Monday, November 28, 2011

“About Us” Evaluation: L.A. Burdick Chocolate Gets an A

L.A. Burdick Chocolate, based in Walpole, N.H., sells delicious handmade chocolates via direct mail, on the web, and through a restaurant and several cafes. The company was founded in 1987 by Larry Burdick and his wife, who still run the business. Its About Us page is here.


OVERALL GRADE: A

L.A. Burdick’s About Us pages are as nicely concocted as their chocolates … and that’s high praise.

Products/Services: A-

The main About Us page is all about the chocolate, describing the ingredients and how it’s made. Photos show the chocolate and the busy, professional people in white coats who produce it.

One failing here: the list of the company’s activities (“direct mail and web business … French-inspired restaurant, as well as three caf├ęs”) should have links to the relevant pages on the site--like the order links on the History of the Mouse page. Yes, the top menu has links, but between the moment we see “restaurant” and the time we find it in the top menu, our email program can ding, our phones can ring, or a colleague can offer a latte. Even if we choose to finish reading the page, the link serves as highlighted text to remind us what page to visit next.

Personality: A

About Our People is geared very well to Burdick, giving the impression of a small, tightly managed company where high standards and customer service are priorities. The page provides information on the founder and 3 top people, with photos of them at work and bios that focus on their qualifications for that work. No extra clicks, no irrelevant information: we appreciate that.

One suggestion re style: Fiction writers know that direct quotes are usually more effective at holding a reader’s attention than exposition. The same is true of bios on web pages. Instead of “Larry has within arm's reach all the qualities of life that he holds dear,” try “Larry says, ‘I’ve got within arm’s reach here all the qualities of life that I hold dear.’”

On this page, too, there should be links making it easy for readers to get back to the business of buying chocolate--for example, when Larry mentions a restaurant, or Michael Klug talks about chocolate.

Accessibility: A+

The company’s 800-number is at the upper right on every page and its mailing address is in every footer. The drop-down Shopping menu is extensive and clear. Well done.


TAKEAWAY

We repeat: Put links wherever they’re relevant: don’t rely on readers to scan your top or side menus.

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?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company, although we have often enjoyed their chocolates. Also, we sometimes show their tiny history brochure to clients—it came tucked into a box we ordered years ago—as an example of how history can be used to marketing advantage even in the smallest places.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Would Abe Lincoln Have Tweeted?

Seven score and eight years ago, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address. It ran just 271 words, amazingly short now for a speech and even more so in 1863, when people had delightfully long attention spans. There’s a great story behind it.

Lincoln was second on the bill. The key speaker, Edward Everett, orated for more than two hours. The crowd of 15,000 loved Everett and wept as he waxed poetic about the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, which had taken place on the site less than five months earlier.

Then Lincoln spoke his 10 sentences:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


Speechwriters will note the ample use of triplets, the lyrical parallelism, the alternation of short and long sentences, and the chilling personification of the world (“it can never forget what they did here”).

Long-winded Everett later told Lincoln, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."

I’d like to think that Lincoln would have considered Twitter too short a medium for serious thoughts, but who knows? It is something to think about next time you visit the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.

Monday, November 14, 2011

“About Us” Evaluation: Schneider National Gets a C minus

Schneider, founded in 1938 and headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the third-largest trucking and logistics company in the United States, with annual revenue of $3.7 billion. Its trucks travel 5 million miles daily, providing services to more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies. We noticed Schneider because of a fascinating Forbes article on its use of technology to plan truck routes. The main About Us page is here.


OVERALL GRADE: C minus

Products/Services: C

Schneider’s About Us page opens with a well-written summary of the company’s services, scope, and size. But more than half of this page is devoted to the company’s commitment to sustainability. Surely a statement about Schneider’s commitment to providing reliable, innovative service deserves at least equal time. (Regarding that, we wonder why the great tag line “Driving the wheels of commerce” appears on the History page, but not on the main About Us page.)

At Corporate History.net we believe passionately in the value of corporate history and institutional memory, so we’re always happy to see a timeline of a company’s history included on the company’s website. But context matters. Most website visitors will be daunted by Schneider’s long timeline, which has no pictures or highlights. The company’s acquisitions in the 1930s could safely be relegated to a sub-page or to a company history.

Incidentally, according to the timeline 2010 was a record year for awards. The Awards page, however, lists nothing later than 2009. Our 10th Commandment of About Us pages is “Remember to keep holy the updates.” This sort of discrepancy suggests no one’s minding the store.

Personality: D

The History page and the Enterprise Overview both mention that the Schneider company is a family enterprise, but neither one quotes the founder to show what his vision was. The Mission and Core Values page, where one might expect such information, offers statements so vague that they could apply to any company, for example: “Safe, courteous, hustling associates creating solutions that excite our customers.”

Accessibility: C

The Contact page is a long online form. We hate online forms because they seldom allow us to track our communication with the company. We particularly hate them when they’re so long they overrun the opening screen, suggesting that it will take a long time to fill them in. At the upper left of Schneider’s page are options for sending an email or making a phone call: these should be much more prominently placed.


TAKEAWAY

Schneider’s About Us pages have some potentially excellent material, but the material is not organized in a way that shows off its strengths.

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?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen at random; CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How many CEOs can you name?

Steve Jobs's recent death, and the outpouring of love it has engendered, set me thinking about the Great Man theory of history.

I confess I am not an iPerson. CorporateHistory.net runs on PCs and software from Microsoft and Adobe. My smartphone is a Droid. And what I read of Jobs's managerial style made me cringe. Yes, eulogies are supposed to look beyond such things. I'm not here to eulogize, just to think out loud.

To qualify as a Great Man, it seems to me, a person should also be a great man without the caps. How does Jobs score there? On the invention front, shouldn't we also pause to remember with gratitude Martin Cooper, the father of the cell phone? He led the Motorola team that invented the concept a generation ago. Even though the early models weighed a cool 4 pounds, without them we wouldn't have smartphones.

Yet who recalls Martin Cooper's name? Following that train of thought, how many contemporary CEOs can you name? Mark Zuckerberg is easy. So is Lloyd Blankfein, if you read the business news. But how about IBM's CEO--the current one, not the woman who is soon to take over? Or the CEOs of the 2011 Fortune Top 5: Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Fannie Mae? I'm in the business of business history, and I'd flunk the test. All in all, I have to wonder if the Great Man theory is in large part a cult of personality.

And as for whether SIRI stands for "Steve is really inside," I'd rather have LIRI, with the L standing for Louis Armstrong. Now there was a Great, great man.