Technology and the future of digital corporate communications: What platforms are your peers using?

The Bowen Craggs Club regularly conducts surveys and quick polls of its members on a range of topics relevant to corporate digital communicators. Here, Lisa Hayward and Jason Sumner share results from recent research on technology being used now, give an insight into digital communicators’ plans for the future and show how the Club helped a member manage the expectations of a senior manager.

Current technology tools and platforms


A recent Bowen Craggs Club survey asked which tools members were currently using for content management, analytics and digital quality management.

Which content management system (CMS) do you use?

Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager are the most popular large brands among Bowen Craggs Club members, and have grown in popularity over the last 12 months; but more of our members are also using smaller, more bespoke CMS applications.

Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager are the most popular large brands among Bowen Craggs Club members, and have grown in popularity over the last 12 months; but more of our members are also using smaller, more bespoke CMS applications.

Which analytics platform do you use?

The most popular analytics platform is the free version of Google Analytics, with 37 respondents using it. The use of both the free and paid versions of Google Analytics is growing amongst Bowen Craggs Club members, whilst there has been less growth over the last year in the numbers using Adobe Analytics.

The most popular analytics platform is the free version of Google Analytics, with 37 respondents using it. The use of both the free and paid versions of Google Analytics is growing amongst Bowen Craggs Club members, whilst there has been less growth over the last year in the numbers using Adobe Analytics.

Which digital quality management (DQM) tool do you use?

Almost half of our respondents are not using a DQM tool, citing lack of budget or lack of resources to manage it. The two most popular tools are Crownpeak and Sitemorse.

Almost half of our respondents are not using a DQM tool, citing lack of budget or lack of resources to manage it. The two most popular tools are Crownpeak and Sitemorse.

Future technology tools


Bowen Craggs recently conducted a short survey of Club members asking about emerging technology tools – whether they are in use now, or if there are plans to implement. We received 32 responses:

  • Personalisation: Five implemented, 20 with plans

  • Bots: Three implemented, 15 with plans

  • Artificial intelligence: Two implemented, 12 with plans

  • Messaging: Two implemented, 10 with plans

  • Voice: One implemented, eight with plans

  • Augmented reality: Three implemented, four with plans

  • Virtual reality: None implemented, five with plans


Quick poll – how long does it take to do a corporate website redesign?

One of our members was being asked by senior managers to set a six-month time-frame for a corporate website redesign (a global site with at least three levels of navigation and hundreds of pages). We asked Bowen Craggs Club members about how much time their most recent corporate website redesign took.

The results of our quick poll showed that no one in the Bowen Craggs Club said the process would take less than six months. Only 11 per cent said it would take between six and nine months. Forty-three per cent said it take 12 to 18 months and nearly 20 per cent said it took longer than 18 months.

The results of our quick poll showed that no one in the Bowen Craggs Club said the process would take less than six months. Only 11 per cent said it would take between six and nine months. Forty-three per cent said it take 12 to 18 months and nearly 20 per cent said it took longer than 18 months.

- Lisa Hayward and Jason Sumner

The Bowen Craggs Club is an invitation-only network for leaders in digital corporate communications at the world’s biggest organizations. For more information visit our website or contact Lisa Hayward (lhayward@bowencraggs.com).

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

BC tip: Coca-Cola – Virtual agent falls flat

Interactive Q&A feature shows the dangers of a poorly executed chatbot

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The feature

Coca-Cola invites users on its Contact page to ask the company a question, via a simple ‘Ask Coca-Cola’ panel.

It is in effect a basic chatbot, introducing itself as ‘your virtual agent’. There is a 110 character-limited field for the user to type in their query, with a ‘Send’ button to submit it.

Answers are logged above in a transcript of the chat, and the agent lets users know that it is ready for more questions if required.

Results were mixed when we tested it again, as they have been when we have reviewed the site for our Index. Requests for information on the Annual report and jobs elicited helpful links, but queries on the company’s position on water consumption or the share price produced nonsensical answers.

The takeaway

Through its unreliable performance, the virtual agent could well lead to an increase in the very enquiries we suspect the company is trying to reduce. The fact that the bot does not seem to be ‘learning’ over time suggests this technology has not had the post-launch attention it needs to develop into a truly helpful feature.

The agent also distracts the user from some of the more useful material in the ‘Contact us’ area, including comprehensive FAQs and pages dedicated to confronting rumours about the company and its products.

The Deutsche Telekom chatbot we wrote about recently is a much more successful example of chatbot deployment, primarily because backup options to contact humans are better integrated. It also does not present itself as ‘human-like’; Coca-Cola’s choice to call its bot a virtual agent, and have it respond like a person, might set up higher expectations from users which it fails to meet, as a recent study suggests.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: Walmart's careful home page tweaks

Few companies are thinking as hard as Walmart about what a home page is for - and how to make it work on both computers and mobile phones.

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The Feature

The Walmart corporate home page has a carousel of three picture stories at the top. At the time of our review the default story was headed ‘Time, Together: One Family’s Experience with Parental Leave’. The piece is bylined, and the first few words of the introduction are included: ‘Bringing home a new baby is a time filled with adorable snuggles, sweet moments and quite …’.

Below this is a teaser for the next frame of the carousel: ‘NEXT: We have a goal of 10% of Home Office Associates to Commute to Work on Bicycles by 2023. Let’s ride!’

The rest of the page repeats these stories, among many others. They include several soft stories, but also harder ones, for example on Walmart’s payment of a fine to the Department of Justice.

The Takeaway

The Walmart corporate site has much strong ‘magazine’ material. So it makes sense to think of its home page as its front cover, and to do as much possible to persuade visitors to click and begin reading. In the past 18 months it has been tweaked twice. Starting with a ‘standard’ carousel with an image and arrows pointing left and right, it moved first to a single image with a teaser for the next story, and then to the current version, which has much more editorial in view. Small moves, but with real benefits.

First, when the page is viewed on a laptop or desktop screen, there is much to engage without making visitors scroll: an attractive image, a headline designed to appeal to parents, and the start of a story that ends with three dots - all are designed to make you read on. There is evidence that links below the fold - out of view without scrolling - are much less likely to be clicked.

Second, it also works on a mobile phone. ‘Below the fold’ means nothing to phone users, because they will naturally scroll. So Walmart has provided a range of stories right down the page. It does not matter if few desktop users ever see these, the steadily growing percentage of mobile visitors will.

Third, the carousel does not rely on visitors clicking an arrow, or waiting for a new story to rotate into view. Why should they do either? Instead strong teasers are used to get them click backwards or forward, with each click increasing the chance they will find something that engages them.

The main weakness lies in the headlines: Walmart needs to get a journalist or copywriter to make them much more engaging. Perhaps that will come with the next tweak? Meanwhile, others wondering what to do with their home page should look and ponder. The home page is still the most visited page on most corporate sites, and possibly even - as people used to say - ‘the most valuable square foot of real estate a company owns’.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


BC tip: Takeda – A CEO's biography buries the news

Media stories help to humanise the CEO of a Japan-based pharmaceutical company, but they are not linked from his biography on the corporate website.

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The feature

The ‘In the news’ section of the Takeda corporate website has links to a series of media interviews with Christophe Weber, the CEO. Since 2017, the Japan-based publication Asabi Shimbun Globe has done five interviews with Mr Weber, in Q&A format, covering his background, his management style, talent development and the company’s M&A strategy. The first published article, ‘Tragedies changed my life’, delves into Mr Weber’s personal life and how the deaths of his father and brother have shaped his personality and approach to life. ‘My father died in a mountain accident in an avalanche and I was with him when that happened. I was only 15. After that, I started to take more responsibilities in order to support my family, and did less mountain climbing,’ Mr Weber tells the interviewer.

Mr Weber’s biography, in the ‘Executive Leadership’ section of the website takes a conventional, but dull approach – eg, ‘Mr Weber has introduced key transformations within the global organization which focus on the underlying principles of patient- and customer-centricity, accountability and being as agile as possible for a global company.’ The biography does not link to the ‘In the news’ section.

The takeaway

The person that comes across in the media interviews is a thoughtful human being who has overcome challenges in his life. They give real insight into the person currently running one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Whoever is running Takeda’s online ‘Newsroom’ thought it was worth linking to these external stories, but no one thought to link them from Mr Weber’s biography page in the ‘Company Information’ section.

Linking from the biography page would be the minimum. Going further, Takeda – and other corporates – should consider introducing some of the humanising details that emerge in media profiles, and use them to liven up boring, by-the-numbers executive biographies.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

The Index of Online Excellence: Who’s top for construction, message and contact provisions?

Scott Payton looks deeper into our annual ranking of the world’s best companies for digital corporate communications to highlight the best online estates for navigation, visual impact and other areas. 

Earlier this month, we looked at the world’s best companies at serving investors, journalists, jobseekers and other key audience groups via their online channels. All this was drawn from our 2019 Index of Online Excellence, which was published in June.

