On 21 April 2016, info-b, founded in Wiesbaden as the Information Association for German Cast Stone – Informationsgemeinschaft deutscher Betonwerkstein – will celebrate its 40th anniversary. The concept of making joint marketing efforts for concrete products was developed at a time when marketing was still unheard of for many types of construction products. By now, the number of the Association members has nearly doubled, and some founding members are still active. In the lead-up to this anniversary, Richard Bayer, the Chairman of the Association, and Martin Möllmann, a Member of the Executive Board, answered questions posed by BFT International.
BFT: Before the mid-1970s, hardly anyone in the construction materials industry thought about advertising, not least due to the good economic situation that had existed since reconstruction following World War II. So what prompted the founding of the Information Association for German Cast Stone 40 years ago?
R. Bayer: Although this may indeed sound almost self-contradictory, it was exactly this aspect that led us to explore new paths. Take a look at the historical development. On the one hand, the overall volume of construction in Germany was different at the time: reflected, among other things, by greater cement consumption. But, on the other hand, initial signs were soon felt in that an increasing number of competitive construction materials were pushing onto the market: e.g., Italian natural stone products.
More and more voices could be heard in the industry calling for joint marketing, for developing an overall marketing solution, and for positioning of the companies accordingly. In particular, Otto Melzian, owner of the cast stone plant Betonsteinwerks Uetze, called for concerted action by the manufacturers of cast stone and their suppliers. On 6 February 1976 the time had come: 86 participants in the inaugural meeting jointly launched the Information Association. As a result, one can rightfully call the Informations-gemeinschaft Betonwerkstein e. V. (info-b for short) a pioneer in marketing a specific type of construction products.
BFT: What were, in retrospect, the outstanding milestones and developments in the 40-year history of info-b?
R. Bayer: Alone the fact that ten of the original 65 members of the association are still on board – and that the present membership of 125 is nearly double the original number – impressively shows that the unique network of basic material suppliers, manufacturers, and processors of cast stone – unique in their industrial sector – is a success story. Another key factor not to be underestimated is that info-b is regarded as a reputable contact center not directly sales oriented, nor does it act as competitor to existing associations.
Moreover, we are proud of having been, again and again, one step ahead of the times with our special offerings. Even though it may hardly seem worth mentioning from today’s point of view, our video film “Beauty in new dimensions,” released by us at the beginning of the 1990 s, showed something really innovative: a cleaning and maintenance kit for cast stone products, never before presented in this form, including instructions for its use following installation. Also worth mentioning is the fact that all of this was provided exclusively by the staff of info-b members on an honorary basis.
BFT: Which target groups and communication tools were given priority by info-b?
M. Möllmann: The first objective had been to provide planners and architects, as multipliers, with comprehensive information and to convince them of the performance capability and safety of quality-tested concrete products. In parallel, one primary objective was to generate enough interest among end users to make them want to have cast stone products.
The tools used became more diverse as well. The Cast Stone Handbook, followed by the Cast Stone Catalog and today’s Cast Stone Calendar, were at first among the most important media. Today, virtually all channels of marketing are being employed. This dual strategy consists, on the one hand, of numerous printed advertising materials and trade publications. On the other, we are making use of advanced media in the form of our own website and a Facebook presence. In addition, we of course participate in supra-regional exhibitions and trade shows: for example, BAU in Munich, GaLa-Bau in Nuremberg, and NordBau in Neumünster. Also important in this context is keeping in touch with the various target groups in regular meetings, such as in the seminar events just mentioned.
We ourselves furthermore regularly and critically put our own activities to the test. Surveys among architects have repeated and positively confirmed our results. Not least, as a representative of Dyckerhoff as the only manufacturer of white cement among the info-b members, I have a personal interest in the promotion of cast stone.
BFT: What, in your personal view, makes cast stone especially attractive, and why will this construction material continue in future to remain up with the times?
R. Bayer: The image of heavy, unwieldy panels belongs to the past. If cast stone in its beginnings was still primarily associated with concrete panels used in interiors, the construction material of today is synonymous with especially designed and innovative concrete products for many different uses: in- or outdoors, on façades, or as design elements and design articles for advanced building and living.
Continuous development of initial constituents also contributes to positive development, because today – with the aid of modern superplasticizers and color pigments, for example – products can be manufactured with technologically greater quality and enhanced design attractiveness. That is why we are looking forward to what lies ahead of us.
BFT: Mr. Bayer and Mr. Möllmann: we thank you for this interview.