Monday, September 8, 2014

Oshkosh Corporation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Oshkosh Corporation, founded in 1917 as the Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company, is a leading manufacturer of access equipment, specialty vehicles, and truck bodies. Major brands include Oshkosh (defense vehicles), JLG (aerial work platforms), Pierce (fire trucks), McNeilus (concrete mixers, refuse collection), Jerr-Dan (towing), and CON-E-CO (concrete batch plants). Obviously they’re not to be confused with the Oshkosh B’Gosh company, part of Carter’s Inc., which makes clothes for kids. Still headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Oshkosh Corporation employs 12,300 people and had 2012 revenue of $8.18 billion. Its main About Us page is here.

Oshkosh would get an A grade except for its Company History page, which has been under construction for some time. Given the company’s long history and the well-written text on the other pages, we’re expecting something splendid. But why leave this vital page virtually blank, especially with a 100th anniversary coming up in less than three years?

Products/Services: A
Oshkosh’s About Us pages are terrific: short, pithy, powerful. The main page has a great one-sentence summary of the company: what it does (“designs and builds the world’s toughest specialty trucks and truck bodies and access equipment”) and how it does it (“by working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people who use them”). A few more lines briefly elaborate. A picture of an amazing vehicle tops the page, and at the right is a photo of CEO Charles L. Szews, with a quote that reinforces the summary. This is a perfect example of our Commandment 2 of About Us pages: “Thou shalt not generalize.” From our first look at the main About Us page, we know exactly what Oshkosh’s products are and what the company’s attitude is toward its customers.

The Company Profile page gives a similarly pithy one-page overview of the company’s major brands and what each one’s specialty is, and adds the company’s founding date, a list of worldwide operations, and total employees. Minor point: the link to the video is broken ... but we’d rather see a photo of another cool truck, anyway. A little more corporate storytelling would go a long way here.

The Technology & Innovation page (again with great pics) also refers to the company’s founding: a nice use of corporate history to reinforce the idea that Oshkosh is in this for the long haul. The Acquisitions page lists Oshkosh’s major acquisitions, again briefly but with links to further information. More surprisingly, it lists the criteria they use when considering an acquisition: a happy variation on the usual tedious list of names and years.

Personality: C
Oshkosh starts to convey its personality on the main About Us page, where they feature a photo of one of their high-tech trucks alongside a photo of CEO Charlie Szews and a relevant quote by him. Given that great start, it’s puzzling that we can’t find any pages listing the corporate leadership, either under About Us or the Investors tab. Googling “Charlie Szews,” we found a page on Oshkosh’s site that has his bio ... but the fact that we had to resort to Google means there’s a serious navigation problem.

Accessibility: A
Our Commandment 8 of About Us pages is: “Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible.” Many organizations seem unwilling to give names and emails of department heads. Bravo to Oshkosh, whose Contact Us page lists half a dozen departments with names as well as titles, and actual email addresses rather than an online form.

Keep your text brief and to the point, and supplement it with pictures that show what you do and who you are. But don’t allow blank pages to linger, especially when you have an exceptionally rich business 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; has no ties to this company.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Branding starts with your creation story

Patrick Hanlon’s Primal Branding is a bit dated (originally published in 2006) but still fascinating. It analyzes why certain brands gain “visceral traction in the marketplace,” while other brands with equally good offerings fail. Crux: Branding is a belief system. Specifically, Hanlon (who also blogs for says the “creation story is the crucial first step in providing answers to why people should care about you, or your product or service.” If “creation story” sounds a lot like corporate history, that's because they're almost identical.

Excerpt: The creation story not only answers who you are and where you come from, but helps set up the further pieces of primal code (creed, icons, rituals, pagans, sacred words, leader). Every company was started somewhere, somehow, by someone. Like telling a good tale, the opportunity is how to make it interesting…. It’s all about creating a sense of meaning. When people believe in and belong to a brand it’s no longer about the task, it’s about the experience. When people shop for outdoor equipment they don’t say, “We went shopping for a tent.” They say, “We went to REI.” When they travel out of state to gamble, they don’t just say, “We went gambling.” They say, “We went to Vegas.” 

Further, Hanlon points out that while the creation story may be well known to old hands at a company, newer employees may not have a clue. This, he says, “results in a fractured culture, with people who … have internalized what the company is about, while everyone else (managers included) stumble along.” Great reason to include basic company history in onboarding sessions (print, video, displays). And to spruce up your website's About Us or Our Story pages. Be honest: When did you last update those? Our bimonthly reviews of About Us pages reveals that many companies with major brands don't pay sufficient attention to their web history presence.

The power of a good creation story was hammered home today by a sponsorship spot on a WNYC newscast. I heard and remembered a pitch by Veteran Movers: founded by an ex-Marine; gives jobs to vets; does moving jobs in the NY metro area. That's all I need to know. The story sticks. If I heard someone was moving, I'd say "Hey, have you heard of Veteran Movers? Sounds like they're worth checking out." All on the strength of 10 seconds of creation story!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ben Nye: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

As makeup director at 20th Century Fox for decades, Benjamin (“Ben”) Nye, Sr., was responsible for over 500 films spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. If you’ve seen Gone with the Wind, Miracle on 34th Street, The King and I, or Planet of the Apes, you've seen his work. When Nye retired in 1967, he founded the Ben Nye Makeup Company, which today is based in a Los Angeles headquarters and run by his son Dana. The company’s About Us page is here.

