Monday, June 24, 2013

Penguin Group: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Penguin Books was the brainchild of Sir Allen Lane, who believed he could sell paperbacks of serious literary works -- not just the lurid fiction that predominated at the time. In 1936, its first year in business, Penguin sold a million books. Since it went public in 1961, it has gone through numerous mergers and acquisitions; currently Penguin Books is an imprint of Penguin Random House. Hence it’s not surprising that the About Us pages for Random House and Penguin are very similar. (See our evaluation of Random House.) Sadly, neither of these storied publishers tells its own story well. Penguin’s About Us page (“Overview”) is here.


Products/Services: D
The Overview page is dauntingly dense, with no headings to break it up those long paragraphs of tiny type. Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is “Honor thy visuals.” Famous book covers and headshots of notable authors are an obvious choice to illustrate Penguin’s corporate history: in the text, beside the text, as a frame for the text ...

Another flaw (again a common one): the text on the Overview page is a dead end. It doesn’t have a single link to other pages on the site. If seeing Nancy Drew’s name makes us want to catch up with our childhood sleuthing chum, why not make it easy for us to click and buy—or at least see how the series has been updated?

We do commend the placement of the video. Rather than being given a huge block of above-the-fold space, it’s tucked into a corner. Those who want to view the video can choose full-screen viewing once they’ve clicked on it.

Then again, why would they? The caption (“To watch employee videos, click here”) is stunningly unenticing. Copywriting 101: captions are eye-catching; make them count.

Personality: D
The pages for Penguin’s management (starting with John Makinson) offer standard, canned bios that give no sense of who’s running the company.

The History page is yet another wasted opportunity: it’s primarily a list of mergers, acquisitions, and imprints. Focusing on Penguin Books that have been history-making, record-breaking, or award-winning (with images, please!) would make for fascinating reading. And again, adding subheads to break up the long text and including links to other pages on the site would be enormous improvements.

Accessibility: D
We have the distinct impression that Penguin would rather not hear from us. The Contact Us page opens with, “We appreciate the many questions and comments submitted by our readers and would like to answer them all individually. Because of the significant volume of e-mail received daily, however, we will not be able to respond if your question is one of our Frequently Asked Questions, or if the answer is provided in our General Information section [no link given!]. Therefore, we ask that you please read through both of these areas before submitting an inquiry.” If we stubbornly insist on trying to contact them, despite this off-putting introduction, then clicking the link to the self-service help center lets us click to another page that lets us send a message via an online form ... to an unknown person, with no option to have a copy sent to ourselves.

If your company has a long history, your About Us pages are the place to brag about it. Don’t just list mergers and acquisitions: make the pages an honor roll of your best products and a gateway to all that you offer.

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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Archives crawl!

Some cities get excited about their sports teams, some about their archives. Cambridge, Massachusetts, qualifies both ways. The city best known for Harvard University is amidst the largest archives tour in the United States. Proud to report that Christine Reynolds, who has beautifully designed and production-managed several books for clients, is participating. I wish I had time to hop up there for the fun, which continues through June 21. (Not that I'd see a Red Sox game too, however. I draw the line at that, even if the team is temporarily in first place.) Details on the archives crawl can be found at Take me out to the archives, take me out to the stacks....

Cambridge Room at the Cambridge Public Library, 1920 (Courtesy of

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tito’s Handmade Vodka: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Tito’s, based in Austin, Texas, was founded 16 years ago by Tito Beveridge, who taught himself how to build a still and used his friends as guinea pigs. Tito’s Vodka, which is distilled 6 times, beat out 71 other vodkas to win the World Spirits Competition in 2001. The main About Us page is here.

One of the questions on the FAQ page is “Who does your marketing?” Tito answers that it’s done in house. Bravo to you, Tito: you’re doing a great job. Even though we rarely if ever drink vodka, your About Us page makes us want to try Tito’s.

Personality: A plus
We are charmed by the About Us page, which hits the perfect note for a hand-made product from a small company. The Story is told by Tito, and it’s simple, direct, engaging, and on topic: how Tito got interested in making vodka and what he went through to make a business out of it. Tito puts the “story” into “corporate storytelling.” Our Commandment 3 of About Us pages is “Reveal thy personality,” and Tito does that exceptionally well.

But the page isn’t just storytelling. At the end of it is a polite request: if your bar doesn’t carry Tito’s, please talk to the bar manager; and please tell 20 of your friends about us. Tito says knowledge of his brand has mostly spread by word of mouth, so this kind of call to action is perfect.

The FAQ page (Ask Tito) carries through the strong personality of the company’s founder with Tito’s answers to such unexpected questions as, “Why don’t you put it in a nicer bottle?” and “Is it legal to distill at home?”

We like the quirky way the logo is updated from “15 Years Y’all!” to “16,” by simply crossing out the “15” It manages to suggest that the boss and employees are too busy distilling to obsess over graphic design.

Products/Services: B plus
For food and drink, the best way to sell is usually via customer reviews. Tito’s site encourages people to send in photos, songs and videos. It offers customer stories on a blog. On the home page, it even devotes a sidebar over to tweets from happy consumers.

A minor point:Tito has been getting national press, for example in Entrepreneur and the New York Times. The links to these articles are buried at the foot of the blog page. They ought to be featured more prominently, with each publication’s logo and a teaser from the article.

Accessibility: A
The Contact page (available through a link in the footer) maintains the casual tone of the rest of the site, offering forms for 3 different types of contact (send photos, ask about events, ask about the store) plus a general query form. More importantly - since for legal reasons, Tito’s can’t sell vodka through its own website - the first question on the FAQ page is “Where can I find Tito’s Handmade Vodka?”

Even if you don’t have a lengthy history or money for a major branding campaign, you can still make your company history memorable by focusing on the founder’s or owner’s personality.

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.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

This Disney Ain't Mickey Mouse

Workplace dramas are rarely as creepy as Lucas Hnath's A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, playing at Manhattan's Soho Rep through June 9. I was grateful for open seating because I dashed down to the front row, sat on the right-hand side, and found myself within spitting distance of Larry Pine as Walt and Frank Wood as his punching-bag brother Roy. 

By creepy I mean fascinating. Was Walt really this slimy? Was Roy really such a patsy? Did Walt's daughter really refuse to name her child after Walt, which was his one pathetic wish?  (The daughter doesn't even have the honor of being named.) Did Walt's son-in-law really become heir to the empire? This is not the corporate history The Walt Disney Company would wish us to see, but neither has the Disney juggernaut suppressed it.

I love plays that make me come home and dig deeper for more information. Seek out A Public Reading if you crave a master class in acting or a plunge into the dark side of Mickey Mouse's creator. And should you call up any of the various Disney websites in your investigations, note the deft branding touch: Mickey's ears are the thumbnail icon.