markets (construction and roofing, for instance) and neither INDA nor EDANA were listed as links under “Associations.”

Other noteworthy features include detailed installation instructions for end users, including on-line CAD drawings, extensive information on upcoming trade shows at which the company will exhibit and a toll-free fax-on-demand service for news releases, which can also be e-mailed. Indexed by tradename, a MSDS (material safety data sheet) library offers visitors access to MSDS pages in on-line and PDF formats. The site also features an advanced search engine, which searched 1369 documents and turned up 179 hits for the query “nonwoven.”

Among the less technical but unique highlights at jm.com, “The Logo Store” offers visitors the opportunity to purchase apparel and accessories featuring the JM brand. Merchandise ranges from coffee mugs to denim shirts and golf bags. In what is referred to as “another cool option,” distributors can have their name printed on the back of a JM cap.

2. Kimberly-Clark (http://www.kcnonwovens.com)
Holding second place is the nonwovens website of Kimberly-Clark’s nonwovens business, Roswell, GA. Helping to boost K-C’s nonwovens-specific site in our rankings is the fact that it rests on its own laurels rather than on those of its corporate parent site (to which it is dutifully linked). Highlights of kcnonwovens.com include animated text on the home page that’s just interesting enough to make visitors pause to see how the sentence will end. Other unique features include moving graphics throughout the site, “Show Me” buttons that serve as short cuts to other web pages and easy-to-locate “Search,” “Contact” and “Home” symbols throughout, which make for quick and easy navigation. One detraction from the site’s overall visual appeal is a harsh black typeface, which is distracting and difficult to read.

Content on kcnonwovens.com is organized by end use markets, and multiple links to products and brands make finding information easy. A basic search engine is also included. In addition to a solid overview of the division, the site also offers an outline of various nonwovens manufacturing processes, most of which are depicted through color diagrams that can be enlarged with a click. Interestingly, included in the choices under the “Manufacturing Processes” pop-up menu is “Nonwovens Speak,” which defines 10 nonwovens terms and even wishes visitors luck with their “new lingo.” Product information is adequate, although it is not as technically detailed as that offered by some other sites.

3. Freudenberg (http://www.nonwovens-group.com)
Placing third in our review is the German/English website of Freudenberg Nonwovens Group, Weinheim, Germany. Overall, nonwovens-group.com is easy to navigate and offers visitors plenty of links. One special feature is a “History” web page with antiquated black and white photographs, a fitting highlight for a company with Freudenberg’s extensive history in the business. Considering this company’s leading position in the industry, it’s also appropriate that the site offers an excellent explanation of what nonwovens are and how they’re made. A “Production Process” page outlines a variety of nonwovens technologies and even includes color diagrams.

While information describing the Nonwovens Group is kept to an overview, the site’s product information is extensive, although not technically detailed. A pop-up menu offers visitors limited information and pictures of more than 50 different products on the “Products” web page, while further product information is offered under the categories of “Divisions” and “Trademarks,” both of which include a variety of subcategories under pop-up menus and buttons.

Another memorable feature on this site is an interactive map that reveals facility and contact information (including an e-mail link) as the mouse moves to different locations around the world. Another interactive feature is located on the “Contact” web page, which gives visitors information based on selections from “Division” and “Department” pop-up menus.

4. Lydall (http://www.lydall.com)
Fourth on our list is the website of Lydall, Inc., Manchester, CT, which stands out as one of the most well-organized, easy-to-navigate websites we’ve seen. Featuring various user-friendly features such as extra buttons, pop-up menus and short cuts, lydall.com is a very large, centralized site offering comprehensive corporate, financial and product/market information that can be retrieved through an on-site search engine and a detailed site map. Also appearing prominently on Lydall’s home page is a promotion of its new toll-free investor information service.

Two of the site’s unusual features are a “Product Shortcuts” area that allows visitors to select products by name through a time-saving pop-up menu and a featured “Product Of The Week.” The company’s gasketing segment links to a separate website at http://www.gasketing.com, which offers more detailed product information. Due to the level of information included in this site, certain pages require scrolling; this drawback could be improved through the addition of a “Top” button.

5. Polyfelt (http://www.polyfelt.com)
Number five in our rankings is the German/English website of geotextile specialist Polyfelt Ges.mbH, Linz, Austria, the world’s 24th largest roll goods producer. This somewhat surprising pick proves that websites (and companies) don’t have to be huge to make a strong impact on the Web. Among the most technically thorough sites we’ve seen, polyfelt.com is also one of the most well-designed and attractive, despite its comparatively small size. In addition to animated graphics and a running visitor counter on the home page, a spinning CD graphic offers visitors a free geosynthetics design disk. Also making a strong visual impression are flashing menu buttons that change color, well-placed, clearly written text and plenty of color pictures.

Additional benefits include comprehensive product descriptions and elaborate technical data including schematic diagrams as well as information about forms of supply, product installation and reference projects. In addition to information on related literature and technical papers, a detailed outline of the company’s worldwide distribution network includes photographs of distributors, which give this highly industrial site a personal touch.

6. DuPont (http://www.dupont.com, http://www.dupont.com/sontara/, http://www.duponttyvek.com, http://www.dupont.com/zemdrain)
Sixth place is occupied by DuPont, Wilmington, DE, which offers an impressive corporate home page with a high-power search engine and a detailed site map. Information is organized in a variety of ways, including by business, product name and market. While “Tyvek,” “Sontara” and “Zemdrain” were found easily enough under the Specialty Fibers business, searches through the site’s alphabetical product directory for “Typar” and “Xavan” were surprisingly unsuccessful. One item matching Typar was found through a “Product Database Search”; however our search for Xavan turned up nothing. Due to the fact that there is no central nonwovens site, information on nonwovens is highly segmented and can be difficult to find. The site’s search engine turned up 94 results for “nonwoven,” none of which suggested the existence of a central nonwovens website or Xavan or Typar home pages.

