Monday, July 30, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: E*Trade Gets a D Minus

E*Trade’s main business is online discount stock brokerage for self-directed investors. Founded in 1991, at the beginning of the Internet boom, it originally offered its trading services via America Online and Compuserve (now there’s a historical fact). Its headquarters are in New York. E*Trade’s main About Us page is here.

E*Trade’s baby broker is one of the few faces that makes us stop fast-forwarding through TV commercials. Alas, the E*Trade site doesn’t seem to include a single image of the child – and there’s not much else that’s entertaining or enticing, either.
Also worth noting: the E*Trade site is not easy to navigate. We found the FAQ page only via a Google search. We wonder how much more we’re missing!

Products/Services: D
If you want me to entrust you with a substantial part of my income and savings, you’d better explain where your company comes from, what it offers, and what its operating principles are. Yet the Corporate Facts offered on E*Trade’s About Us page consist of a brief bulleted list without a single link within the text leading to further information. What does appear here, in a large footer, are government-mandated warnings, “Important Disclosures.” On E*Trade’s home page, awards from SmartMoney, Kiplinger’s and Barron’s are prominently displayed. Why not put them on the About Us page (with links, of course) to help offset that daunting disclaimer?

E*Trade’s Home page has many more details about the services offered. We’d love to see a bulleted list on the About us page of the company’s services, linked to pages with specific information.

Accessibility: E
To access E*Trade’s Contact Us page requires that one sign in or create an account. We prefer not to give out our banking information on a first date, but once on this page there are no menus to help us seek information elsewhere. Yet E*Trade’s home page has options for phone and chat: why, oh why are those not on the Contact page as well?

Personality: D
From the About Us page, we don’t get even a hint of E*Trade’s position as one of the earliest online brokerage services, although that would certainly help establish its credibility with potential clients. The only company history on the site is a brief bulleted list on the main page: date founded, CEO, number of employees, headquarters, number of retail branches.

Stubbornly searching for more information, we discovered that Investor Relations is merely a list of E*Trade press releases and presentations, none with a summary that would entice us to look further. Nor do the biographies of the Leadership Team make scintillating reading. (Can’t we have the Baby Broker here as Special Assistant to the CMO?) We do like the length of the Leadership page, which is kept to a manageable size by showing a summary of each officer’s current duties with a “more” link for the full biography.

E*Trade’s About Us pages fail to convey the company’s products and personality. They’re difficult to navigate, provide inadequate information about the company’s services, and fail to take advantage of a widely known advertising campaign.

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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

History = Reputation (and Vice-Versa)

When people are uncomfortable with the word "history" in a corporate context -- they may think it's too soft or irrelevant to bottom-line results -- I suggest that they substitute the word "reputation."

A 5-minute diagnostic test, available here, allows you to determine (a) how well your organization is managing its reputation and (b) whether you've identified priorities for improvement. Sure, it's a lead generator for the Reputation Institute (with which has no ties), but you may find some interesting results. Strongly advised for companies approaching a big anniversary.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tip of the Hat to Plattsburgh and Burlington

"Plattsburgh's 1995 Base Closing May Be Instructive for Burlington" is the headline of a good article in Seven Days, the alternative weekly in Vermont's biggest city. Journalist Kevin J. Kelley analyzes lessons learned from the loss of Plattsburgh Air Force Base and the slow but solid rejuvenation of the city. Plattsburgh and Burlington are twin cities in that they flank beautiful Lake Champlain; they're also quite different, but that's another story. Kelley kindly quotes from the book published by on the base closure, Flying High Again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Partnering with Disney? Better know your corporate history.

Delighted to share a sampling of writer Rodney J. Moore’s insights on brand loyalty and corporate collaboration, gleaned from his recent course at the Disney Institute:

“If you've been to the Parks lately, you've probably noticed a lot more outside brands showing up. That's no accident. In fact, Disney recently announced that Starbucks would be another brand with a presence in the Parks. ... Ben May, Business Development Director, Corporate Alliances, talked about how Disney's alliances are carefully crafted to protect Disney. After all, they can't very well be associated with an embezzling CEO. Their agreements with outside brands can go on for 50 pages or more. But the key to an alliance is there must be shared equities….”  To read more, visit Rod’s blog.

My take on it: One of the first lessons shared by Disney is that companies should know their corporate history. Indeed, Disney apparently insists on this knowledge as part of its vetting process for corporate alliances.

Monday, July 9, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: 1-888-WOW-1DAY Gets a B

1-888-WOW-1DAY guarantees to paint your house (interior or exterior) in one day. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company was founded in 2010 and expects to have franchises in 50 cities by the end of 2012. Its About Us page (“Our Company”) is here.

Occasionally we want a hard copy of a web page, to discuss with the family over dinner or to hand to Grandma. The 1-888-WOW-1DAY About Us page prints with the icons for Facebook and other social media covering part of the first paragraph, and the phone number at the left masked by the CEO’s photo. The same problem occurs with other pages on the site. If it’s too difficult to make the page print properly, at least offer a PDF of facts and contact information.

Products/Services: A
The summary of the company’s business is brief and specific, and it’s reinforced by a bulleted list of the important points: well done. The grammar does need some work: “Instead of enduring 5 days of painting in your home, we do the same job in 1 day!” Few people have dared imply that being in our home is so repugnant.

We appreciate when companies send us to favorable news stories, rather than letting us turn up Google-knows-what. 1-888-WOW-1DAY’s News page offers summaries of articles about the company and links to those articles, plus a press kit and a phone number for media inquiries. The page would probably be visited more often if it were on menus: we reached it accidentally by clicking on the news logos at the upper right of the About Us page.

Accessibility: C
Since the company name is the company phone number, it appears on every page. The Contact Us page is an online form for other inquiries. We’d like the option of choosing “other” for the subject, and as always, we’d like the option of sending a copy of the message to ourselves.

Personality: B
The leaders who appear on the About Us page are dressed in the 1-888-WOW-1DAY uniform and wield painters’ tools: very clever. The bios could use polishing. Brian Scudamore’s, for example, focuses less on his achievements than on media coverage of him; there’s a name-dropping feel to it. Another example: Jim Bodden’s bio mentions that he sold the assets of his company to the Franchisor, which strikes a legalistic tone in an otherwise casual paragraph.

We’d like to see more work on the details (leadership bios, print layout), but these are minor. The site is a model of sorts for franchised companies: it conveys what the company does, gives a sense of who runs it and under what principles, and makes it easy for potential clients or the press to get in touch.

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, July 2, 2012

Apex Award for book

Delighted to report that Our Family Tree: The Towers Watson Story, published earlier this year by for the global professional services firm Towers Watson, has won a 2012 Apex Award of Excellence for custom publishing. Apex Awards are based on the quality of their graphic design, editorial content, and communications excellence. The book is one of 11 winners in a category that drew almost 200 entries. 

Kudos all around: to's creative team for this project -- author Richard Blodgett, designer Laurel Marx, and photo researcher Billie Porter -- and to all the fantastic people at Towers Watson who made the book possible.