Monday, December 29, 2014

Saint-Gobain's 350th anniversary

Congratulations to Saint-Gobain, based in France, as it enters its 350th year in 2015. The company describes itself as "the world leader in the habitat and construction markets." It "designs, manufactures and distributes building and high-performance materials, providing ... solutions to the challenges of growth, energy efficiency and environmental protection."

Unlike companies that wait until the last minute, Saint-Gobain's website already has a 350th anniversary section that features: 
  • an English-language version (if only more US companies were similarly bilingual!)
  • a nonverbal video (thundering music, no words--makes sense for a global company)
  • cool historical art like the images shown here (though the timeline navigation is a little clunky) 
I hope Saint-Gobain will add a little more corporate storytelling to its excellent framework as its business anniversary year unfolds.

Here in the US, the year 1665 was notable for a visit from a British royal retinue, which demanded that the colonies pledge allegiance to the King. Plymouth (then a colony), Connecticut, and Rhode Island did so; Massachusetts refused. I knew there was a reason I love MA. Anyhow, here at, we look forward to following Saint-Gobain's history site into its anniversary year, and we wish everyone a happy, historic 2015!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tiffany & Company: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Breakfast at Tiffany’s made the grand store at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in Manhattan a household word, even among those who don’t aspire to one of the company’s diamond engagement rings. The original “fancy goods” store was established in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany, who soon turned the emphasis to jewelry, then made the name famous by purchasing the French crown jewels and giving reign to the astounding design talent of his son, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany’s is now a publicly owned company headquartered in New York City. The main About Us page is The World of Tiffany.


Products/Services: B
Tiffany gets high marks for visuals, but middling marks for ease of use. The images on  The World of Tiffany page sprawl over a lot of screen real estate. For the sake of luring visitors to view other pages (Pioneers of Design, Dazzling Discoveries, Magical Windows, etc.), it’s more effective to have a collection of smaller photos that allow a one-screen overview.

The left navigation bar on the main page has numerous choices without an obvious sequence. It’s difficult to find one’s way back to memorable pages – for example, the one showing the gorgeous diamond necklace worn by Audrey Hepburn when promoting Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Sometimes further information on a piece pops up with a mouse-over; sometimes (as on this page) not. Our Commandment 7 of About Us pages is, “Remember to keep the navigation easy.” The photos are the jewels of the Tiffany pages; their setting needs some polishing.

In other respects, the Tiffany’s site is a good example of corporate history as marketing. The video on founder Charles Lewis Tiffany (great archival photos!) segues at the end into a promotion of Tiffany engagement rings. The Timeline has great visuals, too, although it’s short on text.

Personality: A
The “personalities” on this site are the company’s founder and the its famous designers, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Peretti, and Paloma Picasso. Each designer has at least one heavily illustrated page, with an emphasis on innovative style and spectacular pieces. Well done!

Accessibility: D
There seems to be no way to contact the Tiffany’s except through its retail stores and customer service.

Even if your visuals are amazing, don’t neglect the other basics, such as enticing text and well-thought-out navigation. And if your business history overlaps cultural history, as Tiffany’s definitely does, leverage that. Include some corporate storytelling on every page.

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, December 8, 2014

What's Your Iconic Corporate History Image?

Does your central image tell your corporate story? That's the key question asks when we create covers and home pages for clients' business anniversary books, websites, and history timelines.

Our guiding principle is that the anniversary image should convey what the organization does – warmly, at a glance, and without need for written explanation. That's good visual corporate storytelling.

Companies typically go in one of four directions:

Show the founder
When you're chronicling The Pep Boys, how can you not show Manny, Moe & Jack? But unless your founder is as famously photogenic, you're better off looking for a different image. 

One exception: If your book and website are strictly for internal use, then show the founder even if he's not publicly well-known. It helps greatly if you catch him or her in an expressive pose. That approach worked for a foundation whose book we created, which had a strong image of the founder tipping his hat to the community.

Show the headquarters or key buildings 
Annin Flagmakers felt that its internal story was best illustrated by a progression of buildings: from Fulton Street in Manhattan in the 1800s, to its headquarters in the mid-1900s, to a current-day manufacturing facility. This was also a winning approach for Dempsey Uniform & Linen Supply, whose main building and line-up of sparkling clean trucks were perfect symbols. Alternative: If your logo is strong, consider it by itself.

