One upon a time, many years ago, I bought some stock in a big tech company. Every year, that company would send me their annual report. It was seemingly hundreds of pages long, mostly filled with small type text. I made a point of looking through that report every time I received it. By “looking through it”, I mean flipping through the pages really fast and then throwing it into the recycling bin.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in the company’s performance, strategies and future plans. I was. After all, I sunk some of my cold hard cash into their business. But I didn’t have the time to read through a massive document that was mostly boilerplate and blah blah blah. What’s worst, I was turned off by the fact that the report stuck me as being somehow too technical and complicated. I felt like I was being asked to read an instruction manual for a rocket. But most of all, it just didn’t speak to me. I invested in the stock because I thought the company would grow. Growth is exciting. So why wasn’t I excited about reading that annual report?
In those days, annual reports were something companies had to publish. They were a requirement. Nowadays, they’re still a requirement… but they’ve become something that smart companies want to publish. And that’s because annual reports have become an absolutely superb marketing channel. Yes, your annual report is a marketing channel—in fact, its one of your juiciest channels. In a single place, you can share your vision, brand, personality, facts and goals. You can inform—and entertain. You can boast and immediately back up that boast with cold hard numbers. You can wow with graphics, and by wowing, show people that you’re a company that has the ability to elicit a reaction from the public. In short, your annual report is one of the most complete integrated marketing tools at your disposal.
Don’t believe me? There are plenty of great examples. Kickstarter is a company that helps people realize their dreams, and their annual reports do a great job of transmitting that excitement to us. Charity: water has a cool report too. Theirs almost looks like a multimedia magazine. Nice! Smart too: magazines are fun to read; annual reports aren’t. Warby Parker has a unique annual report as well, organized like a calendar. Nice touch: you get the feeling that they’ve done something amazing every day of the year, plus you get to see some of their products. It’s almost like—dare I say—an ad! See these reports for yourself by clicking on the links at the bottom of this article.
Big question: what makes a great annual report? Well, it has to be true to your company. Don’t go trendy and hipster if you’re an insurance company. It has to jive with your brand. Next, make sure that it’s communicating what you want it to communicate. If you want people to feel that you have a huge growth potential, then make sure that message is very present in both the visuals and the copy. Finally, make sure that you do communicate the cold hard facts somewhere. This is, after all, an annual report. It does have to say something concrete about past performance and forward projections.
There’s other stuff you could put in there, so give it some thought. Whatever you do, make sure that the facts are polished and the presentation gleams. Get your marketing team, motion designers and graphics artists involved with your accountants and financial people. A nice healthy mix of subject matter experts will make sure your report marries fact and fun in the best way possible for your company. If you do all of that, you’ll develop something really special. And your shareholders will thank you for it, because you’ll show them that an annual report isn’t something to be gotten out of the way. It’s a major promotional opportunity.
Some annual reports for your viewing (and reading) enjoyment: