Annual report as a marketing tool
Your company’s annual report is important—often legally required—as a record of the past financial year’s events and business performance. (If your business is based in the US, you might want to read about annual reports in the Reference for Business encyclopedia.)
But have you thought about using your annual report as a marketing tool?
Although the opinion has been voiced that analysts and serious investors laugh at the “official account of events” in annual reports and will do their due diligence regardless of what the annual report says, the truth is that for the majority of your company’s potential audiences the annual report is an important document for finding out what you stand for.
To whom are you talking—and to whom you could
Current shareholders and potential investors are, naturally, important audiences for your annual report.
Authorities, suppliers and the general public should also be on your target list.
Existing and potential customers, however, can be your most important target group. They may not be interested in the financial statements in any great depth, but the numbers are important for them to determine whether they can expect you to be around in future as well. In other words, whether you are a serious contender for their business.
The reports for your individual business divisions or units will interest decision-makers who work in businesses that could use those divisions’ products or services.
Nothing prevents you from highlighting your products, for example in the form of mini customer case studies complete with testimonials. In an annual report, they carry more weight than in traditional marketing literature, because an annual report is considered an official document that is subjected to strict scrutiny.
Employees and future employees should also figure prominently among your target groups. Employees will read the company’s official voice in the report (also helping them talk about their employer to their social circle), while it doubles as a vehicle for creating a good employer image. Why not interview some of your employees for the report?
For corporate image, or good corporate citizenship, an annual report is ideal. You can include a sustainability report or an environmental report in it, thereby outlining the ways you are doing responsible business. Instead of company values, which many readers won’t take seriously anyway and which may draw criticism from your present dissatisfied employees, tell the readers how you have translated the values into practice.
Design sends a message
An annual report doesn’t need to look boring, although too many do. Employ a good visual designer to give the report an interesting, polished look. Don’t overdo it, however—it will only make you look like you’re trying to present yourself in a different light from what you actually are. Not a good start for a business relationship, if you’re targeting potential customers.
The legal department, the board of directors or the PR department may not be the wisest choices as writers. Hire a copywriter to do the writing. This will avoid convoluted corporatese and make you look more human.
Simple things like the choice of paper stock also send a subconscious message. Too much gloss and glitter won’t fare well in today’s world increasingly aware of environmental issues.
Distribute through all possible channels
Your annual report should be easily available both online and offline. Make it easy for people to order a print version, and place it on your website. Normal web pages in HTML are better than a downloadable PDF file, and try to avoid Flash based publications (you know, those that you can “leaf through” on your screen). The more you deviate from the way people expect to read online, the less useful your effort will be, and anything else than plain old HTML will make it more difficult for search engines to bring people to your content.
Done right, your annual report may get you both new investors and new customers. Unlike conventional marketing literature, it has an aura of reliability, and perhaps most importantly, it has a long shelf life. When was the last time someone kept your brochure for 12 months?