Show one or two strong historical images, maybe as a "then and now"
Consider this if your organization boasts a few gray hairs, i.e., is old enough to have a strong photo that is clearly antique in relation to today. You might want to add a modern-day equivalent, as we did for our Dominion Energy centennial corporate history book, which features a rural electrification lineman of the 1930s juxtaposed with a current worker, and our work for PARC, the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation, which contrasted the twilight of the base with current-day uses.

Show signature products or services
For The Clorox Company book, designed by Morla Design in San Francisco, showing the iconic bottle of Clorox(R) liquid bleach was a natural. Ditto metal products from the six business lines of Sandvik USA, and the smiling faces of employees at Clinton County ARC (which also included some historical photos and was designed to match the client's website), Melwood Horticultural Training Center, and Superior Linen Service.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nathan’s Famous: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Nathan’s, a Coney Island tradition, was founded in 1916 by Nathan and Ida Handwerker, using their life savings of $300 and Ida’s hot dog recipe. Nathan’s son Murray opened several more restaurants, all of which were sold to a group of investors in 1987. The company went public in 1993. Meanwhile, the name was franchised; Nathan’s name now appears on more than 45,000 fast-food outlets across the United States. The About Us page is Our Story.


Products/Services: A
How does a web page convey the taste of a hot dog? Nathan’s Famous History page doesn’t try. It focuses instead on the people who love the brand—a smart twist on the usual business history—from Al Capone and Jimmy Durante to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy (really?), and Joe Namath. Governor Nelson Rockefeller encapsulated the mass-market appeal: “No man can hope to be elected in New York without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.”

As a visual reminder of Nathan’s 98-year history, the site offers a Historic Photo Gallery of Nathan’s original location and its Coney Island neighborhood from 1916 to the present. Bringing the product up to the minute is a page of Instagram Fan Photos. (While the pics are loading, the page is filled with hot dogs getting be-mustarded: cute!) The annual hot-dog eating contest that attracts major press coverage rates several pages that include a list of winners and a count-down clock to the next event.

Our Commandment 1 of About Us Pages is, “Know thy audience.” Nathan’s hits all the right buttons to make people associate hot dogs and good times, making them eager to go back for more.

Personality: C

Nathan’s site doesn’t mention the fact that the founding family no longer owns the business. But since the company still bears Nathan’s name, why not tell more stories about him and really take advantage of corporate storytelling? Wikipedia has anecdotes that would be charming additions, such as the fact that Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante encouraged Nathan to start the hot-dog stand. As a rule, if Wikipedia has more clever stories about your company than your company’s own website, then your website is due for an upgrade.

Accessibility: C
The brief Contact page offers links to online email forms regarding hot dogs or other grocery products, emails for four departments, plus the address and phone of the Executive Offices. This is minimal but OK.

History is telling stories, and business history stories make for great marketing. If you’ve got anecdotes about the founder, or the company’s growth, or a great comeback story, tell the world!

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, November 24, 2014

Dodge's 100th Anniversary Campaign: What Works & Doesn't

Dodge celebrated its 100th anniversary in the best way an auto brand probably can: with centennial editions of certain makes of cars. Its TV ads grabbed me during the summer, the ones in which old Dodges morph into new models on wide country roads. Now that Dodge's total business anniversary and corporate storytelling campaign is five months old, what works and what doesn't?

Core message: consistent. "The Dodge brand is tearing into its centennial year as America’s mainstream performance brand, celebrating its 100th anniversary on July 1, 2014. With the purification of the brand and consolidation with SRT, Dodge is getting back to its performance roots with every single model it offers." "Tearing into" and "purification" are odd ways to put this core message of "Focused on Its Performance Roots," and you have to be a Car Guy or Gal to groove on the SRT part. But Dodge carries through the message consistently, and they unveiled it right on time, which means that they started early. These are two basic essentials that every company can emulate, even the smallest business.

