Monday, April 29, 2013

3CInteractive: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

3CInteractive (based in Boca Raton, Florida) created Switchblade, software that allows companies to connect more easily with customers using mobile devices. Founded in 2005 by John Duffy, Mark Smith, and Mike FitzGibbon, 3CI serves clients such as Walgreens, ESPN, and Best Buy. Want to remind a customer about a prescription refill or let him compare online reviews of the TVs lined up in your showroom? 3CI makes that happen. Their main About Us page is here.


Products/Services: A
The main About Us page is excellent: the clean, simple layout includes a tagline followed by a concise statement of what 3CI does and what they aim to achieve. It’s a mission statement without being called that -- the perfect hook for persuading visitors to become clients. Even more enticing would be graphics or screen captures showing the sort of interaction 3CI can create – a recent Forbes article gave some great examples.

News and Events is kept short by including only the most recent media coverage and press releases. Those that appeared earlier are available via a “more” link: well done.

Another plus: the blog offers information about the company (an award for being one of the best places to work in South Florida) plus substantive content useful to 3CI’s clients (a lengthy analysis of lawsuit re mobile apps filed in California). Many companies don’t even link their blogs to their About Us pages, but a well-written blog should convey your personality while promoting your product and encouraging clients to keep in touch.

Personality: B
As we mention in our Commandment 3 of About Us pages (“Reveal Thy Personality”), the founder’s “DNA” sets the course of the company. The co-founders of 3CI are adept at explaining their ideas and goals: they’re quoted extensively in Forbes. Adding such quotes to the standard bios on the Executive Officers and Board of Directors pages would greatly improve those pages.

The Our Culture page so prominently featured in the navigation menu needs some tweaks. For a business short on company history, awards are excellent credentials. 3CI’s awards from Forbes and Inc. should be front and center, not buried in a gallery near the foot of Our Culture. Why give top billing to photos of company headquarters and employees, which aren’t likely to matter to potential clients? (If these are meant to attract potential employees, they should be on the Careers page.)

Accessibility: C
The Contact page offers nothing wonderful, nothing weird … but from a young company that specializes in the latest in online interaction, we were hoping for something more exciting.

Since online visitors tend to flit, make sure you not only present great material, but present the most important material (such as awards) first.

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

J.C. Penney: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

James Cash Penney (what a great name for a businessman!) bought his first store in 1907. The company has been publicly traded since 1929, and now operates over 1,100 J.C. Penney stores from its headquarters in Plano, Texas. In 2012 it had revenue of over $17 billion. The main About Us page is here.

By a remarkable coincidence, J.C. Penney has been in business 106 years, and their single About Us page has 106 words! We hope that the J.C. Penney site is about to undergo a major upgrade ... because what’s there now is sadly deficient. Given recent media hoopla over the firing of CEO Ron Johnson, we were hoping to find a website that stressed the company’s long heritage and presented this as a blip in the company’s illustrious history.

Personality: E
We are always happy to see the founder mentioned, particularly when the company still bears his name, and sure enough he is mentioned on the main About Us page: “More than a century ago, James Cash Penney founded his company on the principle of the Golden Rule: treat others the way you’d like to be treated – Fair and Square. His legacy continues to this day...”

And that’s it for history, corporate or otherwise. As befits its lack of content, the link to the About Us page is buried in the footer. Need we say that there’s no mention of when and where the original store was established, or how quickly it expanded, or the move from downtown to suburban malls, or remarkably early Internet sales? No mention of that big fat J.C. Penney catalogue, whose arrival was a major event for those who grew up far from either the neon lights of Broadway or suburban shopping malls?

There aren't even images of the old logos, which have a nostalgic value of their own, like those of John Deere that we mentioned in evaluating the John Deere About Us pages. And how about Annual Reports? In's history of The Pep Boys, another retailer with the same general demographic, the timeline included thumbnails of each and every Annual Report. J.C. Penney could similarly showcase its annuals or catalog covers.

People will go a long way for nostalgia: reminding them of why they used to enjoy shopping at J.C. Penney would be a perfectly good way to draw customers back. Unfortunately we felt more nostalgia while reading the page about J.C. Penney than we did on the company’s own site.

Products/Services: E
J.C. Penney has a long, rich history of selling tangible goods: their archives must be tremendous. There’s not a smidgen of that on the About Us page – not even photos of current products.

Accessibility: E
From the About Us page there’s nowhere to go but back: no navigation menus top or bottom. For contact information, we had to go to the footer of the home page, scan past offers of mobile updates, Twitter, Facebook, and an app, and click on the ambiguously labeled View All link. That finally took us to a page with various ways to contact the company, including a link to an online form (sent to an anonymous person).

When it comes to corporate memory, Penney’s seems to have amnesia. Maybe the recently deposed CEO Ron Johnson wanted it that way, since he fostered the cool, uncluttered, Apple Store approach – but that strategy crashed and burned. Shoppers want the Penney’s they’ve known and loved, and they deserve to find that corporate culture on Penney’s About Us pages as well as in its stores.

