Monday, September 24, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Bose Gets a B

Bose Corporation, headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, was established in 1964 by Dr. Amar G. Bose, and is still privately held. It specializes in audio equipment, including speakers, noise-cancelling headphones, and automotive sound systems. The company’s About Us page is here.

The main About Us page is a clear presentation of the company’s products and aims, with an excellent use of headings, teasers, images, and links. All of this information is efficiently laid out to fit on one or two screens.

Products/Services: A+
The Bose About Us pages are all about the products, yet not an outright sales pitch. Our Philosophy states the company’s commitment to research and excellence in sound systems. A History of Bose gives a glimpse into the founder’s mind (he couldn’t find a stereo that reproduced the quality of a live performance, so he decided to build one) and a quick survey of Bose’s innovations. Milestones gives details on Bose’s innovations over the years, wisely focusing not on technical aspects or on the growth of the company, but on the benefits to owners of Bose products.

This order (philosophy, history, milestones) is the one on the main About Us page and on the left-hand menu of the subpages, so visitors are guided to more and more detailed information – but could leave at any point and still know the basics of Bose.

Personality: C
Little information is given about the people who run Bose. Normally that would bother us, but the great content and clean layout suggest the sort of efficiency and reliability that we appreciate in our electronic gizmos and gadgets.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page is plain vanilla, but functional. For the online email forms (here, for example), we’d like the option of “other” rather than Bose’s choices. If they’re going to send us a confirmation that they’ve received our query (with a copy of what we said), we’d like to be told that up front.

Bose gets top marks for keeping the focus of these pages on Bose products and their benefits to owners, and for presenting the information in an order that’s very well thought out.

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; has no ties to this company.

Monday, September 17, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Chobani Greek Yogurt Gets a B+

Chobani was established in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant. It’s based in New Berlin, N.Y., in what is fast becoming known as the yogurt belt of the U.S. for all the Greek yogurt manufacturers headquartered there. With sales approaching $1 billion, Chobani Yogurt is now sold in the United States, Canada, and Australia. It has 600,000 Facebook fans and was a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics. Chobani’s About Us page (“Our Story”) is here.

The Chobani About Us page is has a great casual tone, good focus, and excellent visuals. The problem is the layout: it’s too large and sprawling. A group photo takes up most of the space above the fold, and no links or teasers entice us to scroll down.

A couple minor errors on the Our Story page should be fixed, since they suggest a possible lack of attention to more important issues. “Chocked full of health benefits”?

Products/Services: A
Chobani is a single-product company, and its About Us page is focused on the product: why it was created (“How We Got Started”) and why it’s different (“What Makes Our Yogurt Special”). Well done.

We are consumers of Greek yogurt, so we’d tried the product. (Our regular brand is Trader Joe – but who knows? Maybe Chobani does private-labeling for them.) Then we read a full-page article in Entrepreneur (August 2012), which praised Chobani for its online presence. So what’s going on with Chobani’s News page? The most recent article is dated December 2011. If you’re going to have a media page – and you should, since it gives you the chance to send site visitors to favorable media coverage – then you must keep the page updated.

Accessibility: B
Chobani is very social-media oriented, and the text below their Contact Us link on the main About Us page has a casual, comfortable approach suited to that medium: “Our Customer Loyalty Team is ready and waiting to handle your questions, comments and concerns. Get in touch.” The Contact Us page is an online form (too sprawling for our taste), but emails are given for general inquiries and media, and links to suggest a recipe (nice touch!) or to see a FAQ. Given the company’s extensive use of social media, we’re surprised that on this page, the buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and so on appear only in the footer.

We wonder if the lack of mailing address is an oversight or deliberate; and if deliberate, why?

Personality: B
The only person mentioned by name on the Our Story page is Founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya. However, the group photo (clearly not Photoshopped) conveys a sense that Chobani is run by a happy team of normal, yogurt-eating guys and gals: not a suit or tie in sight. “How We Got Started,” toward the end of the Our Story page, makes the founder’s quest one that all yogurt-eaters can sympathize with.

Chobani has the tone and content of their About Us page right, but the layout needs to be adjusted to make visitors more likely to read it.

