Monday, February 24, 2014

Mainframes at 50

Ads in business publications by CA Technologies (also known as Computer Associates) certainly snapped my head around. Tagline: "50: Radical Then. Radical Now." Copy: "The Mainframe. 50 years of powering the extraordinary." Do mainframes even still exist after 50 years, much less qualify as radical? Apparently they do, and they're going strong.

CA's business anniversary link is clunky, requiring two click-throughs, but once you arrive there's a decent company history overview, a nerdy contest for IT folks (per Commandment 1 of's 10 Commandments for About Us Pages: Know thy audience), and feel-good info on an anniversary-related charity ("We’re donating globally to educate next generation technologists. Click to choose the charity of your choice"). 

Kudos to CA for leveraging its 50th anniversary to remind us all that mainframes are alive and well, and for using that anniversary in service of technology education.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monsanto: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Monsanto, founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, has a long history of innovation and controversy, starting from its sale of the first artificial sweetener, saccharin. It was a major producer of polystyrene and synthetic fibers, was the first company to mass-produce LEDs, and manufactured the highly effective insecticide DDT, which nearly eradicated malaria. By 2002, Monsanto had divested itself of most of its chemical businesses in order to focus on biotechnology. Its genetically modified plants produce a larger yield per acre, require less water and energy to grow, and are resistant to drought and pests. It also produces strains of plants that thrive while Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp kills the weeds around them. The main About Us page (reached via the Who We Are tab) is Monsanto at a Glance.

Our Commandment 4 of About Us pages is, “Don’t take your own name in vain.” If visitors are likely to have seen unflattering references to your company, it makes sense to give visitors outside sources to confirm the value of your products and services. Monsanto has a serious corporate image problem. It is attacked today by environmentalists for genetic engineering. Under the Monsanto name, it also once produced such chemicals as DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, and bovine growth hormone. We were curious to see how the company’s About Us pages would deal with such issues.

The answer is: they don’t. In its first paragraph, the Company History page rejects Monsanto’s corporate history: “While we share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901, the Monsanto of today is focused on agriculture and supporting farmers around the world in their mission to produce more while conserving more. We’re an agricultural company.” The lengthy timeline on the same page, “Today’s Monsanto Company,” lists impressive innovations and statistics but has only a half-dozen entries before 1975, all related to agriculture.

Products/Services: C
The Company History page includes an Interactive History Presentation, with pithy, well-written articles on subjects such as fertilizers, Round Up, Animal AG, and seeds, each with well-chosen photos. Unfortunately, we suspect that few people click through to see this material. The bulleted list beside it doesn’t advertise the content of the History Presentation. Instead it describes the media (8 interactive sections, an interactive timeline, over 20 videos, over 50 photos). If you click through despite that, the Presentation’s navigation is confusing – the best way to move is not by clicking on the timeline, but by clicking on the row of photos across the top. The text is in small type in small boxes that require scrolling. If you click the Back button rather than the small Close box at the lower right, you go back to the main About Us page, not to the next section of the Presentation. The material in this Presentation is so informative that it deserves to be displayed in a way that will earn it more viewers.

Personality: D
The Company Leadership page is the most abbreviated we’ve seen for a long time. The bios are bulleted lists rather than a narrative. Too bad: the bios of top management would be a great place to stress the new direction that Monsanto is heading, by quotes or by links to speeches and interviews.

Accessibility: D
The Contact Us page is bare bones: a USPS address, phone numbers, and an online form on which you choose one of a dozen topics to help direct your message.

Make sure your best material is easy to reach and described in an enticing way. If your company has image problems, give visitors a way to find your point of view.

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, February 10, 2014

Manage your digital legacy

New Jersey Transit recently let seven trademarks lapse, including those covering its logos and taglines. This is another coup reported by The Record of North Jersey, which also broke the Christiegate story. Apparently no one at TNJ was minding the digital store, where so much of our business history is now stored. TNJ already has plenty of detractors after its flawed handling of Hurricane Sandy and the recent Super Bowl; this latest error adds more negativity to its corporate reputation. 

Let's learn the lesson and attend to these tasks. Here's a good article by Crystal Sharp on a related subject: "Managing Your Digital Legacy: Will Others Be Able to Access Your Cloud-Based Files When You No Longer Can?"

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sun-Maid's free 100th anniversary e-book

"Free--Our 100th Anniversary E-Book" declared the banner on a bag of Sun-Maid Raisins at the local Stop & Shop. Caught my eye as a great way for a multinational retailer to share the wealth of its  business history, by investing in a beautiful publication and offering it as a free download for iPad, iPhone, or a PDF. 

Reader, I bought the bag and downloaded a chapter, even though I don't eat raisins. It indeed delivers "vibrant color photos, fun facts, and more than 50 favorite recipes." A thoughtful touch for non-US readers: The recipes are available in metric measurements.

There's not a lot of running narrative here. Instead, Sun-Maid achieves its corporate storytelling through photo-rich spreads that belie the parentage of the publisher who created the book, a publisher better known for travel books. A major website copywriting oversight on Sun-Maid's part: It's not clear from the web page whether the book is also available in hard copy.