So: Think of who you are and where you’ve been. Think of who you’re trying to reach. An About Us page is a facet of marketing; pages such as J.C. Penney’s are missed opportunities of mammoth size.

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.

Monday, April 15, 2013

History Lessons Lost on J.C. Penney

I've followed J.C Penney's recent corporate soap opera with some amusement. So Ron Johnson, the deposed CEO, was "the wizard of Apple." Did anyone truly think that minimalist-cool Apple stores were a realistic model for middlebrow Penney to emulate? But the bigger disconnect had to do with Johnson's embrace of everyday low pricing (EDLP). No more sales! Yes, and let's also ask Penney shoppers to crawl to the store on their knees. Did Penney's board seriously believe that longtime customers would change their behavior on a dime because the Wizard of Apple wanted them to? 

Any corporate history of a retail chain will tell you that the notion of EDLP has popped up for decades. Any corporate historian will tell you that EDLP has consistently failed. When I wrote a history of The Pep Boys--Manny, Moe & Jack, Inc., I interviewed former chairman and CEO Mitch Leibovitz. During his tenure he studied big box giants such as Home Depot and Walmart. So he created Pep Boys' own version in the 1990s, the Automotive Supercenter. At the same time he introduced EDLP. In fact, Pep Boys was the first automotive aftermarketer to do so. (I include the book cover here because it's always just plain fun to look at Manny, Moe, and Jack.)

No surprise: within months, the overexpansion forced The Pep Boys to scale back. And the pendulum swung from EDLP back to sale items. Macy's, which is almost a last-man-standing in American department store business history, went through the same empty yet costly exercise. Most American shoppers are addicted to sales. Indeed, Apple iBuyers may be the only ones who aren't. Meantime, Penney shareholders are the ones who suffer the fallout. When J.C. Penney writes its corporate history, let's hope they're honest about this Lesson Learned. 

Stay tuned for a review of J.C. Penney's corporate About Us pages in an upcoming blog post. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Toll Brothers: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Toll Brothers, founded in 1967, builds single-family and attached residences. Since 1986 it has been traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and in 2012 had revenue of $1.8 billion. The company headquarters is Horsham, Pennsylvania. The main About Us page is here.


Products/Services: C
In the first paragraph on their main About Us page, Toll Brothers boasts (with justifiable pride) that as of 2012, it has won the prestigious Builder of the Year Award from Professional Builder magazine not once but twice. Unfortunately the font and size of this paragraph don’t match the text below, and the content doesn't flow from one section to the other. As a result, the page looks slapdash -- a dangerous impression to give when one’s business is constructing high-end homes.

Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is “Honor thy graphics.” Toll Brothers has a fabulous source of images; photos of their homes ought to be featured prominently to help break up the dense text on this page. Another great touch would be encouraging us within the text to visit the pages on the site that let customers design their own dream homes. And of course there should be a reference to the lengthy page of customer testimonials – a great way to inspire confidence if your customers will be investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Personality: E
We were stumped by the photo on several of the About Us pages that show two unidentified men. Are they the Brothers Toll? Why not say so? To find Robert I. Toll’s bio, we had to drill down to Investor Relations (available only via a link in the footer) and then Executive Bios, the nineteenth item on a list of 21 options!

Having finally found that page, we were dismayed to find that Mr. Toll’s bio jumps from his college years straight to his grandchildren and philanthropic activities. There’s absolutely no indication of why, when, and with whom he founded the company. Because we’re corporate historians, this is an oversight we find difficult to forgive or forget.

Accessibility: D
As far as customer service goes, the Customer Service page is a dead end: it offers no contact information. Worse yet, it’s a wasted opportunity. Unless visitors read through three densely packed paragraphs, they’ll never learn that Toll Brothers gets a satisfaction rating of 95% from its customers. How many companies can equal that? Why isn't that statistic at the top of the page, with a link to the page of customer testimonials?

The Contact page is an online form with 7 options, any one of which takes you to a page with a lot of blanks to be filled in. It’s functional, but some pictures of Toll Brothers homes would keep potential clients enthused while they slog through the form.

If you have great visuals, put them on your About Us pages as well as the rest of your site. If you have a substantial corporate history, brag about 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?). Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company. To talk about your About Us page, contact us!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Books Will Last. Will Kodak?

Manhattan's Center for Book Arts will hold its annual benefit and auction this Friday, April 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. I wish I could attend, especially because is a modest sponsor of this good organization. I have to settle for holding the letterpress invitation in my hand. It feels so good compared to digital printing. The Center will turn 40 next year. Exhibits, classes, public programming--their agenda is ambitious. Moreover, the core belief is rock-solid: that books remain art objects as well as practical tools that still convey information very well.

Speaking of digital printing, did I mention that the Kodak all-in-one inkjet printer in our office died today? We bought it 18 months ago to support an iconic US company. But it wasn't made in the US. Out of the box, it didn't work. At that time I reached a customer service rep -- located in India, not Rochester -- who agreed to ship a new part to replace the faulty one. Now six months past warranty, the printer seems to have breathed its last. Despite Kodak's storied history, I shed not a single tear for the company. The leadership chose a poor turnaround strategy. Sad all around.