Monday, January 21, 2013

Trader Joe’s: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Food purveyor Trader Joe’s was founded in 1967 by Joe Coulombe, who sold the chain in 1979 to German billionaire Theo Albrecht. Still privately held, the company operates over 300 stores from headquarters in Monrovia, California. “Quirky” is the byword at TJ’s. The About Us page is here.

In the About Us pages for Trader Joe’s, one page leads to the next: the main page has a link to Our Story, and Our Story links to the Timeline. That means we’re not roaming about: we’re directed toward the information the company thinks is most important, and then enticed to read further. How nice not to have to revisit the menu and try to remember which pages we’ve already visited!

The quaint black-and-white graphics used in the right-hand menu match the casual tone of the text (“Would you believe we started out ...?”). The mood is maintained in the background on the left and right sides, where similar old-fashioned graphics appear.

Products/Services: A
The About Us and Our Story pages don’t mention specific products; instead they emphasize how the company developed its combination of quality and low price. The Timeline fills the gap by mentioning innovative products as part of the company history. It’s a great timeline in other respects, too: lots of vintage illustrations, short entries relevant to the company, and a casual, entertaining style. And (joy of joys!) it’s possible to print a copy and to see the whole timeline at once, a graphic achievement that’s easier for newer companies.

Accessibility: A
The About Us page also functions as the main Contact Us page, with links for customers and vendors beneath a graphic of an antique phone. Choosing a topic and clicking “Show me the form” takes us to a page with that asks for information geared to our query. For example, a request for product information takes us to a page that includes fields for SKU or product name.

Personality: A
Trader Joe’s About Us pages neatly circumvent what could have been a major issue: Trader Joe’s is not run by a cool surfer dude from California. It’s a privately owned company run by the family trust of a deceased German billionaire. In the About Us pages, the current owners are simply not mentioned, and the quaint graphics and casual tone make Trader Joe’s site seem thoroughly American.

Trader Joe’s About Us pages are consistent, concise, and easy to navigate. Like the stores themselves, they present a quirky image yet are rock-solid businesswise. A perfect example of honoring our Commandment #3 for About Us pages: Reveal Thy Personality. A place that’s fun to shop in … is also to fun to learn about. 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.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

250 Years on a Wall

Step inside Christ Church Cambridge, the Episcopal Church in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and you’ll quickly spot an amazing timeline on the wall. It measures 18 feet long by 2.5 feet tall. That’s a lot of square footage, but it contains all 250 years of the church’s history.
Christine Reynolds, designer of
Christ Church Cambridge's 250-year timeline
(Photo copyright 2013 Amey Callahan)
The main art director involved in the timeline’s design and installation is Christine Reynolds. Chris is a superb professional in the book arts; she has shepherded six books by through design and production since 2008. She’s also a specialist on history installations and exhibits such as this one. Here are Chris's insights into the creation of the timeline:
“The church anticipated they’d research, write, and produce the timeline in four months; it took longer than that, as the combination of text and 106 images developed into a richer and more nuanced presentation. We had the good fortune of a team composed of parishioners who were photographers, an archivist, a researcher, and an architect, all of whom got along very well. For research, we drew on two books written about the church history.

“I worked with the team to organize their information along the themes of the church’s response to war, the changing architecture of the church, role of women, race relations, and the rectors and their legacies. I must say that my work with you and our many timelines held me in good stead. 

Parishioners at the unveiling on January 13, 2013
(Photo copyright 2013 Christine Reynolds)
“The installation and unveiling of the timeline went well. One parishioner saw himself in a 1965 photograph in the timeline with Martin Luther King. Another parishioner in his 70s pointed out the many times he was in the timeline—mostly as a child in the boy choir. That’s one perk of growing older; you’ve a longer history of your own!

“The panel is ink-jet printed direct to a Komatex substrate (a synthetic material 6mm thick), taped to the wall with VHB (very heavy bond) tape, and supported by wood molding. We didn't anticipate that so many people would actually touch the timeline (!), so we are looking into providing a covering of some sort.”

Congratulations to Chris, the volunteer team, and Christ Church Cambridge on an exhibition of lasting substance.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Coca Cola: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Coca-Cola is the best-selling soft drink in the world and a giant among global brands. The Coca-Cola Company brings us not only all the variations of its eponymous cola but over 500 other brands, including Minute Maid, Barq’s, Odwalla, Fuze, Fruitopia, and Nestea. The still-secret formula for Coke was invented in 1886 by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in North Carolina, and the logo remains unchanged over 127 years – why tinker with an icon? Coca-Cola has been a publicly traded company since 1919, with 2011 revenues of $46 billion. The About Us page is here.

According to an article in The New York Times, the site was recently retooled as part of “a multimillion-dollar effort over multiyears,” according to Ashley Brown, the company’s director for digital communications. To refocus on corporate storytelling, Coca-Cola redesigned the site as an online magazine – an encouraging move at a time when the magazine form, and especially corporate magazines, are ailing.

Products/Services: C
A website can’t convey the taste of Coke, but this one does a great job of visually evoking the brand, its corporate history, and all its associations. That said, we found it difficult to settle down to read any of the content on the About Us page (“Our Company”). It has 3 menu choices at upper right, then 6 menu choices across the top, then 10 more on a scrollbar. The main part of the page has 14 sections, ranging from “Coke by the Numbers” to “Sustainability.” These are not arranged in any particular order, and sorting through them tried our patience. The overabundance of choices and lack of direction is a recurring problem on the site.

On the Heritage page, we were delighted to see vintage photos and advertisements used in the timeline. But the timeline has the flaws we’ve often seen elsewhere. Reading the accompanying text requires scrolling – a waste, given that the empty gray space around the timeline could have been used for a larger box. If we zoom to enlarge the text, the graphics pixelate. We thought perhaps the timeline was geared to smartphones, but it doesn’t function well there, either.

Accessibility: A
The Contact Us page, available in the footer, offers a “Virtual Agent” to answer questions immediately, a FAQ, and options for email, phone, snail mail, and social media: all standard, all good. We give our highest marks to whoever conceived the “Rumors” section on this page. It’s the most direct and effective approach we’ve seen to discrediting the sort of rumors that accumulate around a long-established global brand, an excellent example of honoring Commandment 4 of our “10 Commandments of About Us Pages”: Don’t take your own name in vain. Two discussions are memorable: one about the Coke for Babies ad and another on whether a mirror-image of the Coca Cola logo carries a message in Arabic.

Personality: C
On the Leadership page, each name is linked to a bone-dry, narrative version of a resume. Information on the goals, motives, or attitudes of these leaders would make the text much more interesting.

We do not recall ever seeing a mission statement as long as Coca-Cola’s, with list after list in section after section. We wonder how employees and managers can retain it, never mind apply it.

Coca Cola has a wealth of great content ... and far, far too much of it is splashed around here. Kudos on the magazine format, but it needs to be organized so that it’s less bewildering.

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, January 2, 2013

Why Pay Lots for Little?

A solicitation to advertise in the "Milestones" edition of a regional business journal crossed my desk. If you run a business, you know the drill: the magazine will do a 2-page advertorial spread to celebrate your upcoming business anniversary. They'll take a photo, write a few paragraphs, and send you 100 reprints to share with customers and friends. Oh, and you get a link in the magazine's digital edition. 

All well and good, but it's amazing to see the price tag: $5,000?! 

Even if you negotiate down a bit, that's a big chunk of change for a single new photo (albeit by a pro) and one page of copy that is likely to rely heavily on the "About Us" page already on your own website. Fellow business owners, put the money toward a real business history. It won't buy a book but it'll go far toward a new set of "About Us" pages (when was the last time you updated them?), a keynote speech or company history PowerPoint at your next company dinner, or a podcast of interviews with employees -- things you can re-purpose on your website.