Monday, July 27, 2015

Happy 75th, Col. Sanders

Colonel Sanders is out of retirement after 21 years. KFC has given him a cool new 75th anniversary website of his own, in which the Colonel (at six stages of his life) talks about Cuban donkeys, strums a mandolin, and of course fries up some chicken. The animatronics are cute, with SNL alum Daryl Hammond playing the Colonel. Business anniversary tips:
1) It's refreshing when the Founder as Great Man is presented with a sense of humor.
2) It's fun to have a person or character narrating the corporate timeline.
Great work by agency Wieden+Kennedy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

L.L. Bean: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

L.L. Bean was founded in 1912 in Freeport, Maine, by Leon Leonwood Bean, to sell a single product – the “Maine Hunting Shoe.” The company now has about 5,000 employees, and annual sales of $1.61 billion. Its headquarters is still in Freeport, Maine, and it is still privately owned. The main About Us page is Company Information.


Products/Services: A minus
The Company Information page looks at first like a raging bore: long, dense, and with headings that are less than enticing (“Current Corporate Information,” “Products,” “Manufacturing,” etc.). In fact, however, the page is great corporate storytelling. It explains what the company does, and where and why and how. As a series of bullet points this sort of information would be unreadable. It’s fascinating here because we’re given a backstory (for example, the reason behind each expansion) and provided with several engaging quotes from past and present leaders of the company.

One quibble: many people read on their phones, where it’s easy to be interrupted and to lose one’s place on a very long page. A simple solution would be to split this page into separate pages for Products, Manufacturing, etc. – with copious links between pages, so that visitors would still be guided to read them in a certain sequence. Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” Shorter pages on a specific topics could be made even more interesting by including photos from L.L. Bean’s century-long history.

There are numerous, excellent photos on the timeline, 100 Years and Counting. It’s cleverly compiled so that reading the blurb on each decade gives a visitor a short company history. The focus is on L.L. Bean, Inc. – as it should be - but enough national events are listed to set the context. There’s even an option for customers to share their own L.L. Bean stories – a great idea. Unfortunately, during our four visits to the site, the interactive aspect wasn’t working, so we’re not sure we’ve seen all of it.

High marks to the Newsroom page, which puts company press releases front and center, but has a sidebar, “As Seen In,” with links to products featured in sources as diverse as Redbook, Elle, and Field & Stream.

A downgrade: Yes, the company commissioned a centennial anniversary book, entitled Guaranteed to Last: L.L.Bean's Century of Outfitting America, by Jim Gorman. ( was not involved with it in any way.) Alas, there’s no reference to it on the history pages. To find it, we had to enter “book” in the product search box. If you’re still selling your corporate history book, why not make it easy to find?

Personality: A
The Company History page is also long, dense, and excellent. It begins as the story of an outdoorsman with wet feet, and tells how he solved the problem with the original “Maine Hunting Shoe.” Bean’s early trials and tribulations – 90 of his original 100 pairs were returned – establish the company’s dedication to quality and customer satisfaction. This is business history at its best.

Quotes from the founder and from later leaders liven up the text, as do occasional fascinating factoids. We learn, for example, that by the 1930s, L.L. Bean’s mail-order business comprised more than 70% of the volume of the Freeport post office, and that the flagship store has no locks, because it’s open for business 24/7.

The list of awards at the end of the Company History page would get more attention if it were on a separate page, with logos, but it’s great to see so many confirmations of L.L. Bean’s status collected in one place.

In a lovely change from celebrating one’s centennial and then forgetting about company anniversaries for 10 or 25 years, the Company History page ends with highlights of L.L. Bean’s centennial year. Here you’ll find quick bullet-point references to the aforementioned centennial book, as well as the timeline—but these should be hyperlinked.

The Leadership page is top-notch. Why? Because the bio of the founder and his three successors all focus on the values that drive them as leaders of L.L. Bean, and on the results they achieved there. Even the philanthropic activities and hobbies mentioned reflect the values of the company: for example, membership in the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. Our Commandment 3 of About Us pages is, “Reveal thy personality.” We’ve seldom seen that done better than on L.L. Bean’s site.

Accessibility: A
How many times have you flinched from phoning a company’s Customer Service line because you were worried that the representative wouldn’t be able to speak English? L.L. Bean’s Customer Service page begins with a characteristically forthright note: no matter how you communicate with the company (there are options for Phone, Call Me, Chat, Email, and more), you’ll be speaking with a person in Maine: “because Maine is more than just an address – it’s part of who we are. It’s tough winters, Yankee ingenuity and a unique character you just won’t find elsewhere.”