Web timeline: tough to navigate. I think it's time to retire so-called parallax timelines, and I say that as someone who has written and project-managed a few myself. The layers are just plain clunky. Dodge's timeline is divided into nine chronological chunks, but each one is sprawling. I'd rather browse an e-book ... they provide a much tidier container.

YouTube videos: fun to watch. I'm a sucker for the historical simulations of the brothers Dodge ("Their spirit lives"), but to my surprise I also enjoyed the "Don't Touch My Dart" spots. Obviously I'm not alone, since the various videos have collectively racked up millions of views. 

Media information: sprawling. Reams of PDF downloads include 20-page chronologies, 37-page lists of Centennial events, and brand overviews, many of them divided into past, present, and future . . . again, this is why books are much neater containers. But kudos to Dodge for archiving, organizing, and making public this vital info.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Crain Communications: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Crain’s is an American publishing conglomerate headquartered in Detroit, with 14 locations worldwide. It publishes trade magazines (Advertising Age, Autoweek, Plastics News, and many others) as well as papers such as Crain’s New York Business and Crain’s Chicago Business. Founded in 1916 in Louisville, KY, by G. D. Crain, the company – still privately held – has been run in succession by Crain’s widow and sons. The main About Us page is here.

The main About Us page is well laid out, giving teasers and links to separate pages on Our History, Our Philosophy, and Our Leadership.

Products/Services: C
Our main complaint about Crain’s About Us pages is that they have the feel of a collection that has been growing over time (good!) but has not been revised for consistency (bad!). The number of employees is variously listed as 825 or more than 1,000; the age of the company as over 80 or over 90. (In fact, Crain’s will celebrate its 100th business anniversary in 2016.) The company’s long-standing motto, “Readers first!,” is mentioned in the teaser to the Our Philosophy page (and emphasized on the Careers page), but not mentioned on the Our Philosophy page. Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity,” which includes checking grammar, punctuation, and yes, facts.

Also: logos or mastheads of the many Crain publications would liven up the small, dense blocks of text on most pages.

Personality: B
Our History emphasizes that Crain’s is a family-run business, with only three chairmen and presidents since its founding—a potential theme for corporate storytelling that this company doesn’t quite exploit. Continuing that tradition, five members of the Crain family are listed on the Leadership page. The bio of Rance Crain, which focuses on his experience in publishing and his role in the company, is very good. The bio of Keith Crain, on the other hand, sounds as if it was written for a third-party site where the philanthropic activities are more important than work at Crain’s. A bio of a company leader on an About Us page isn’t just a bio: it’s a chance to show where and how a leader is leading.

Accessibility: D
The Contact Us page lists Crain offices worldwide, with mailing addresses and phone numbers, but no emails or names. This is substandard.

Few things make you look as unreliable as conflicting information on your website. It’s particularly egregious for a company in the publishing industry, where fact-checking should be the norm. Review the business history of your site regularly for consistency.

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, November 3, 2014

Cleveland Museum of Art: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) opened its doors in 1916, with funds and land donated by four local businessmen. Its substantial endowment makes it one of the wealthiest museums in the United States. The collection of 43,000 works is especially strong in Asian and Egyptian art. The CMA’s main About Us page is here.

For websites with more than one page under the About Us tab, the main page should be a portal that lures visitors to other pages. The CMA’s mainAbout Us page entices with witty visuals matched with its 12 options, including a portrait of George Washington for Museum Leadership and a scroll of hieroglyphics for Contact Us. Even better, these 12 images are tidily arranged to fit on a single screen, making it easy for a visitor to see all the options. Well done! We’ll be curious to see what CMA does for its 100th business anniversary next year.

Products/Services and Personality: B
The History and Mission page gives an overview of the Museum’s development via what each of its ten directors chose to focus on—an interesting structure that offers some subtle corporate storytelling. The founders get their own page, with an image of each and an explanation of how he became interested in art. The Inaugural Exhibition of 1916 also has a page. The Building page offers a slightly different perspective: when and why different expansions were undertaken. Take a lesson from the CMA: If your institutional or corporate history is long and complex, presenting it from different angles on several pages is a great choice.

Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” That’s particularly true for an arts museum, since one of the best ways to get people to visit is to show them the treasures that await. In this respect, the CMA pages fall short. Most pages have a single large photo at the top; it's not obvious that one can click on it to see more, and that some of the text below applies to these various images. On Picture This: CMA Photographic History, why not make all the photos visible, each above its corresponding text, rather than making us click through photos at the top, and then scroll down to the relevant text? On the Inaugural Exhibition page, why not  space the images through the text? On the Building page, why not show galleries then and now, as they're discussed? On the History and Mission page, why not put the images with the directors, and for the sake of luring people in, show a notable acquisition of each director? And, for yet another perspective, why not have a timeline of collection highlights, with brief notes on why each was considered worth acquiring?

Accessibility: A
CMA boasts that it was created “for the benefit of all the people forever,” and their Contact us page suggests that they are in fact interested in hearing from people – a relative rarity among large institutions. Next to the CMA’s general contact information is the query, “Have a question for Director William Griswold?” – with his email. For those who don’t want to go straight to the top, the Contact Us page links to a directory with emails for dozens of departments, from Administration to Visitor Services.

If you have a rich history, try telling it from several different angles – but don’t forget to include great text and visuals.

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, October 29, 2014

Happy 250th, Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant celebrates 250 years of continuous publication today. As other print newspapers close, this one survives, in part by staying true to its Connecticut roots. It started as a weekly and is older than the US itself.

Fittingly, the Connecticut Historical Society is running an exhibit through November 1 that showcases The Courant’s rich history. I harbor a fondness for Hartford since my first corporate history was a 150-year chronicle of The Phoenix Companies, a copy of which book is enclosed in a time capsule buried on Hartford's Constitution Plaza. The newspaper's website has a great selection of photos. Wish they'd done more with oral histories there.
In the words of the Society, The Courant is "the newspaper in which George Washington placed an ad to lease part of his Mount Vernon land. Thomas Jefferson sued this newspaper for libel—and lost. And Mark Twain tried to buy stock in this paper but his offer was turned down." May it enjoy another 250 years of publication. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Factory Man" a riveting read

Delighted to learn that Beth Macy's "Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local--and Helped Save an American Town" has been optioned as an HBO miniseries by Tom Hanks. The book, published in July 2014, is a formidable piece of corporate history, and it'll make for a superb workplace drama. It captures the "creeping small-town carnage created by acronyms like NAFTA and WTO and an impotent TAA, all of it forged by faraway people who had never bothered to see the full result of what globalization had wrought."

A reporter for the Roanoke Times, Macy chronicles John Bassett III in his battle to save his family's furniture manufacturing company, Vaughan-Bassett, from being swallowed up by cheap Chinese imports and the havoc they have wrought on American retailing. The man is a natural communicator--plainspoken, sharp, hardly a saint, spot-on whether you agree with him or not. Macy wisely gets him talking and then gets out of his way.

I confess that "Factory Man" didn't gain momentum for me until Chapter 10. The first 130 pages are packed with Bassett family history, almost so lurid as to be mistaken for a Faulkner novel. The internecine wars of various cousins aren't half as fascinating as the flat-out energy that JBIII expends--and the counter-energy of some in the industry who willingly give into globalization. I wish Macy had drawn more parallels to U.S. industries that lost out to cheap imports earlier, such as clothing and shoe making, but that might have doubled the book's length.

Macy is firmly on the side of the workers who are being displaced left and right. She sticks it to The New York Times's Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, noting that an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent is fine for Bethesda, MD, "where he lives in an 11,400-square-foot mansion with his heiress wife [.... But the 5.2 figure] comes nowhere close to capturing the truth of Martinsville and Henry County's double-digit unemployment and the problems that result, from the increasing need for food stamps and free school lunches and Medicaid to the rising rates of teen pregnancy and domestic violence." This is superb social history as well as business history (the two are intertwined far more often that we admit).

Here's one of my favorite passages, along with some representative quotes:
"...Rob [Bassett] reported back on the lack of safety measures in the Dongguan finishing rooms--no fans, no masks, nothing. Rob actually had a fondness for the smell of finishing material, but these fumes were so strong he had trouble catching his breath. 'How do they stand it?" he had asked the plant manager, choking as he spoke.
   "Spray two years and die," the manager said.
   At which point there would be twenty more lined up to take the fallen worker's place.