The Ben Nye Makeup site is a great illustration of our Commandment 1 of About Us pages: “Know thy audience.” The product isn't sold retail; it's sold via authorized retailers to professionals, and the photos and text are geared to such visitors.

Products/Services and Personality: A
The About Us page, “The Ben Nye Story” (accessed via the “Read the Ben Nye Story” link on the Home page) proves that you don’t need a dozen nested About Us pages to show your company’s true colors. Ben Nye’s single page describes the founder’s career as a Hollywood makeup artist, with examples of the movies he worked on. It discusses his style, which still drives the business, and then moves on to his son, who runs the company today. Then it mentions the company’s products, and finally links to the company’s YouTube channel of tutorials by master makeup artists. As befits a company that sells makeup, the page is crowded with full-color photos of models, movie stars, and makeup.

Our one question is: What does “There’s more to come!” refer to? It’s in the header of the page and repeated again at the end. If it’s something Ben Nye used to say, we’d like to know that.

The other pages on the site are all, in a sense, About Us: four pages of media coverage (In the Media, Theatre News, Artists at Work, At the Show) and In Print, a collection of product brochures.

Accessibility: B
The site doesn't even have a Contact Us page: the barest of information (mailing address and telephone) appears on the Catalog Request page. But Ben Nye Makeup doesn't operate a retail store, and its products are sold only through authorized dealers, so this seems adequate.

You can be brief, yet brilliant, in relating your business history. Focus on what makes you unique and great.

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, August 18, 2014

Adolphe Sax, business owner

Adolphe Sax (at left, playing horn) did so much more than invent the saxophone. He invented dozens of instruments, including horns with a dozen bells. He founded the factory that made instruments for buyers worldwide (the letter below is addressed to M. Selmer, of the US's Selmer instrument company). It was fun to discover him at the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels earlier this summer, a place I never expected to find a corporate history on display.

In fact, Sax did so well that people sued him for patent infringement, to the point where he twice declared bankruptcy. Today, who can say which party was right? 

What I like best is that Sax, who lived from 1814 to 1894, called himself a "fabricant inventeur," or maker-inventor. If that description fits your organization's CEO, it's a good one to highlight in your corporate storytelling. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Berry Plastics: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In 1967, Imperial Plastics was established in Evansville, Indiana, where the company is still headquartered. After its acquisition by Jack Berry, Sr., in 1983, the company expanded via the acquisition of more than 30 related businesses. Today Berry is one of the largest plastics packaging producers in the world, with 80-odd manufacturing plants employing more than 25,000 people. Its annual sales top $5 billion.  Clients include Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and Procter & Gamble. The company went public in 2012. Berry Plastic’s main About Us page is here.


Products/Services: D
The main About Us page, Corporate, offers the briefest of summaries: when the company was founded and what its goals were and are. Because the text is so short, the oddity of the final sentence stands out: “Our impressive list of customers is evidence of our commitment to provide, on a world-wide scale.” To provide what? Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity.” Small errors suggest lack of attention to more important points.

The Corporate page is not enticing: little text, no images. Why not liven it up with a collage of images such as appears on the Products page? Or some of the material in well-thought-out brochures such as this one? Or the information on the Investors page? In a printed book, repetition is boring. On the web, it’s a necessity, since many visitors will jump unpredictably from one page to another.

The News page consists of a list of press releases, but buried among them are mentions of several awards. A separate Awards page would make these more impressive and easier to find.

The introduction to the Company History page is confusing: it says Berry welcomes the opportunity “to share information regarding our success stories and continued support of our local communities and environment.” Why say this if there are no pages on the site that offer such stories? And if there are such pages, why not link to them here?

The same page has a timeline that’s of manageable length, because it highlights only major events. So far, so good. But it’s basically a list of acquisitions, so it falls rather flat as corporate storytelling. In addition, some entries need to be rewritten for a general audience: what does “Entered the closure market” mean? Here, too, images of Berry products or vintage ads would make the page much more enticing.

Personality: E
Our Commandment 3 of About Us pages is, “Reveal thy personality.” There is no personality here. Jack Berry, Sr., is mentioned in three timeline entries, but we’re given no sense of him as a person or a CEO. The bio of Jonathan Rich, the current CEO, is buried under Investors (top menu) / Corporate Governance (side menu) / Management (link near top center). Once we found his bio, it was boilerplate fare, without a single quote from Rich or any indication of his management goals. Nor are there any quotes from division managers or employees to create a sense of the company’s personality.

Accessibility: C
The Contact page is standard: mailing address, telephone, and an online form. Including the names of the heads of specific departments would give a sense that Berry Plastic’s employees really do want to hear from us.

If you’re too close to your site to evaluate it, have an outsider check whether you’re making the best use of your content to express your personality, show off your products, and stay in touch with your customers.

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.