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.