"More than a few Chinese friends have quoted to me the proverb 'fu bu guo san dai' (wealth doesn't make it past three generations) as they wonder how we became so ill-disciplined, distracted and dissolute." -- James McGregor, former Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China

"One of our biggest problems is turning the attitude around in this country, making people believe in us again. Does that mean we will never close a plant? If we're inefficient, we will close a plant. But I want to be able to say to everybody in my organization . . . to look them straight in the eye and tell them that I did everything in my power to save their job. I want a free and fair playing field, and I'm willing to fight for it. I am not gonna turn tail and run." -- John Bassett III

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quest Diagnostics: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Quest Diagnostics is the world’s leading provider of diagnostic testing services. The company works with about half the physicians and hospitals in the U.S., and has operations in the U.K., Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and India. Headquartered in Madison, N.J., Quest has some 43,000 employees and over $7.5  billion in annual revenue.  It is on the Fortune 500 and the S&P 500, and since 2008 has been on Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” list. The main About Us page is Our Company.


Products/Services: A
The main About Us page has an attractive photo and four subheads, each with an illustration and a link to further information: Our Products and Services, Facts and Figures, Innovation Center, and Locations around the World. Each of these sub-pages is also well designed; together they convey a strong business history. The Our Products and Services page, for example, has a simple list of the major areas in which Quest offers products, with summaries and links to even more specific information.  Kudos to Quest: it’s surprisingly, regrettably rare to see this sort of logical, hierarchical organization carried out well.

The other pages on the left-hand navigation menu follow through on this promise. Our Brands is a summary of Quest subsidiaries, with the logo of each company and a paragraph about its specialty. The Fact Sheet is also well done, with subheads for Company Overview (a summary of the company, which incidentally should be copied to the main About Us page as well), At a Glance (statistics on Quest’s size and global reach), Recognition (rankings and awards), Products and Services (links to drug screening, clinical trials, etc.), and Global Presence.

Once in a while the navigation gets confusing: on the Innovations page, for example, there’s no left-hand menu to return us to other About Us pages. But overall Quest’s pages are a good example of our Commandment 5 of About Us pages: “Honor thy readers and their attention spans.” The text is short, to the point, easy to read, and well organized in terms of visuals and text.

One cavil: Nowhere in this material can we easily find the founding year. Other web sources cite it as 1967, under the name Metropolitan Pathology Laboratory, Inc. A bit of information on the name change and evolution to Quest Diagnostics might make for good corporate storytelling.

Personality: B
The green-on-white color scheme suggests cleanliness, which is desirable  for a company involved in sticking people with needles. However, we can’t find any information on who runs the company, so as regards personality, we’re left with a rather ... sterile impression.

Accessibility: A
The Contact Us page lists 8 different reasons you might want to contact Quest (find a lab, get test results, leave feedback, etc.), and each has a distinct set of well-though-out options. Well done.

Pay attention to organizing your material hierarchically: visitors to your site are more likely to hang around and to leave happy if they can find the information they want.
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, October 13, 2014

Does your market know what you do?

What does your company do? Easy question, right? But we see so many About Us website pages that don't answer it. Turns out we're not alone. John Ason, a New Jersey-based venture capitalist, finds the same problem from start-ups seeking investment capital. From a September 17 interview with U.S. 1, a weekly newspaper: 

Is this a program that enables
great composers to write music?
Probably not, since it lacks an eraser.
“One of the most important things is to explicitly state what you do," Ason says. "About 40 percent of the summaries I receive do not have that. They have a list of features or benefits or what it enables customers to do.” For example, he says, he recently received a proposal from a company that was making “a program that enables great composers to write music.” For Ason, that was much too vague of a description. “It could be a consultancy, a music notation program, a music generating program, or it could be a pencil.”

You might argue that start-ups don't yet know exactly what they do. Don't argue it to Ason, however, who funds five or six proposals a year from a field of 3,000. And don't spend too much time crafting a business plan. He calls them "long and full of irrelevant information," rejecting them in favor of a one-page executive summary. Just think! If you write a good exec summary, it can double as your website's About Us page. Ason's own website looks as if it hasn't been updated since 2011--at least the blog is that old--but I imagine fund-seekers are beating a path to his door nonetheless.

