Is this the end of the end of annual report design?
At a time when Annual Reports are becoming increasingly staid and cost driven, some businesses around the world are re-imagining the value proposition of these shareholder reporting tools.
Online eyewear retailer Warby Parker’s latest annual report is online (of course) and provides unparalleled insight into the company by looking back on every single day of business for the year. Austria Solar have produced an annual report which is completely blank until it is exposed to sunlight, and the Adris Group’s report transforms through the heat of human touch. No, these businesses have not lost their marbles, they are not novices who have yet to realize the money they are wasting on their shareholder reporting – rather they take a fresh view of their annual report design, seeing it as an opportunity to engage with the market, drive customer sales and build consumer awareness of their brand.
Warby Parker has been releasing creative annual reports for the last few years. Co-founder Neil Blumenthal explains how the company’s philosophy to investing in brilliantly designed shareholder reporting is all about the bottom line; “The company’s annual reports have proven to be a great public-facing marketing tool for the company. The release of the first report led to the company’s three biggest sales days at that time. The second report also resulted to the company’s highest days of home try-on volume and the highest traffic day to date. According to Blumenthal, the more information the company shares, the better the company does.”
In the 2013 Annual Report, Warby Parker present a detailed glimpse into every aspect of the business by presenting something that happened within the business on every single day of 2013. The report is designed to a calendar grid allowing viewers to select any day of any month to see the company’s highlights as well as its lowlights (like the day in May when half its inventory of frames was delivered to the wrong address). The report gives readers a great peek into life at Warby Parker, with details like profiles of new staff members, the news of J. Crew Chairman-CEO Mickey Drexler joining its board, an insight into the design process or the appearance of a frame in a Jay-Z video.
Mr. Blumenthal said the idea to create this style of report was originally inspired by one of their junior designers. “He put together an infographic of his personal life in the past year and we thought, wow, that’s a really interesting. What if we were to do it for the company? It very much fit into our philosophy of being transparent. We find the more information we share, the more vulnerable we are, and that sharing the positive and the warts — the deeper relationship we build with our customers. The first time we thought it would just be fun for our most engaged, most loyal customers, but it ended up leading to our three biggest sales days at the time… Often, I think the mentality of corporate America is, ‘What is the absolute minimum amount of information I can share with the general public?'” said Mr. Blumenthal. “But we found the more information we share, the better the company does.”
Pics from the Warby Parker online report.
And Warby Parker isn’t the only company seeing the value in investing more rather than less in their annual report design. Austria Solar, the Association for the Promotion of Thermal Solar Energy (Verein zur Förderung der thermischen Solarenergie) won wide-spread recognition when they stood out from the pack with their 2011 Report. The Annual Report was sent to members of the Austrian solar organization along with a wide number of business and political contacts. The impact the report made with these stakeholders continues to position them as an innovative business changing the world.
At first glance the report looks like a completely blank white book. But when exposed to sunlight the specially treated, light sensitive paper revealing the company’s mission in a single, memorable moment. The report continues to create buzz for the client and open the industries eyes to how a fresh approach to an uninspiring category can garner attention for a brand.
Pics courtesy of the client
Adris Group, a tobacco and tourism firm in Southeast Europe is another company who sees the value in creating market impact with their annual report. Adris Group is unique in two ways. Firstly, it’s owned by its hundreds of employees and secondly, it acquires companies that have recently been privatised by the Republic of Croatia with the aim to nurture, improve and grow them.
In order to demonstrate the fundamental proposition of the business – that good things grow ‘in good hands’, the Adris Group’s annual report was titled ‘In Good Hands’ and when warmed by the body heat of the hands of the reader transforms into green, floral detail, metaphorically illustrating how good hands can achieve change and growth. The same thermo colour production technique was used for the illustrations inside the report also. The concept of the annual report kincludes short stories in which workers/shareholders convey their personal perspectives of the business.
The report brought the companies a lot of free publicity, locally and worldwide. One of their goals was to positively impact the company’s public image, successfully achieved by the media coverage the report attracted. But just as importantly was the evocative story-telling of the Adris Group’s business philosophy and culture, which has successfully positioned the Group favorably to continue with their business strategy of acquiring newly privatized entities and transforming them into profitable, sustainable and healthy, stand alone businesses.
Pics courtesy of Bruketa Zinic
As the business world continues to view annual reports as a painful reporting necessity with little-or-no brand communication value, it’s inspiring to watch some companies see the opportunity to swim against that tide and find ways to get an outstanding return on their investment.