Monday, April 27, 2015

Rado: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate History.net

The Rado brand launched its first collection of watches in 1957, but the company history goes back to Schlup & Co., who had been producing watch movements in Lengnau, Switzerland, since 1917. Rado’s forte is the use of sophisticated materials such as high-tech ceramics: they produced the first scratch-proof watches. Today the company, still headquartered in Lengnau, has some 470 employees and is part of the Swatch Group. The main About Us page appears when you click “About Rado” in the top menu.

OVERALL GRADE: D

Products/Services: D
The big problem with the Rado About Us page is obvious from its opening lines: “2010s. 2013 - Rado further develops its use of ultra-light high-tech ceramic, presenting the DiaMaster RHW1 in ‘old bronze’ coloured Si3N4 TiN. ...” This is the page that appears when you click “About Rado” in the top menu, but there’s no summary of the company: what it produces, where it’s located (if you’re a Swiss company making watches, surely location matters!), what market its products are aimed at. Our Commandment 1 of About Us pages is, “Know thy audience.” The first About Us page ought to be self-sufficient. Rado’s is not.

Rado has excellent photos ... on two completely different timelines, one of which counts backward, the other forward. The one on the main About Us page is, as we said above, so abstruse that a layman is unlikely to understand it. The Design Milestones timeline (under About Rado / Rado & Design) works forward from 1958, describing specific watches and what made each innovative. Its text is easier to grasp, but needs work. For example, we’re told that the 1981 Anatom was the first Rado watch “that exhibits a curved ergonomic form in order to “[this quotation is never closed] embrace the wrist with anatomical perfection. The design of the Anatom dial is reduced to keep its minimalism ...”

For a Swiss watchmaker not to be precise plays havoc with our preconceptions. Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity.” If you’re translating web pages for an international audience, have them proofed by someone fluent in the language.

Personality: D
The Rado People page is elegantly laid out. But we expected it to list the company’s management; instead, it talks about the celebrities who wear Rado watches. There’s precious little elsewhere on the site about Rado’s corporate history. Although the timeline on the main About Us page goes back to 1917 (the founding of Schlup & Co. clockwork factory in Lengnau), we’ve been unable to discover on the Rado site what the relationship is between Schlup & Co. and Rado.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page (reached via a link at the end of the footer, under “Keep in Touch”) has a mailing address, phone number, and an online form. This is minimal but acceptable.

TAKEAWAY
Always start your About Us page with a brief summary of your company, geared to your target audience. If you’re going to mention your history (and you should!), be sure to give some details that make it impressive.

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; CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Exemplary 125th Anniversary Website by Barnard
















Barnard College does almost everything right on its 125th anniversary website:
  • Good video with a mix of old and new
  • "125 Scrapbook" invites students and alumnae to share their Barnard stories -- oral histories with a soft touch
  • Ultra-thorough timeline; the parallax design is confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to slice and dice by category 
  • Photos of alumnae from all fields tell a story of accomplishment. It's not clear at first that you can click on each one for a short bio (in fact, you can do that); I would have liked to have heard the voice of the person pictured as well, wherever possible. 
In all, excellent organizational storytelling and a fine use of archival material. It's a site that should also work well as a recruiting tool. (And keep in mind that this praise emanates from someone who made it a point not to attend an all-female college.)


Monday, April 13, 2015

NJ Transit: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate History.net

NJ Transit was established by the Public Transportation Act of 1979 to operate mass transit within New Jersey and to New York City and Philadelphia. It absorbed the transit business that had been run by Public Service, New Jersey’s largest utility company, since PS’s founding in 1903. (In those days, the routes included not just buses and trains but trolleys and streetcars.) NJ Transit also subsumed many private bus lines and took over Conrail routes in 1983. With some 220 million passenger-trips per year, NJ Transit is the third largest provider in the United States of bus, rail, and light rail transit. NJ Transit’s About Us page is here.

OVERALL GRADE: E

Products/Services: E
NJ Transit has one and only one About Us page, with numerous subheads: Directions / Address & Phone; History & Structure; Executive Director; Board Members; Board Agenda / Meeting Minutes / Video; and so on. Our Commandment 1 of About Us pages is, “Know thy audience.” It’s not clear for whom this page is written.

Visually, this is not a welcoming page. It’s difficult to read the introductory paragraphs, since they’re set in a small font and long lines. Enlarging the size in the browser merely makes the lines run off the screen. A couple boldly designed maps to show NJ Transit’s rail network or bus routes would break up the dense text and offer a visual summary of the company’s scope.

Another problem: all those headings. No attempt is made to show which are related, for example by grouping together all the ones that deal with administration. Also, the headings are all in the same style, but they don’t all behave the same way. Sometimes clicking on the arrow next to a heading makes subheads appear: sometimes not. Sometimes clicking on the heading makes a paragraph or two drop down. Sometimes it sends you to another page (without a “return” option), or opens a PDF. For the headings with drop-down text, there’s no option to expand all.

As for corporate history: there is none. Not even a glancing mention is given to the bus and rail services that were “acquired” by NJ Transit. This is a lost opportunity, because the colorful transit history of Public Service is well documented in a centennial corporate history of PSEG published in 2003. (Full disclosure: that PSEG history was authored by Marian Calabro, who has since become president of CorporateHistory.net. As a work of New Jersey history, “Making Things Work: PSEG’s First Century” is available at 25 libraries in the Bergen County Cooperative Library Service and many others across the state.)


Personality: D
NJ Transit’s business history is almost completely absent. The focus is on Executive Director Veronique Hakim. Her bio is lengthy, but it’s basically a list of positions and a recap of the scope of her duties. Inexcusably, the stats given in her bio don’t agree with the stats at the top of the page. For example, her bio says NJ Transit runs 261 bus routes; the introductory text says it runs 236. Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity.” On a one-page site, discrepancies such as these are glaring.