Bottom line: You've got to be able to do some effective corporate storytelling even before Chapter 1, so to speak, or you won't have a corporate history later on. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Warby Parker: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Warby Parker, a digital start-up headquartered in New York City, was formed in 2010 by four students at the Wharton School who wanted to sell affordable eyeglasses (under $100) and be socially conscious at the same time. The eyewear was initially offered online, with the option of trying five frames at home for five days free of charge. Recently the company opened stand-alone stores in New York and a handful of other cities. Some of the profits are invested in a project called “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair,” which has so far helped make a million pairs of eyeglasses available to poor people in 35 countries. The main About Us page is History.

The Warby Parker site is elegantly simple: easy to navigate and easy to skim, yet meaty enough to keep visitors reading.

Products/Services: A
The History page begins with a story: a problem and how the company’s founders solved it. Bravo! There’s no better way than great corporate storytelling to engage visitors. Then the focus shifts worldwide, to how many visually impaired people lack eyewear and what the economic consequences are. At the foot of the page – by which time visitors are hooked – they’re given the option for pages on the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair project, corporate Culture, or the design and manufacture of Warby Parker frames.

Buy a Pair, Give a Pair explains in simple but persuasive terms the company’s novel way of distributing glasses worldwide: they train locals to give eye exams and sell glasses to their communities. Warby Parker addresses head-on the fact that they don’t just give glasses away to anyone in need. “It’s a sticky fact of life that kind-hearted gestures can have unintended consequences. Donating is often a temporary solution …. It is rarely sustainable.”

How Your Frames Are Made is another well-designed page: succinct text, lots of photos, good organization.

Personality: A
The Warby Parker site has a sense of humor and a lightheartedness that make it a thoroughly enjoyable read. (Monocles: yes! Bagpipes: no!) The Culture page explains the origins of the company name and gives capsule bios of the founders, restricted to information that is directly related to the founding of Warby Parker... except maybe for the inclusion of each one’s favorite karaoke and happy place, which keeps the whimsical feel going. All in all, the Warby Parker site is a great example of our Commandment 3 of About Us pages: “Reveal thy personality.”

Accessibility: B
The Locations page shows retail stores in the United States, which can be narrowed to a list for each city (with street address and map), and then a page for each store (with hours), and a 360-degree view of the store’s interior. However, the company leadership  seems to be unreachable. Aside from contact information for brick-and-mortar stores, there’s only a Help link that gives email, phone, and LiveChat options, without mentioning any specific people.

Warby Parker’s site reminds us that even a mundane object like eyewear can be presented in a quirky, engaging, yet principled manner. Stick to the subject, but let your personality and your passion shine through. And remember that you don’t have to be old to have a stellar business history.

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, September 29, 2014

Archiving secrets revealed

Good glimpse of what an archivist does in this New York Times article, which profiles Mary Hedge in her daily work at New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority and as she prepares for an exhibit that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The exhibit opens on October 30 at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn. The 1920s newspaper (image at right, courtesy MTA Bridges & Tunnels Special Archive) was an imaginary depiction that came true when the V-N opened in 1964. 

My favorite part of the piece: The archivist "records oral histories when longtime transit executives approach the end of their service. She interviewed the officers who were on duty in the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on Sept. 11, 2001, as people fled Manhattan following the terrorist attack, and after Hurricane Sandy she recorded the stories of staff members who were involved in dealing with the storm and cleanup. 'Retirements and disasters,' she said." recently helped recruit an archivist for one of our current clients. She and an assistant did a tremendous amount of work in a single week, bringing box-level order to almost 40 years worth of paper. This material will support other projects in the client's history plan. The client was thrilled and is considering bringing the team back to archive its digital items. It was a good reminder that companies can keep archives under their own roof (no need to pay monthly fees to a warehouse) -- and that even a small investment in archiving pays ongoing dividends. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stryker Corporation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In 1941 Dr. Homer Stryker, an orthopedist in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was dissatisfied with medical products that didn’t meet his patients’ needs. So he established a company to manufacture items to his own specifications. He invented the Turning Frame (for repositioning patients who needed to remain immobile), the Cast Cutter, and the Walking Heel. His company became Stryker Corporation in 1964 and went public in 1979. Today Stryker is one of the world’s top medical technology firms, producing implants used in joint replacement, surgical equipment, emergency medical equipment, neurosurgical devices, and more.  Still based in Kalamazoo, Stryker is a Fortune 500 company with 22,000 employees and annual sales of $8.7 billion. The main About Us page is here.


