Turning Bronze Into Gold

Case Study: Ellison Bronze

Ellison Bronze, Inc., of Falconer, NY, manufacturers the finest commercial entry doors in the world. Their doors are built by skilled craftsman almost entirely by hand and according to an architect’s vision. Where most well-trafficked entry doors last 30 years at best, an Ellison door can endure indefinitely if reasonably maintained. This extraordinary longevity is due to the materials with which the doors are constructed – heavy gauge stainless or bronze in most instances – and that they’re constructed with a unitized substructure and full through welds.

Thick metal materials can make for an extremely heavy door, but no one would call an Ellison door heavy while opening it. In fact, quite the opposite. Compared to a traditional door, an Ellison door requires just a fraction of the force to open. This ease of operation – an Ellison hallmark – is due to a unique design that distributes the door leaf’s weight laterally, more evenly, as opposed to concentrating it to just one side. This innovation, patented by Ellison in 1927, was termed the “Balanced Door”. Ellison’s “balanced” design makes the weight of the door inconsequential to operability and entirely eliminates the weakest parts of an ordinary door – the hinges – which are typically the first components to fail.

At one time, architects knew the Ellison brand well and, throughout the 20th century, Ellison doors were widely installed throughout major U.S. cities – especially New York and Chicago. In late 2010, however, Ellison sales had slowed considerably and the company’s investments in marketing no longer seemed to pay dividends as they had so consistently in decades past. This is when Ellison began looking for a new marketing partner to help. They found LarsonO’Brien.

The Strategy

LarsonO’Brien’s Creative ESP revealed that Ellison could be doing a much better job of simply telling its story – clearly communicating its value proposition to architects. Ellison ad campaigns from the past decade or so merely showed installations of their doors with little or no copy describing the door’s unique attributes. The doors undoubtedly looked nice in these ads, but other manufacturers also make nice looking doors – nice looking doors that cost far less than Ellison’s. LarsonO’Brien recognized that, for far too long, Ellison was resting on its laurels, assuming that architects were familiar with the Ellison value proposition, when, in reality, they’d reached a point where their loyal customer base had aged considerably or long since retired. What remained was an entire generation of architects with little or no appreciation for the balanced door concept or the Ellison brand. We saw this as an opportunity to re-cast Ellison in a manner of our choosing – a virtual “clean slate” – while still being able to leverage Ellison’s rich architectural history and more than 80 years of time-tested products.

LarsonO’Brien formulated three important messages to convey with consistency to architects through an integrated marketing campaign composed of advertising, public relations, interactive, and continuing education.

  1. Ellison doors are for the marquee entrances of important buildings. A door is the first, and sometimes only, part of a building with which an occupant comes into direct contact on a regular basis, so it should exude quality, not merely visually, but in feel – precisely what an Ellison door has in spades.
  2. As a custom-crafted product, an Ellison door allows an architect to be an architect in the truest sense. Just as Frank Lloyd Wright personally designed windows, tables, and chairs for his structures, an Ellison door is hand-crafted entirely according to an architect’s vision – from the materials and finishes used, to the stiles, lights, scale, shape, decoration, and more.
  3. No entry door lasts longer. In a disposable world trying desperately to become sustainable, an Ellison door may never need to be replaced, making it the most sensible choice, despite its high initial price tag.

The Work

LarsonO’Brien produced a series of animations to quickly and effectively demonstrate the features and benefits of balanced doors compared to traditional doors. In addition to the Web, the animations were featured in new AIA CES distance education and lunch and learn courses produced by LarsonO’Brien and sponsored by Ellison, entitled An Introduction to Balanced Doors. The streaming video course – hosted by TheContinuingArchitect.com – was the first ever AIA CES course to be produced in full HD video. It was also the first video course to feature a live presenter – Ellison president, Mark Graves – which gave the course a wonderfully personal feel.

LarsonO’Brien entirely revamped Ellison’s corporate branding. Our inspiration for the new logo was discovered in Ellison’s archives and was, in fact, Ellison’s old script logo used in several iterations throughout the 1940s and 50s. By introducing a new bronze color scheme, Ellison’s new branding pays homage to metal, a primary component of Ellison products, as well as their more formal legal name, Ellison Bronze.

Inspiration for the new print campaign came from anecdotes shared by Ellison president, Mark Graves: An architect who told Mark at an AIA National Convention that he “knew he had arrived” when he got to specify his first Ellison door, and a bank president who insisted that the iconic Ellison doors of the old bank headquarters be salvaged and re-used in the construction of the new headquarters. These doors were special, indeed. Instead of showing Ellison doors installed, our ads depicted finished doors standing alone – each a work of art unto itself. Also, like a work of art, the ads featured matte frames and even included the door’s unique internal project number to reinforce their custom-crafted, one-of-a-kind nature.

LarsonO’Brien produced a new 20-page brochure for use by sales representatives and as collateral for responding to qualified leads. This brochure was later re-purposed by LarsonO’Brien as an interactive app for tablet devices, featuring animations and video.

LarsonO’Brien PR wrote numerous bylined articles for several key trade publications. In each, Ellison’s value proposition was always clearly defined and, owing to the uniqueness of Ellison’s product offering, many of these articles were elevated by editors to cover-story status.

LarsonO’Brien developed an entirely new website for Ellison. The design of the website was closely integrated with updated branding and strategy, but most importantly made it easier than ever for architects to quickly understand the key benefits of balanced doors and become inspired to approach door specification far more creatively than they ever realized possible.

The Impact

Ellison President Mark Graves started at the company as a teen, casting bronze door components in the company’s forge. Mark told us, “As long as I can remember, we’ve never been as busy as we are now,” which just about says it all. Three years after working with Ellison, our proven success led directly to LarsonO’Brien being hired by Hope’s Windows – another 100-plus-year-old architectural product manufacturer located just a mile from Ellison in Jamestown, NY.