Now that the Internet has become an important business tool, most companies feel that it is important to have a presence on the world wide web. While initially companies looked toward the web as an opportunity to generate online sales, the highly specific nature of the ink industry made it difficult to fill orders online. Instead, ink companies are updating their web sites with an increased focus on customer service and product information.
Sun Chemical views its web site, www.sunchemical.com, as a strong promotional tool. The corporate web site is a way to present and explain the values and objectives of Sun Chemical to its visitors, whether they are customers, suppliers, students or anyone with an interest in Sun Chemical.
The individual division web sites offer details on specific markets and types of products, along with downloadable literature. There are also many new and valuable user services offered on these sites. For example, the Sun Europe site lists all locations on a country-by-country map (www.suneurope.com/locations.htm). The Colors Group offers an interactive cosmetics page, www.sunpigments.com/cosmetics, that allows users to apply makeup to a model face, with just the click of a mouse. And the Kohl & Madden site, www.kohlmadden.com, offers an interactive character named Joe, who gives visitors the chance to ask K&M experts technical questions.
“The web site strikes a nice balance between the corporate overview and the close-to-the-customer view offered by the individual divisions’ web sites,” said Laura Terrone Samuels, manager, employee communications & new media. “Sun Chemical is the world’s leading producer of high quality printing inks and coatings and high performance organic pigments. With so many divisions under one umbrella, the challenge was to make this complex organization easy to understand and the web site easy to navigate. We did this by designing a portal or welcome page, through which visitors could proceed to any destination within the company. So, while the divisions all maintain their own web sites, they all can be accessed through the portal page.”
To further facilitate navigation around the site, this past spring Sun Chemical introduced a flash feature on the portal. It provides online tours of the web site and its many destinations. It directs visitors looking for general information about the company to the corporate web site. It explains that more specific information can be found on the individual division web sites. The flash demo points with a red arrow to a “Products” section, which lists families of products and where they can be obtained. It also points out a “What’s New” section, where the latest news releases and other information on the company can be viewed. The same flash demo also points out a quick way to find all the divisions’ headquarters, and contact information and search functions are called out clearly.
Sun Chemical realizes that responding promptly to customer inquiries is important. “We are very careful to respond to all inquiries within 24 hours of receipt,” said Ms. Samuels. “This ‘direct line’ has provided many customers and other visitors with a quick and easy way to get action from Sun Chemical. We are big, but we also want to be nimble.”
In order to meet the needs of its customers, Flint Ink is in the process of revamping its Internet site, www.flintink.comThe new site is set to launch January 2002. Flint Ink hopes to make the site more useful for their customers by making it easier for them to get immediate technical support.
“When we first put our site up in the mid-’90s it was, basically an online brochure, like many other sites,” said Rita Conrad, director of corporate communications at Flint Ink. “We did a customer survey and found out that customers were more interested in technical support and technical information than purchasing ink on the Internet. If our customers can self-serve on some pieces of information then it will save our employees time. It is a win-win situation. The customers will get information on simple things and employees will be able to spend more time on more complex issues.”
New features on the revamped Flint Ink site include additional technical support, direct contact with technical staff and a section where customers can log in and access their own customer information.
“We’re striving to give the revamped site extra usability, and add some interactive functions that ranked high with our customers in a survey,” Ms. Conrad said. “The bottom line is, if it doesn’t help our customers in some way that’s faster than a phone call or a fax, there’s not much point in having the site.”
Ms. Conrad stressed that the web site will be primarily an information resource and not a transactional site. “Because few products are ‘off-the-shelf,’ online ordering is a ways off,” Ms. Conrad said.
Van Son Holland Ink
Other ink companies are using their sites for similar informational and educational purposes.
“Our site (www.vansonink.com) is not designed to sell ink, since we have a dealer network in place,” said Joe Bendowski, Van Son Holland Ink’s president. “Our main objectives are to offer complete information about Van
Son for our printer customers and to support our dealers. We’re getting a lot of compliments about the site, and we’re also getting a lot of requests for further information about our company and its products.”
INX International Ink Company’s web site, www.inxinternational.com, was also recently redesigned to be more user-friendly and dynamic. Realizing that customers do not want to spend a lot of time searching a web site for what they need, the new site was designed to be as easy to navigate as possible.