Products/Services: C
The summary on the main About Us page is short and to the point: what field the company is in, what medical technologies it offers, and its global reach. Most of the space on this page is taken up by a link to the 2013 Annual Review. Unlike most annual reviews, this one is heavy on the illustrations and laid out with photos and headlines that do a great job conveying the excitement of Stryker’s cutting-edge work.

The timeline, Company History, is not so impressive. The narrative at the top skips from Dr. Homer Stryker’s interest in creating better medical products straight to Stryker’s current position as a global leader in medical technology. A quick overview of the company’s expansion would be useful here, because it’s impossible to get such an overview from the timeline that follows.

In the timeline, the first 10 or so items are well chosen. But from there, it degenerates into a list of 50-odd acquisitions, milestones, and awards, all presented with equal emphasis. The awards would certainly have more of an impact on a page of their own. Our Commandment 5 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy readers and their attention spans.” We doubt that anyone will ever wade through this timeline—especially because it contains not a single image. And Stryker misses an easy opportunity for corporate storytelling. Why not tell us a little more about the evolution of Stryker from a family business to a publicly held firm, and let us know if any Stryker descendants are still involved?

Personality: D
Not much personality here. The CEO’s biography could apply to any leader of any company, and appears, mysteriously, on a page with the title “Johnson.” Little information is given on the founder of Stryker, although in a stunning example of inessential information, his birthdate begins the company timeline.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page offers many different departments, but no names of specific people. As always, this leaves us with the impression that the company doesn’t really want to communicate with us.

If your company is the result of one man’s vision and still runs on that, make sure to feature his goals and values prominently in your About Us pages, and tie the corporate history and current status to 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?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Happy 50th anniversary, Nutella

I'm so proud to be Italian. We built aqueducts that still function 2,000 years later. We nurtured Michelangelo, da Vinci, Puccini, and Anna Magnani. And we gave the world Nutella. This WNYC story by Dan Charles tells a great little corporate history of Ferrero, its wartime invention of Nutella, and how it drives the hazelnut market. The chocolate maker had to mix hazelnuts into its confections when it couldn't procure enough cocoa in World War II. Nutella was then sold in bars as pasta gianduja (here, pasta means paste). In 1964 it became Nutella in jars and has since become an international staple. 

A tasteful (!) anniversary campaign by Ferrero includes some polished corporate storytelling, including a portal that invites Nutella nuts to tell their own stories. A web store offers affordable celebration items, pictured above. 

Because of Nutella and a genetic tendency toward tree blight, hazelnuts are in short supply. The WNYC story reports that tree scientists at my alma mater Rutgers are working on a disease-resistant strain that can be cultivated worldwide. Glad that people at Rutgers are concentrating on something other than the Big Ten these days. While I freely admit that I prefer the company's other products, especially Ferrero-Rocher chocolate bon bons and Tic-Tacs, I nonetheless extend a big congratulazioni per il tuo cinquantesimo anniversario to Nutella.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Oshkosh Corporation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Oshkosh Corporation, founded in 1917 as the Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company, is a leading manufacturer of access equipment, specialty vehicles, and truck bodies. Major brands include Oshkosh (defense vehicles), JLG (aerial work platforms), Pierce (fire trucks), McNeilus (concrete mixers, refuse collection), Jerr-Dan (towing), and CON-E-CO (concrete batch plants). Obviously they’re not to be confused with the Oshkosh B’Gosh company, part of Carter’s Inc., which makes clothes for kids. Still headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Oshkosh Corporation employs 12,300 people and had 2012 revenue of $8.18 billion. Its main About Us page is here.

Oshkosh would get an A grade except for its Company History page, which has been under construction for some time. Given the company’s long history and the well-written text on the other pages, we’re expecting something splendid. But why leave this vital page virtually blank, especially with a 100th anniversary coming up in less than three years?

