Monday, November 24, 2014

Dodge's 100th Anniversary Campaign: What Works & Doesn't

Dodge celebrated its 100th anniversary in the best way an auto brand probably can: with centennial editions of certain makes of cars. Its TV ads grabbed me during the summer, the ones in which old Dodges morph into new models on wide country roads. Now that Dodge's total business anniversary and corporate storytelling campaign is five months old, what works and what doesn't?

Core message: consistent. "The Dodge brand is tearing into its centennial year as America’s mainstream performance brand, celebrating its 100th anniversary on July 1, 2014. With the purification of the brand and consolidation with SRT, Dodge is getting back to its performance roots with every single model it offers." "Tearing into" and "purification" are odd ways to put this core message of "Focused on Its Performance Roots," and you have to be a Car Guy or Gal to groove on the SRT part. But Dodge carries through the message consistently, and they unveiled it right on time, which means that they started early. These are two basic essentials that every company can emulate, even the smallest business.

Web timeline: tough to navigate. I think it's time to retire so-called parallax timelines, and I say that as someone who has written and project-managed a few myself. The layers are just plain clunky. Dodge's timeline is divided into nine chronological chunks, but each one is sprawling. I'd rather browse an e-book ... they provide a much tidier container.

YouTube videos: fun to watch. I'm a sucker for the historical simulations of the brothers Dodge ("Their spirit lives"), but to my surprise I also enjoyed the "Don't Touch My Dart" spots. Obviously I'm not alone, since the various videos have collectively racked up millions of views. 

Media information: sprawling. Reams of PDF downloads include 20-page chronologies, 37-page lists of Centennial events, and brand overviews, many of them divided into past, present, and future . . . again, this is why books are much neater containers. But kudos to Dodge for archiving, organizing, and making public this vital info.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Crain Communications: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Crain’s is an American publishing conglomerate headquartered in Detroit, with 14 locations worldwide. It publishes trade magazines (Advertising Age, Autoweek, Plastics News, and many others) as well as papers such as Crain’s New York Business and Crain’s Chicago Business. Founded in 1916 in Louisville, KY, by G. D. Crain, the company – still privately held – has been run in succession by Crain’s widow and sons. The main About Us page is here.

The main About Us page is well laid out, giving teasers and links to separate pages on Our History, Our Philosophy, and Our Leadership.

Products/Services: C
Our main complaint about Crain’s About Us pages is that they have the feel of a collection that has been growing over time (good!) but has not been revised for consistency (bad!). The number of employees is variously listed as 825 or more than 1,000; the age of the company as over 80 or over 90. (In fact, Crain’s will celebrate its 100th business anniversary in 2016.) The company’s long-standing motto, “Readers first!,” is mentioned in the teaser to the Our Philosophy page (and emphasized on the Careers page), but not mentioned on the Our Philosophy page. Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity,” which includes checking grammar, punctuation, and yes, facts.

Also: logos or mastheads of the many Crain publications would liven up the small, dense blocks of text on most pages.

Personality: B
Our History emphasizes that Crain’s is a family-run business, with only three chairmen and presidents since its founding—a potential theme for corporate storytelling that this company doesn’t quite exploit. Continuing that tradition, five members of the Crain family are listed on the Leadership page. The bio of Rance Crain, which focuses on his experience in publishing and his role in the company, is very good. The bio of Keith Crain, on the other hand, sounds as if it was written for a third-party site where the philanthropic activities are more important than work at Crain’s. A bio of a company leader on an About Us page isn’t just a bio: it’s a chance to show where and how a leader is leading.

Accessibility: D
The Contact Us page lists Crain offices worldwide, with mailing addresses and phone numbers, but no emails or names. This is substandard.

Few things make you look as unreliable as conflicting information on your website. It’s particularly egregious for a company in the publishing industry, where fact-checking should be the norm. Review the business history of your site regularly for consistency.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cleveland Museum of Art: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) opened its doors in 1916, with funds and land donated by four local businessmen. Its substantial endowment makes it one of the wealthiest museums in the United States. The collection of 43,000 works is especially strong in Asian and Egyptian art. The CMA’s main About Us page is here.

For websites with more than one page under the About Us tab, the main page should be a portal that lures visitors to other pages. The CMA’s mainAbout Us page entices with witty visuals matched with its 12 options, including a portrait of George Washington for Museum Leadership and a scroll of hieroglyphics for Contact Us. Even better, these 12 images are tidily arranged to fit on a single screen, making it easy for a visitor to see all the options. Well done! We’ll be curious to see what CMA does for its 100th business anniversary next year.

Products/Services and Personality: B
The History and Mission page gives an overview of the Museum’s development via what each of its ten directors chose to focus on—an interesting structure that offers some subtle corporate storytelling. The founders get their own page, with an image of each and an explanation of how he became interested in art. The Inaugural Exhibition of 1916 also has a page. The Building page offers a slightly different perspective: when and why different expansions were undertaken. Take a lesson from the CMA: If your institutional or corporate history is long and complex, presenting it from different angles on several pages is a great choice.

Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” That’s particularly true for an arts museum, since one of the best ways to get people to visit is to show them the treasures that await. In this respect, the CMA pages fall short. Most pages have a single large photo at the top; it's not obvious that one can click on it to see more, and that some of the text below applies to these various images. On Picture This: CMA Photographic History, why not make all the photos visible, each above its corresponding text, rather than making us click through photos at the top, and then scroll down to the relevant text? On the Inaugural Exhibition page, why not  space the images through the text? On the Building page, why not show galleries then and now, as they're discussed? On the History and Mission page, why not put the images with the directors, and for the sake of luring people in, show a notable acquisition of each director? And, for yet another perspective, why not have a timeline of collection highlights, with brief notes on why each was considered worth acquiring?

Accessibility: A
CMA boasts that it was created “for the benefit of all the people forever,” and their Contact us page suggests that they are in fact interested in hearing from people – a relative rarity among large institutions. Next to the CMA’s general contact information is the query, “Have a question for Director William Griswold?” – with his email. For those who don’t want to go straight to the top, the Contact Us page links to a directory with emails for dozens of departments, from Administration to Visitor Services.

If you have a rich history, try telling it from several different angles – but don’t forget to include great text and visuals.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy 250th, Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant celebrates 250 years of continuous publication today. As other print newspapers close, this one survives, in part by staying true to its Connecticut roots. It started as a weekly and is older than the US itself.

Fittingly, the Connecticut Historical Society is running an exhibit through November 1 that showcases The Courant’s rich history. I harbor a fondness for Hartford since my first corporate history was a 150-year chronicle of The Phoenix Companies, a copy of which book is enclosed in a time capsule buried on Hartford's Constitution Plaza. The newspaper's website has a great selection of photos. Wish they'd done more with oral histories there.
In the words of the Society, The Courant is "the newspaper in which George Washington placed an ad to lease part of his Mount Vernon land. Thomas Jefferson sued this newspaper for libel—and lost. And Mark Twain tried to buy stock in this paper but his offer was turned down." May it enjoy another 250 years of publication. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Factory Man" a riveting read

Delighted to learn that Beth Macy's "Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local--and Helped Save an American Town" has been optioned as an HBO miniseries by Tom Hanks. The book, published in July 2014, is a formidable piece of corporate history, and it'll make for a superb workplace drama. It captures the "creeping small-town carnage created by acronyms like NAFTA and WTO and an impotent TAA, all of it forged by faraway people who had never bothered to see the full result of what globalization had wrought."

A reporter for the Roanoke Times, Macy chronicles John Bassett III in his battle to save his family's furniture manufacturing company, Vaughan-Bassett, from being swallowed up by cheap Chinese imports and the havoc they have wrought on American retailing. The man is a natural communicator--plainspoken, sharp, hardly a saint, spot-on whether you agree with him or not. Macy wisely gets him talking and then gets out of his way.

I confess that "Factory Man" didn't gain momentum for me until Chapter 10. The first 130 pages are packed with Bassett family history, almost so lurid as to be mistaken for a Faulkner novel. The internecine wars of various cousins aren't half as fascinating as the flat-out energy that JBIII expends--and the counter-energy of some in the industry who willingly give into globalization. I wish Macy had drawn more parallels to U.S. industries that lost out to cheap imports earlier, such as clothing and shoe making, but that might have doubled the book's length.

Macy is firmly on the side of the workers who are being displaced left and right. She sticks it to The New York Times's Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, noting that an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent is fine for Bethesda, MD, "where he lives in an 11,400-square-foot mansion with his heiress wife [.... But the 5.2 figure] comes nowhere close to capturing the truth of Martinsville and Henry County's double-digit unemployment and the problems that result, from the increasing need for food stamps and free school lunches and Medicaid to the rising rates of teen pregnancy and domestic violence." This is superb social history as well as business history (the two are intertwined far more often that we admit).

Here's one of my favorite passages, along with some representative quotes:
"...Rob [Bassett] reported back on the lack of safety measures in the Dongguan finishing rooms--no fans, no masks, nothing. Rob actually had a fondness for the smell of finishing material, but these fumes were so strong he had trouble catching his breath. 'How do they stand it?" he had asked the plant manager, choking as he spoke.
   "Spray two years and die," the manager said.
   At which point there would be twenty more lined up to take the fallen worker's place.

"More than a few Chinese friends have quoted to me the proverb 'fu bu guo san dai' (wealth doesn't make it past three generations) as they wonder how we became so ill-disciplined, distracted and dissolute." -- James McGregor, former Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China

"One of our biggest problems is turning the attitude around in this country, making people believe in us again. Does that mean we will never close a plant? If we're inefficient, we will close a plant. But I want to be able to say to everybody in my organization . . . to look them straight in the eye and tell them that I did everything in my power to save their job. I want a free and fair playing field, and I'm willing to fight for it. I am not gonna turn tail and run." -- John Bassett III