“It went through extensive usability testing in-house before it was released to the public,” explained Michael Mierzwa, webmaster. “One of our goals was to ensure an interactive, friendly personality that respects your time with ease of navigation and supplies you with helpful information. The faster you can find the information you are looking for, with as few clicks as possible, the better. With that in mind, the menu systems were looked at, and in some instances changed to help achieve our goal. The overall content structure is also completely new. For content categories, we utilized our past statistics and from there decided on which areas were generating traffic and which weren’t. That determined what areas of the site returned.”
The new site contains many value-added services, including technical support and troubleshooting databases. There are troubleshooting guides for flexo, heatset, metal deco, sheetfed inks and INXKote water-based coatings located at the INX Support Link. These guides as well as several downloads are available to viewers to address any problems they might have.
The site also features a link to PrinterSpace.com, the INX-sponsored web site that is a guide to printer, parts and service and tradeshows. Here printers can list themselves for free among the many companies taking advantage of this exposure into the printing and ink industries. The public can access a variety of information and participate in discussion forums as well.
Some ink companies try to stand our from the usual web site by adding unique features.
Micro Inks Corporation’s new web site, www.microinks.com contains the latest cutting-edge technology, utilizing flash animation. There are two ways to enter the web site, one for those with a cable modem, DSL or other high-speed connection and the other, for slower 28.8 or 56k dial-up access.
Visitors to the site are greeted by a movie-like intro that includes a narration that guides users through a simple, yet informative company overview. Other features on the Micro Inks web site are a “So you think you know” quiz and a “Just for fun section.” On the more serious side, product information is available in a PDF format, so that users can print out any of their color brochures.
Frank J. Moravec, Micro Inks’ president and CEO, said, “We are trying to raise the bar and set new standards for the printing ink industry. Our web site is just an extension of that resolve. We are new to the American ink marketplace. The web site was an excellent tool for us to show the world who we were, where we’ve been and where we’re headed.”
“The site is evolving daily as we strive to provide customers with information and tools that might enhance their business,” said N. Coumara Radja, Micro Inks’ vice president of corporate affairs.
Future plans for the site include an online trouble-shooting guide. They are also working on E-commerce capabilities that would allow customers to place/track ink orders online, as well as a password-protected area that would permit companies to make payments via a secure environment.
Gans Ink & Supply
Gans Ink & Supply offers its visitorsmuch in the way of technical assistance.
“While every web site has similar basic elements, some sites have a different focus that separates it from others,” said Jeff Koppelman, president of Gans Ink & Supply. “Gans Ink & Supply has more than a dozen technical papers on topics ranging from storing UV to color matching. Our web site (www.gansink.com) is a good marketing and customer service tool for us, as it allows interested parties to find out more before calling. Our site does generate inquiries, but mostly from non-domestic inquiries.”
Like many companies that first became interested in the web, Gans Ink & Supply initially looked at the Internet as an opportunity to generate sales.
“Our web site has evolved significantly over the years,” said Mr. Koppelman. “The initial intent was to provide basic information, with the possibility to open a portal to conduct e-commerce. However, I have come to believe that e-commerce will not be an effective sales approach for ink manufacturers, and we now view our web site as simply our portal for consumers to look for ink companies’ specific product information.”
Braden Sutphin Printing Ink
Braden Sutphin Printing Ink’s web site (www.bsink.com) provides information to viewers, and may become involved in E-commerce in the future.
“We use our web site to provide information and as a tool for introduction,” said Jim Leitch, CEO of Braden Sutphin Printing Ink. “We do get some inquiries through the site.”
Last year, Braden Sutphin was working on Inkformation, an e-commerce portal, which remains in development. “There has been a lot of interest in it, but not a tremendous need yet,” Mr. Leitch said. “Long term, I think there will be a need in the market place for it.”
Inkformation would allow companies to look at a variety of data, such as inventory, purchasing history and other items. “It would have to be customer-specific,” Mr. Leitch said. “Customers would have their own password, and would be able to use their shopping cart to purchase standard products.”
Ink companies must make sure that their web site is offering their customers what they need. The trend, at least for now, is for a web site to provide up-to-date information and technical assistance. As this relatively new aspect of the industry evolves, industry insiders must keep an eye toward the future of the web and what it means to their business.