Your company may not have the size or the hundred-hear history of L.L. Bean, but it’s unique in who founded it, where it’s been, and where it’s heading. Make your About Us page reflect that uniqueness with great content, well told.

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, although we have been satisfied customers for years.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Healing History

Belated kudos to Communication Design Inc., which produced the marketing materials for the Healing History conference hosted by Initiatives of Change USA in Richmond, VA. In CDI's words, "The theme of building bridges became the basis of a cohesive brand identity centered around an iconic illustration of diverse figures working together to support a common cause--crossing a great divide." 

The conference coincided with key anniversaries of landmark civil rights events: the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of the Civil War, the Selma to Montgomery March, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Given the truly momentous events that have happened since the conference -- the tragedy of Charleston and the removal of the Confederate flag by South Carolina and other states -- the importance of the Healing History effort takes on added urgency.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dockers: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Dockers, established in 1986, is the division of San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. that’s devoted to khakis and casual accessories. It’s a leading brand of business casual clothing for men and women. We were curious to look at Dockers because it’s part of a larger company, but has its own brand. The main About Us page is here.

The biggest flaw in this set of About Us pages is that we found them via a Google search, and can’t find a link to them on Dockers’ own site.

The main page has two headings, each with a distinctive tagline: Our Products (“Well-crafted comfort to help conquer the day,” with links to pages on size and fit) and Our Company (“A rough and tough work ethic is deeply rooted in our family tree”). Below these are links to Contact Us and Careers. It’s a simple, clear layout that works almost as well on a desktop as on mobile. (In fact, these pages are among the least offensive mobile-friendly pages we’ve seen, in terms of layout, because the header images are much less high than wide. Hence on a desktop screen, they don’t fill all of the prime above-the-fold real estate.)

Products/Services: A
Under the Our Company heading on the About Us page are links to About Levi Strauss & Co., History and Heritage, and Social Responsibility.

About Levi Strauss & Co. has a pithy statement linking the current brand to the long corporate history of Levi Strauss. One minor glitch: this opening statement says the first blue jeans were created in 1853. Further down the page, under “Our Values,” the “Originality” blurb gives the date as 1873. Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity.” An error such as this leaves the impression that someone isn’t minding the details.

The Timeline (“History and Heritage”) is good corporate storytelling. It focuses on the long history of khaki pants at Levi Strauss, then offers nostalgic glimpses of pop culture (Seinfeld) and advertising history (“Nice pants!”). Haute couture and culture are represented by names such as Alexander Wang and Vanity Fair. Each timeline entry has an intriguing headline, a short blurb, and an archival image – all large enough to see easily. Having done a timeline or two ourselves (such as this one for California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund) we appreciate the design and content of the Dockers example.

Personality: D
The Timeline is excellent for showing where the company has been, but not for showing what its current goals are. No information or links are given for the company’s leadership. Mentioning Levi-Strauss as a parent company doesn’t fill this gap, since there are no links to Levi-Strauss’s leadership team, either.

Accessibility: E
The Contact Us page (accessible via the main About Us page or the Help link in the footer) is elegant in layout but quite confusing. The options are “Find a Store” or “Get Help.” Clicking “Get Help” sends us to a page with the options “Contact Us,” “Send Feedback,” “Find a Store,” or “Top Reads” (a FAQ). But clicking either “Contact Us” or “Send Feedback” takes us right back to the Contact Us page. So in fact, the only ways to reach Dockers are via the 800 number in the footer and the online email form that is (we eventually noticed) below the fold on the Contact Us page.

Our Commandment 8 of About Us pages is, “Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible.” Dockers, do you really want to hear from us?

Have a fresh pair of eyes (or two or ten) look at your About Us pages for obvious errors, including whether those pages can be easily discovered and whether visitors to the site can contact you easily.

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.

Friday, July 3, 2015

3 Lessons Learned from a Painful Public Speaker

1. Match the speaker to the occasion. A rat-a-tat military man may not be the right choice for a roomful of benign trustees at the annual meeting of a co-operative organization.
2. If the bad match is a fait accompli, build a bridge. The speaker made no effort to localize, customize, or otherwise bridge his (supposedly) motivational presentation. No corporate storytelling. No mention of the org's 100+ years of company history and community support. I suspect this fellow didn't make even the most basic inquiries. 
3. Never, ever phone it in. Public speakers are actors, performers, professionals. When we step to the podium, it's show time, every time. A loud voice and speed do not equal energy. If we don't project true energy and interest, we shouldn't be speaking. Barreling through a PowerPoint doesn't cut it.

I won't name names because the evening was presented in good faith. But I felt pain as I watched fellow audience members wincing, feigning interest, or snoozing. Best I can say is that Mr. X provided a wake-up call for my next presentation and, I hope, for yours.