Moving on to DuPont’s Sontara site, dupont.com/sontara concentrates exclusively on the company’s line of engineered-cloth wipers rather than on roll goods. The site boasts interactive graphics that change with the mouse’s movement. For instance, as visitors point to each product, a list of features and benefits as well as a new graphic appears. This site includes detailed, well-presented technical information, downloadable data sheets and free product samples offered under a “Take The Test” section. Among the site’s drawbacks is a lack of adequate links to DuPont’s corporate site, other nonwovens technologies and distributors. In terms of aesthetics, additional pictures would help give this website more visual appeal.

At the Tyvek home page, visitors are directed according to region, product area of interest and language. Rather than being organized on a central Tyvek home page, web pages are segmented by application. While the Tyvek pages link back to the Dupont home page, they do not link to other Tyvek applications, which means that visitors must repeatedly return to the home page. Overall, this site is similar to the Sontara site in that it offers an abundance of technical information on end use products rather than roll goods. In addition to a “Distributors Only” area where login is required, certain areas of the Tyvek site require registration (a user ID and password).

At DuPont’s Zemdrain site, which is offered in English, French and German versions, thorough product and application information is available. One unique feature is a “Links” page that offers “privileged links” to companies, associations, research websites, Zemdrain papers, publications and projects.

7. Synthetic Industries (http://www.sind.com)
The seventh spot goes to the website of Synthetic Industries, Chickamauga, GA. An easy-to-read, well-designed site offering plenty of photographs, sind.com also offers an abundance of links to related web pages for specific applications, a sufficient amount of information on markets, brands and applications as well as a basic search engine (which was not operational during our visits to the site). For investors, a “Stock Prices” button links directly to Synthetic Industries’ stock quote on a Yahoo’s finance page. Overall, this site is quite extensive in terms of the number of total pages as well as the level of detailed technical information on products.

8. Fitesa (http://www.fitesa.com.br)
Number eight is the website of Fitesa SA, Gravatai, Brazil, which offers several worthwhile features in both Portuguese and English versions. Although this site is relatively small, an animated logo keeps things visually interesting. One welcome surprise at this website are well-written (even catchy) descriptions of nonwovens’ tacit role in everyday applications. Another key highlight is an on-line ordering system that allows customers to select from nonwovens or staple fiber products, specifying process (i.e. spunbond), color, treatment, width, quantity and basis weight on pop-up menus. Unfortunately, too few linking features on this site limit its efficient navigation; an additional menu bar across the bottom would make it easier to get around.

9. Tex Tech Industries (http://www.textechindustries.com)
Coming in ninth in our rankings is Tex Tech Industries, Portland, ME. Although this site is small, it holds its own even among much larger sites, thanks to its eye-catching, user-friendly design. In addition to being easy to read and navigate, attention-grabbing animated images on the home page and attractive color schemes throughout leave visitors with something to remember. This site could be easily expanded to include more technically detailed product information.

10. 3M (http://www.3m.com)
Last but not least, 3M, St. Paul, MN, earned 10th place in our website survey. While 3m.com is among the top two or three sites we’ve seen, very little content on this site covers nonwoven roll goods. With nonwovens representing a mere 10% of 3M’s business, it seemed unfair to compare this site with less diversified roll goods manufacturers. Nonetheless, because 3m.com has so much to offer, it warrants recognition in our review.

From its home page, 3M offers separate websites based on 23 geographical regions in corresponding languages. Information is organized under “Customer Centers” that range from office to health care (including personal care products). An advanced product search feature is helpful in allowing visitors to search the entire site (or even the Web) by keyword. During our visit, “nonwoven” turned up 181 matches. An MSDS search is also offered. One interesting interactive search option allows visitors to select a product application, enter a target market and the site answers with a list of 3M products to suit this particular need.

This site contains a vast amount of information, which is organized under various technology platforms such as nonwovens. Pop-up menus and plenty of links make it easy to locate information. A colorful design adds to its visual appeal. Visitors can also “click to enlarge” photos and “click to return to previous screen.”

Companies To Watch
In addition to our Top 10 list, there are a few additional websites worth checking out. One such site belongs to the Absorbent Products Division of Buckeye Technologies, Memphis, TN, which launched the first phase of its brand new site, http://www. buckeyeabsorbent.com in mid-February. The new site—which will complement the company’s existing corporate website (http://www.bkitech.com)—offers specific technical data on the physical properties of products. New features are expected to be added in the near future, including a company history and links to industry associations and publications. Currently available on buckeyeabsorbent.com are short cuts through pop-up menus, a plethora of internal site links and a “live” demonstration that depicts fluid being acquired and distributed by “Unicore” products compared to standard air laid materials.

Another company to watch is PGI, Dayton, NJ, which is currently underway with plans to update its website (http://www.polymergroupinc.com) by the second quarter of this year. The redesigned site is expected to be more interactive and will feature a stock quote on the home page, an advanced search engine and an “Ask The Scientist” section where visitors can e-mail questions directly to PGI technicians.

With several of its pages currently under construction, the website of U.S. Pacific Nonwovens, Kowloon, Hong Kong, is certainly worth a second visit. If its current state is any indication of things to come, this site (http://www.us-pacific.com.hk) will prove to be elaborate. Featuring a helpful glossary of terms with linked cross references and an alphabetical short cut feature, this well-designed site offers plenty of pictures, buttons and links.

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