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Steel mills don't necessarily come to mind when you think of the Internet. But big industry players are among the biggest proponents of this online marketing medium.

"The reasons a Hewlett-Packard markets on the Internet are the same that a steel company does," said Tom Jones, marketing director for Industry.Net Corp., a Pittsburgh company that helps manufacturers with Internet marketing. "Both have some sort of sales channel they have to communicate with. Both have a tremendous investment in print materials that are very hard to update."

And both know marketing on the Internet is far from easy.

Here's a look at how the manufacturing world is bringing industrial thinking to online marketing.

Why are we here?

In 1994, while most marketers were salivating over interactive TV, industrial automation control manufacturer Allen-Bradley, Mayfield Heights, Ohio, was spying the Internet. The site, in the eyes of the information technology staffers who dreamed it up, would include the annual report, phone numbers and other information.

What Allen-Bradley quickly learned was that technology excitement can quickly overshadow basic marketing.

"If you're starting a Web page, be clear what your objectives are," said Steve Gokorsch, marketing programs manager. "If you're just trying to do PR, you still need to know who your target audience is and what they want from you.Ó Mr. Gokorsch took a logical but unusual approach for Web marketers: He decided to survey his customer base.

The 1,500 surveys that came back said users mostly wanted technical information, such as hard specification data and bug information. To the surprise of the technologists, the last thing the customers wanted was an annual report.

Budget issues

A manufacturing-oriented Web site can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $250,000 or more, depending on how a company intends to use the Internet.

Lukens Steel Co., Coatsville, Pa., spent a Ònominal amountÓ on its site, said Marketing Manager Bob Wright. There's nothing fancy about Lukens' site, either; the company considers it a plus just to be on the Web when a lot of its competitors aren't.

"Getting on the Web was an indication that Lukens was technologically on the leading edge," Mr. Wright said.

Phoenix Contact, a manufacturer and distributor of electronic components based in Harrisburg, Pa., spent $10,000 to create a site offering a glimpse of some of its more than 4,000 products.

Allen-Bradley's $250,000 site is clearly on the other end of the scale. The company has two full-time technical people and a number of support people preparing and updating material.

"If a customer is looking for technical information, the last thing we want is for him to click on our site and find the server is unavailable," Mr. Gokorsch said.

Content conundrum

A Web site must have "clear, updated and consistent information" that should be constantly revised and updated, said Linda Wagner, Phoenix Contact's communications manager. Other techniques: Visitors to Lukens' site can send a request for more information, which will be faxed the next morning. SGS Tool Co., Munroe Falls, Ohio, puts its catalog online with an automated searching process that allows users to find and order the precise product they need. Above all, utility and efficiency are key.

"People tend to want to have lots of pretty things, like having beautiful graphics available, but you can't do that on the Web," Ms. Wagner said.

Measuring traffic

One key to Web success is how many people come to the site. But bragging about hits--the number of files downloaded when a user looks at a site--is the same as bragging about placing 40 color page ads in trade magazines without having any idea who those magazines reach, Mr. Gokorsch said. "I'll ask [other Web site operators] who these people were who were coming to the sites, and they'll say, `I don't know,' " he said.

The answer in many cases is to ask a visitor to register.

So far, 14,000 users have provided their name to Allen-Bradley's Web site.

"I don't care if a surfer wants to look at a picture of a new motor starter," Mr. Gokorsch said. "But if he's interested in mounting dimensions, then I want to know who he is because now he's a user."

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