Under Board Members, only names, titles, and photos are given. What’s the point of including this, if no further comment or contact information is supplied?

Accessibility: E
Contact information is under the Directions / Address & Phone heading. It consists of the address and main phone numbers for NJ Transit’s headquarters and two other buildings. No other means of contact (email, fax, social media) is provided. A great deal of space is dedicated to giving every possible option for travel by car or mass transit to each of the three locations ... But should we wish to visit NJ Transit, this page offers no way to figure out whether we ought to visit the headquarters, the general office building, or the administration building, or what person or department we should ask for when we got there.

TAKEAWAY
Think about the audience for your About Us page, and be sure to offer information they can use, in a layout that lets them find it. At the same time, include sufficient company history.

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; CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company, although its president, Marian Calabro, covered the transit-related history of NJ Transit predecessor PSEG in her centennnial history of the latter company.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Happy 175th, Cunard

I confess to a soft spot for Cunard. When the company's US office was at 555 Fifth Avenue in New York City, I wrote reams of Cunard catalogs, promotional copy, and newsletters. I sailed on QE2 and the beautiful Sagafjord, ships now retired. The key fact about cruise marketing is that it, like the ships themselves, literally can't afford to stand still. 

So it's great to see that Cunard is celebrating its 175th year with appropriate pomp and circumstance:
  • An image-driven video that makes good use of artifacts and even quotes Mark Twain for us Yankees
  • A year full of events that reflect the glorious history: Lusitania remembered, the 3 Queens Meeting in Liverpool, and a sailing that evokes the original Transatlantic Crossing 
  • A felicious tagline: Cunard 175 Years / Forever Cunard
The website promises a Timeline, but it seems identical to the video. (Business anniversary tip: Call it a Timeline only if it is a true chronological presentation.) And how about a book? None is shown on the Cunard website, but a web search reveals one history that has been published in the UK (2014) and one to come in the US (mid-2015). I hope one or both are being made available to customers aboard the ships, and I hope they pay homage to the beautiful 150th anniversary book written by the prose-perfect John Maxtone Graham. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dr Pepper Snapple Group: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate History.net

Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) is one of the world’s leading beverage companies and the top producer of flavored carbonated soft drinks in the Americas. A publicly traded company headquartered in Plano, Texas, DPS has 21 manufacturing centers, over 115 distribution centers, and about 19,000 employees. Through a century-long sequence of mergers and acquisitions, the company’s brands include A&W Root Beer, 7Up, Hawaiian Punch, Nantucket Nectars, Sunkist, Schweppes, and of course, Dr Pepper (created in 1885) and Snapple (created in 1973). The main About Us page is Our Company.

OVERALL GRADE: B
The DPS site suffers from a tendency toward elegance at the expense of functionality. We first noticed it on the Awards page, which has many pretty pictures, but no text related to awards. Then we accidentally discovered that hovering over a photo reveals text. And then we felt we had to try hovering over every image on every page, just in case we were missing something. Yes, the bold graphic look of images without text is elegant, but marketing mavens know that captions are one of the most-read elements on any page. It’s a waste not to have captions on permanent display, ideally in service to company history. At the very, very least, a “hover here for more info” graphic will ensure that visitors realize text is available.

Products/Services: C
The main About Us page has five teasers (brands, investing, sustainability, operations, mission) in a sensible layout with well-chosen photos. Unfortunately, the page lacks a concise statement of DPS’s nature and purpose. Plenty of relevant information appears on the Operations, Mission, Leadership Team, and History pages, but for visitors who get no further, a summary should appear on the main About Us page.

The History page offers some good corporate storytelling. Why not make it more vivid with vintage ads or logos of some of the DPS beverages that have been popular for decades? Given that DPS is a conglomeration of brands, an illustrated timeline might work even better than a narrative.

Our Commandment 10 of About Us pages is, “Remember to keep holy the updates.” The last tweets on the Our Company page are a year old! However, the site’s home page has an active Twitter feed, so apparently this glitch just means that no one at DPS has cast a critical eye on Our Company for quite a while.

Speaking of discrepancies: why does the Mission page have no obvious relation to the Values page? Why does Our Operations introduce “Rapid Continuous Improvement (RCI),” which seems like a either value or a way to implement a mission, but isn’t mentioned elsewhere? Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity.” That includes looking for discrepancies throughout the site and adjusting the focus on business history as needed. Sites as large as DPS’s require frequent checking to make sure they remain internally consistent.

Personality: A
At the foot of the main About Us page, in a carousel display, are company leaders, each with a photo, name, title, and link to a full bio. This is a welcome innovation. The bios are top notch: they mention not just where the person has worked, but what he contributed at each job. (Alas, there are no female executives at this level.)

Bravo also to the FAQ (available from the Contact page), which presents just the sort of questions that consumers with inquiring minds like to ask: “Why is it called ‘cream soda’?” “What exactly is Dr. Pepper?” “Did Yogi Berra ever own Yoo-hoo?”

Accessibility: C
The Contact page (accessed via a link in the footer) is sparse but adequate: USPS and phone information for 5 different departments, plus a form for sending an email for half a dozen different reasons (consumer questions, media inquiries, potential suppliers, etc.). This would be an ideal place to encourage interaction on social media, but the social media icons are confined to tiny print in the footer.

TAKEAWAY
The main About Us page should always have a quick summary of your company as well as great pics and teasers, for the sake of visitors who choose not to explore any other pages. And always, always, always check that pages within your site are consistent and coherent.

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; CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company.