Monday, November 11, 2013

Dow Chemical: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Back in 1897, when Herbert Henry Dow founded Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, the company produced bleach and potassium bromide. Soon it diversified into plastics, agricultural products, and other chemicals. Today Dow employs about 54,000 people in 36 countries. With sales of over $56 billion in 2012, it is one of the two or three largest chemical manufacturers in the world. The main About Us page is here.

(An aside: While Dow made bleach for industry in the 19th century, it wasn’t until the 20th that the product made its way into U.S. households. The Electro-Alkaline Company, founded in 1913, launched that process. They’re better known now as The Clorox Company, and we’re honored to have written the Clorox history.) 

After half an hour on the Dow site, we had the uneasy feeling that we wouldn’t be able to find our way back to pages we’d already seen, and might well have missed important material. First problem: the navigation is incomplete. The drop-down menu under Company offers 12 choices, ranging from “Solutionism” to “Worldwide Olympic Partner.” Quite by accident, we stumbled across fascinating pages such as Leadership Insights and a Timeline. Why are these not accessible from the main menu?

A related issue: page names are deceptive and hierarchy is unpredictable. Awards are under Innovation. Geographies (which shows Dow sites worldwide) is under News rather than Locations. Our Commandment 7 of About Us pages is “Remember to keep navigation easy.” We mean not just visually clean and easy to read, but efficient at helping us find the information we want plus great material we didn’t realize we wanted.

Products/Services: C
A web search for “Dow Chemical” turns up stories about the Bhopal disaster, breast implants, Agent Orange, and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapon production site. To counteract this, the About Us pages of the Dow’s own site need to provide a stellar list of the ways Dow products have improved peoples’ lives over the past century – and to acknowledge negative events and perhaps explain them in the context of lessons learned.

They don’t. We thought there was no history of the company at all, until we typed “history” in the site’s search box and found a timeline that runs back to 1897. But its graphics are odd, its display occasionally goes awry (events of the 1940s march relentlessly across the introductory paragraph), and the pop-up, decade-by-decade format makes it impossible to get an overview of highlights.

The Discover Dow page links to a great archive of stories that explain Dow’s innovations in laymen’s terms. Good corporate storytelling—but unfortunately the stories are only accessible by clicking through the titles one or two at a time. With no indication of how many stories there are, few visitors will bother to keep clicking and clicking and clicking and .... Why not have an option for seeing stories by category, or at least for seeing a dozen or so titles at a time?

Personality: D
Herbert Henry Dow is mentioned only once on the Dow site - a one-line quote on the Timeline. Talking about how the founder’s vision drove the company would be a great starting point for an overview of Dow Chemical’s corporate history and its goals for the future. The bios of the current Leadership (buried under Investors / Corporate Governance) don’t give any better sense of the company’s direction. The Leadership Insights page features links to Dow’s management talking about important issues ... but that page isn’t accessible from the Leadership page.

And then there are the oddities. The Leadership bios are written as if for a third-party publication, e.g., “Andrew N. Liveris is President, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Dow Chemical Company, a global specialty chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics company based in Midland, Michigan with 2012 annual sales of approximately $57 billion.” This seems to have been pasted in without thought of the context: it suggests to us that no one really expects visitors to read the bio. In the midst of the text of the main About Us page we are warned: “References to ‘Dow’ or the ‘Company’ mean The Dow Chemical Company and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise expressly noted.” We understand that Dow Chemical doesn’t want to be confused with, say, Dow Jones. But is this a website or a binding legal document?

Accessibility: D
The Contact page is easily available from the foot of the left-hand navigation menu. It leads to a one-size-fits-all online form: no options for specific topics or for the major departments of Dow. The only other choice for communicating with Dow is via telephone or fax.

Make sure that your site plays up the best aspects of your company, and that visitors can find the great material you put there.

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?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.