10 Ways to Create a Winning Annual Report [and How to Know What Your Reader Craves]
Your annual report may be your most important communication tool—and for good reason.
It offers an snapshot of company performance, shows how you are creating value for all of your stakeholders, and offers a glimpse into the passion and purpose that drives your organization.
To get the most from your investment, your annual report should be designed as both a marketing tool and a reporting tool that can reach shareholders, employees, and customers.
Winning the hearts and minds of today's stakeholders, however, isn't a simple task. As competition for viewers' attention soars, your annual report has to both capture and hold your reader's attention.
So how can you make sure yours will rise above the competition?
FIRST, KNOW YOUR READER
Today's reader will no longer wade through long and tedious pages of grey text. And understandably so. Their world has changed, making it necessary for them to consume content differently. Knowing how they are likely to engage with your message is the first step in building a winning annual report.
Understanding these five trends can help you reach your audience:
1. COMMUNICATION FATIGUE. People are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of communication that bombards them daily. As a result, they have to filter out much of it. To break through this barrier, companies need to be producing higher quality content on all levels.
2. SHORTENED ATTENTION SPANS. It takes mental energy for people to filter content and find the messages that are relevant to them—and mental energy is a limited resource. To conserve energy, today's viewer scans and decides within seconds whether to further engage with a message or whether to abandon it.
3. SKYROCKETING VISUAL APPETITES. The human brain responds to powerful visuals far more than it responds to words. And as visual fare becomes more sophisticated, it raises the bar for everyone. Today's consumer will filter content via images before reading text and will abandon it if it doesn't satisfy their craving for a rich visual experience.
4. EXPLODING DEMAND FOR VIDEO. Because video is more compelling than any other medium, demand for video content has never been higher. When given a choice, viewers will choose video over other formats. Today's annual report messages need to include video as part of their delivery strategy.
5. MOBILE DELIVERY. The use of mobile devices is growing rapidly, and viewers will quickly abandon content that isn't mobile-friendly.
NEXT, incorporate these 10 tips TO GET YOUR ANNUAL REPORT SEEN, READ, AND REMEMBERED
So how can you make sure your annual report message gets read, understood, and acted on? By finding fresh methods of delivery that speak to today's reader.
Here are 10 tips that will transform your annual report:
1. CLARIFY THE "WHY" BEHIND YOUR BUSINESS. Annual reports can no longer be about numbers. They must create connections by showing the benefits a company brings not only to shareholders, but to employees, customers, and society at large. As the primary narrative of your company for a given year, an annual report has to convey the "why" that drives your business. It does this best through story and with a distinctive, compelling statement that encapsulates the company's purpose in a few sentences.
2. INCLUDE BETTER DATA VISUALIZATION FOR YOUR KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS. Don't make your reader dig through pages of text to get your most important messages. Make it easy for the browsers who want to self-direct to content they're interested in. Effective data visualization delivers in seconds, an idea that would take paragraphs to explain in text—and busy readers love this.
3. ADD INFOGRAPHICS. Infographics are 30x more likely to get read than text, so use them to simplify complex ideas, create visual clarity that requires less mental energy, or deliver an executive summary of the high points.
4. AMP UP YOUR PICTURES. An investment in top quality photos is not a luxury, it's a must have if you want to keep your reader engaged. Pictures really are worth more than a thousand words, and good pictures reflect handsomely on your business. (If you're not convinced of this, imagine how long it would take to create a narrative that evokes what a photo conveys within seconds.)
5. GO DIGITAL. Go beyond the downloadable PDF and into the digital world with a custom annual report website devoted only to this content. (See how Home Depot hits this out of the park.)
Dedicated microsites are a best practice for any targeted messages, and for good reason: they are entirely focused on just one message and make it easy for a viewer find what they're looking for with minimal effort. This is something that simply cannot be done on your existing web page, because your home page has multiple goals—rather than the single goal of delivering your annual report message.
6. PAIR IT WITH VIDEO. Video is the fastest growing and most persuasive communication tool available. Add a video version to be more compelling, make your message easy to share, and make it more memorable.
7. USE DESIGN TO DIFFERENTIATE. Too many companies don't make great design a priority for their annual report, even though it is one of their most important communication tools. But great design can be the very thing that will get their annual report noticed and read. (If you're still not convinced about the power of great design matters, think Apple.)
8. MAKE IT EASY TO BROWSE. Use white space and snack-able content to help viewers to find the content that interests them. Remember that people read in this order: pictures, headlines, captions, subheads, and bulleted lists. Readers should be able to catch your most important messages even if they never go on to read the full text of the report.
9. MAKE IT MOBILE-FRIENDLY. Some of your viewers will use their phones to review your annual report, so make sure your distribution plans include a mobile-friendly version.
10. TELL A STORY. Your annual report is your company's story. It provides the context for your numbers, but also reveals the culture, contributions, vision, and values of your company—the very things that will move someone to join, invest in, or buy from you.
Using best practices can help you rise above your competitors and get heard. Never before has the battle for your shareholder's attention been so intense, but fortunately, it's possible to improve your readership, your image, and the impact of your annual report by following these tips.