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; has no ties to this company.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Objects Do Tell Stories

It’s no secret that in addition to my work at, I’ve also written general history books such as The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party. I teach different forms of writing, as well. To keep in practice I attend writing workshops, and I had the pleasure of doing so last month in western Massachusetts.

In those green hills, a little object came into my possession temporarily: an ivory-colored case, about the size of an average index finger. It opened to reveal a green velveteen lining and a fold-out ruler from the Ashton Valve Company. Probably it was a promotional item, a leave-behind, something salesmen gave to prospects. Since it was made of a Bakelite-ish plastic, I'd estimate its date as early 1950s. (Alas, I didn't take a photo of it.)

Founded in 1871, Ashton made safety valves for locomotives, steamships, and fire engines. No surprise that it’s no longer in business. That’s implied here by the Cambridge (Mass.) Historical Society.

So much corporate history in one small object! The company name is in a lovely font, similar to Palmer Method handwriting. (There really was a Mr. Palmer, but that’s a story for another blog post). It’s a fantastic typeface with subtle dropped shadows. Unfolding the ruler shows that Ashton was based in Boston (actually Cambridge, or at least that's where its plant was). The other branch addresses are crammed onto the third part of the ruler: New York, USA 110 Liberty St.; Chicago USA, 160 W. Lake St.; and London, England, 1&2 Rangoon St. If I were to write a mystery, I’d use 1&2 Rangoon St. as a key location. Oh, and Vienna, Austria, at V 1/1 Kostlergrasse NR 1. So Ashton was global, and thus the rule is in inches and metric.

The other side sets out what companies today would call the mission statement. All caps again: OUR RULE: NOT HOW CHEAP BUT HOW GOOD. 

In tiny, tiny type – 4 pt type at most, what we used to call mouse type – is the name of the ruler maker: The Whitehead & Hoag Company, Newark, NJ. At the turn of the 20th century that firm was one of the world’s largest makers of advertising novelties. It went out of business in 1955.

Ashton saved the description of what it did for the end: “Superior Quality Valves and Gages.”  Businesses were modest in those days.

I loved this little gizmo and gave it back to its owner with reluctance. It’s well-designed. It’s classy. It operates as smoothly as the day it was fabricated in Newark. Just a little piece of business history, obliquely still alive. Objects do tell stories.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Oral History Usage at Its Best

Superb use of oral history! That's Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told, by Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp (published by Doubleday in 2009). Despite ultimately being named as coauthor, the famously mercurial Papp blocked publication of this book in the last years of his life. Kenneth Turan persevered, having interviewed 160 theater pros from Colleen Dewhurst to Mike Nichols to Meryl Streep, and finally he was allowed by Papp's estate to assemble the book that tells the inside stories of New York's one and only Public Theater. It's a riveting business history if I ever read one.

The volume is beautifully organized: back story of the publication itself, brief Papp biog, early years of the venture, then separate chapters on seminal productions starting with "Hair" and taking us through "Aunt Dan and Lemon." Within each chapter we hear the voices of the playwrights, actors, and tech people who worked on the shows. It ends at 1985, which is when Papp froze the project.

But wow, can these folks talk. Dish. Spill. Example by Paul Sorvino, talking about the rehearsals for "That Championship Season," which often turned into brawls: "I had that arrogance of youth that thank god doesn't stay with you too long, if you have any brains at all ... I felt that way about my acting, and that may have bothered some [of the other actors] who were looking for their roles."

Turan captures the strength of the form in his Introduction: "A story like this, filled with alive, articulate not to mention theatrical people, turned out to be especially suited to the oral-history format. There is a vividness and immediacy about direct speech, a sense of life about individuals speaking for themselves, that makes oral history the most intrinsically dramatic of narrative mediums."

Pure catnip for theater nuts like me -- and a noteworthy use of oral history interviews that surpasses even such high-level gems as the Studs Terkel Working books.

Publishing notes and Marian the Grammarian nitpicks: It's a shame that Colleen Dewhurst's name is misspelled, and it's a minor tragedy that a book as good as this one is on remainder (you can find it in the Daedalus catalog).