Products/Services: A
Oshkosh’s About Us pages are terrific: short, pithy, powerful. The main page has a great one-sentence summary of the company: what it does (“designs and builds the world’s toughest specialty trucks and truck bodies and access equipment”) and how it does it (“by working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people who use them”). A few more lines briefly elaborate. A picture of an amazing vehicle tops the page, and at the right is a photo of CEO Charles L. Szews, with a quote that reinforces the summary. This is a perfect example of our Commandment 2 of About Us pages: “Thou shalt not generalize.” From our first look at the main About Us page, we know exactly what Oshkosh’s products are and what the company’s attitude is toward its customers.

The Company Profile page gives a similarly pithy one-page overview of the company’s major brands and what each one’s specialty is, and adds the company’s founding date, a list of worldwide operations, and total employees. Minor point: the link to the video is broken ... but we’d rather see a photo of another cool truck, anyway. A little more corporate storytelling would go a long way here.

The Technology & Innovation page (again with great pics) also refers to the company’s founding: a nice use of corporate history to reinforce the idea that Oshkosh is in this for the long haul. The Acquisitions page lists Oshkosh’s major acquisitions, again briefly but with links to further information. More surprisingly, it lists the criteria they use when considering an acquisition: a happy variation on the usual tedious list of names and years.

Personality: C
Oshkosh starts to convey its personality on the main About Us page, where they feature a photo of one of their high-tech trucks alongside a photo of CEO Charlie Szews and a relevant quote by him. Given that great start, it’s puzzling that we can’t find any pages listing the corporate leadership, either under About Us or the Investors tab. Googling “Charlie Szews,” we found a page on Oshkosh’s site that has his bio ... but the fact that we had to resort to Google means there’s a serious navigation problem.

Accessibility: A
Our Commandment 8 of About Us pages is: “Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible.” Many organizations seem unwilling to give names and emails of department heads. Bravo to Oshkosh, whose Contact Us page lists half a dozen departments with names as well as titles, and actual email addresses rather than an online form.

Keep your text brief and to the point, and supplement it with pictures that show what you do and who you are. But don’t allow blank pages to linger, especially when you have an exceptionally rich business history.

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, September 2, 2014

Branding starts with your creation story

Patrick Hanlon’s Primal Branding is a bit dated (originally published in 2006) but still fascinating. It analyzes why certain brands gain “visceral traction in the marketplace,” while other brands with equally good offerings fail. Crux: Branding is a belief system. Specifically, Hanlon (who also blogs for says the “creation story is the crucial first step in providing answers to why people should care about you, or your product or service.” If “creation story” sounds a lot like corporate history, that's because they're almost identical.

Excerpt: The creation story not only answers who you are and where you come from, but helps set up the further pieces of primal code (creed, icons, rituals, pagans, sacred words, leader). Every company was started somewhere, somehow, by someone. Like telling a good tale, the opportunity is how to make it interesting…. It’s all about creating a sense of meaning. When people believe in and belong to a brand it’s no longer about the task, it’s about the experience. When people shop for outdoor equipment they don’t say, “We went shopping for a tent.” They say, “We went to REI.” When they travel out of state to gamble, they don’t just say, “We went gambling.” They say, “We went to Vegas.” 

Further, Hanlon points out that while the creation story may be well known to old hands at a company, newer employees may not have a clue. This, he says, “results in a fractured culture, with people who … have internalized what the company is about, while everyone else (managers included) stumble along.” Great reason to include basic company history in onboarding sessions (print, video, displays). And to spruce up your website's About Us or Our Story pages. Be honest: When did you last update those? Our bimonthly reviews of About Us pages reveals that many companies with major brands don't pay sufficient attention to their web history presence.

The power of a good creation story was hammered home today by a sponsorship spot on a WNYC newscast. I heard and remembered a pitch by Veteran Movers: founded by an ex-Marine; gives jobs to vets; does moving jobs in the NY metro area. That's all I need to know. The story sticks. If I heard someone was moving, I'd say "Hey, have you heard of Veteran Movers? Sounds like they're worth checking out." All on the strength of 10 seconds of creation story!