Monday, October 22, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Target Logistics Gets an A minus

For companies whose workers are isolated in distant locations from North Dakota to Iraq, Target Logistics (“Wherever you go, whatever it takes”) provides modular housing and facilities, catering, transportation, and security. In September 2012, Inc. magazine rated it one of America’s 500 fastest-growing private companies. (Bonus points to Target Logistics for having the Inc. 500 logo prominently displayed, with a link to a well-written press release.) The About Us page is here.

We don’t often enthuse about graphics, but we love the ones on these pages: the grid is divided into sections of various sizes, as if it were modular units.

Products/Services: A plus
Each of the About Us pages focuses on services provided and benefits to customers: always an excellent choice. The Our Clients page offers an impressive list of private and government clients. Not every company can publicize such information, but it’s a great confidence booster for potential clients -- especially when the company has no corporate history page.

The Economics of Comfort page is brilliant: professional photos of Target Logistics facilities (not glossy or glamorous) with substantial captions that explain why employers should be providing (for example) oversize towels, saunas, and heater blocks for cars. We aren’t competent to work on a North Dakota drilling site, but based on the description here, we’d sure like to have a Hibernator Sleep System. Posting a few enthusiastic testimonials from those who have stayed at the “man camps” run by Target Logistics would make these About Us pages even better. (So might a more gender-neutral name, in theory, but “man camp” is apt.)

Personality: B
The Our Team page lists the names and titles of 11 top executives, each with a link to a basic, functional bio: current duties, past experience, education and community, philanthropic activities, and so on.

We miss the personal touch. Brian Lash, CEO, said in Inc.’s two-page spread on Target Logistics, “You’ve got a 250-pound man burning 5,000 calories a day out there. Our job is to give him a five-star meal and a pillow-top mattress.” That’s a great summary of the company’s mission. It ought to be on Lash’s bio page, and elsewhere on the site as well.

Accessibility: A
Every page has an email link and a telephone number. The Contact Us page has a mailing address and links for offices worldwide, with the name of the person in charge, address, and email. Nothing innovative here, but we appreciate a thoroughly functional Contact Us page.

The Target Logistics About Us pages have great layout and great content; most importantly, they continually emphasize the benefits to clients of the company’s services. A little more business history would provide the icing on the cake. However: Well done!

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, October 15, 2012

Media Biz Gyrations: Dave Astor's First-Person Account

Dave Astor’s book Comic (and Column) Confessional is an industry history with a twist. It expertly captures the gyrations of the print media business through the prism of its author’s career. Dave worked at Editor & Publisher magazine for 25 years, mainly covering the newspaper syndication beat. Syndication includes cartoons and columns, so his book is full of quotes by creators ranging from Dear Abby to Gary Larson of “The Far Side” comic fame. Fittingly, it embraces advice and absurdity in equal measure.

Dave and I were Rutgers College classmates and fellow reporters for the daily paper there (Dave became editor-in-chief). We hadn’t crossed paths since graduation day. He describes himself as painfully shy. His book, in part, is about how he got over “the esteem thing” (his phrase). I for one was glad to learn that he is essentially the same quiet, deep guy I knew back then.

In 2008 Dave was writing for E&P’s shrinking print edition. He was also cranking out upwards of six Web pieces a day and answering 1,000 emails a week. You can guess how the story ends: he is one of 20 employees laid off in a most ungracious but all too typical downsizing. He describes this workplace drama, and many others, with accuracy and barbed wit. I nodded my head often at observations like: “Newspapers made things worse for themselves by offering content that was often staid and boring—whether in print or on their Web sites.”

Yes! I believe that newspapers are (or were) the "first draft of history" and I always buy the local daily in every city to which my corporate history work takes me. So many papers have traded their vital "localness" for a surfeit of wire service news. Syndicated cartoonists and columnists are on the losing end, too.

Woven through the media history is a personal memoir which I found very affecting (you don’t need to have known Dave as a young man to be touched by it). Dave describes the death of his first daughter, which involved medical malpractice, with great tenderness and justified anger. We see him blossoming as a parent, raising a second daughter, surviving a divorce, and finding love and parenthood again in a second marriage. I particularly appreciate that he does not proselytize about the joys and sorrows of having kids; instead, he lets us experience it through his eyes, and he doesn't diss people who haven't had children.  

Today Dave blogs for the Huffington Post (unpaid; seems grossly unfair, but it’s his choice), writes a humor column for the Montclair Times (NJ), and does other freelance work. Comic (and Column) Confessional, published by Xenos Press, is available directly from Dave or on Amazon.

Monday, October 8, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Chicago Music Exchange Gets an A

Chicago Music Exchange sells, repairs, and restores guitars. Located on Chicago’s North Side, it caters to everyone from recreational players to Adele, and has current revenue of $8 million. We first heard of CME through an article in Entrepreneur in August 2012. Its About Us page is here.

The title of CME’s About Us page sets the perfect tone: “We’re Here to Rock Your World.” Throughout the About Us pages and the rest of the site, the tone is consistently casual, but the content is never silly or off-point.

We were puzzled at first by the menu options on the left menu. Who has that many About Us pages? Then it occurred to us that About Us pages are often segregated in their own little ghetto, with few links in or out. We like CME’s approach, in which the About Us pages are thoroughly integrated into the site.

Products/Services: A+
This site is all about the guitars: you can’t click on a single page without seeing one or more images of them. The unobtrusive testimonials (Celebrity Guests, Our Fans) give the impression that CME staff is willing to help you whether you’re playing in your basement on weekends or doing shows at Madison Square Garden.

Personality: A
On the Meet the Team page (“Think of us as your roadies!”), almost every staff member is shown with a guitar, and after a very brief bio (in same light, casual tone as the rest of the site), every staff member states his favorite guitar and his favorite concert. Very clever: it’s great product placement, and implies that any guitar you’re interested in, these guys will be familiar with.

Accessibility: A
The Contact Us page is well done: it offers business hours, a map, phone, address, email, Twitter, and an assortment of social media links, all tidily organized to fit on a single screen.

We’d like to see a link on this page to the Buy-Sell-Trade page. Although we often have pointed suggestions about online email forms, this one gathers information from potential sellers that is crucial for CME. Since the sale of vintage guitars is an important aspect of CME’s business, it makes sense to make this form accessible via the Contact Us page.

Chicago Music Exchange’s About Us pages are friendly, informative, and nicely laid out. Well done! Rock on!

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, October 1, 2012

To look forward, look backward (even Harvard says so)

"A company's history can also be instructive. What was the vision of the founders? What were the products and customers that made the company? Looking backward, one can reexamine the original strategy to see if it is still valid. Can the historical positioning be implemented in a modern way, one consistent with today's technologies and practices?

"This sort of thinking may lead to a commitment to renew the strategy and may challenge the organization to recover its distinctiveness. Such a challenge can be galvanizing and can instill the confidence to make the needed tradeoffs."

These words by Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter can be found in his essay "What Is Strategy?" It's part of HBR's 10 Must Reads on Strategy (copyright 2011, Harvard Business Review Press, available in print and on Nook).

Using history to galvanize and recover an organization's distinctiveness is a message I try to communicate all the time. Looking backward isn't a mere exercise; it's a vital component of the future. Besides teaching and writing, Porter chairs HBS's program for newly appointed CEOs of large corporations. I hope his executive students are listening to the history message.