Here are the companies that were the top performers in some of the other key areas that we evaluate in the Index:

Best for navigation and user orientation

Top-scoring company: Bayer (27 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: Unilever, GSK, Eni, BAT, NXP (26/32)

The Bayer web estate has undergone a refresh recently – and, unusually among redesigned corporate sites, has managed to retain highly effective usability with the updated look and feel. The keys to this are a well-implemented drop-down menu, left menus within sections, a common utility menu across its wide federation of separate sites, and vigorous use of right links to connect the estate.

The Bayer web estate has undergone a refresh recently – and, unusually among redesigned corporate sites, has managed to retain highly effective usability with the updated look and feel. The keys to this are a well-implemented drop-down menu, left menus within sections, a common utility menu across its wide federation of separate sites, and vigorous use of right links to connect the estate.

Best for online estate integration

Top-scoring company: GSK (15 points out of a maximum of 16)

Runners up: Unilever, Nestlé, Sanofi (14/16)

GSK's compact, multi-level country-sites menu works well as a hub for the company's country-based web estate. Social media signposts are conventionally handled, and the company has made some useful improvements in relation to country-based social signposts.

GSK's compact, multi-level country-sites menu works well as a hub for the company's country-based web estate. Social media signposts are conventionally handled, and the company has made some useful improvements in relation to country-based social signposts.

Strongest home page and visual design

 Top-scoring company: AXA (22 points out of a maximum of 24)

Runners up: Nestlé, Unilever, Verizon, (21/24)

The new AXA group website is an exceptionally good example of corporate website design. The copious use of dramatic, documentary-style imagery is particularly well done. But subtler effects are also impactful, lending a polished sheen to the total visual experience.

The new AXA group website is an exceptionally good example of corporate website design. The copious use of dramatic, documentary-style imagery is particularly well done. But subtler effects are also impactful, lending a polished sheen to the total visual experience.

Best for company information and internationalism

Top-scoring company: Nestlé (22 points out of a maximum of 24)

Runners up: BP, Roche (21 points out of a maximum of 24)

Nestlé offers a great deal of good information on nestle.com about the company - what it does, how it is managed, its purpose and so on. History is very well covered (including several innovative features, such as a customisable timeline, ‘Your life in food’), and the main history timeline is now more engaging after a redesign. Nestlé also acts convincingly like a company with an international mindset, interested in engaging with a genuinely global stakeholder base. The main corporate site is in English only, but with much key information translated into relevant other languages. There is clear evidence of communication between the corporate centre and country site editors; indeed, content sharing between these sites appears to be stronger than ever after the estate-wide redesign.

Nestlé offers a great deal of good information on nestle.com about the company - what it does, how it is managed, its purpose and so on. History is very well covered (including several innovative features, such as a customisable timeline, ‘Your life in food’), and the main history timeline is now more engaging after a redesign. Nestlé also acts convincingly like a company with an international mindset, interested in engaging with a genuinely global stakeholder base. The main corporate site is in English only, but with much key information translated into relevant other languages. There is clear evidence of communication between the corporate centre and country site editors; indeed, content sharing between these sites appears to be stronger than ever after the estate-wide redesign.

Best for contact provisions

Top-scoring companies: GSK and Eni (11 points out of a maximum of 12)

Runners up: Nestlé, ING, HSBC, Novo Nordisk, AXA, Vinci, Merck, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble, General Electric (10/12)

GSK's global ‘Contact us’ page is a model approach. It features clear language and comprehensive signposts, including simple but significant links to Facebook and Twitter.

GSK's global ‘Contact us’ page is a model approach. It features clear language and comprehensive signposts, including simple but significant links to Facebook and Twitter.

Eni's contact page is welcoming and transparent, with clearly signposted direct contact options for a variety of stakeholders.

Eni's contact page is welcoming and transparent, with clearly signposted direct contact options for a variety of stakeholders.

For full results and analysis and a free Index publication, visit our website.

The Bowen Craggs Database is the engine that drives the Index of Online Excellence, with detailed scoring and analysis for more than 100 global companies and best practice from the top performers.

BC Tip: BP shows the best and worst of graphics

BP manages to get its formats right and wrong in the same story.

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The feature

BP Magazine is held within the News and Insights section of BP.com, but is linked from the left menu on every page. It has a variety of stories on a wide range of subjects, and is keen to illustrate them as vividly as possible.

Earlier this year it carried a story headed ‘The tech revolution producing greener power’. This fills a long page and has several photos. The first image, however, is a colourful and elaborate infographic showing how different activities and businesses link up: about 30 squares or hexagons are used to show the connections, with text in each of them. The text is readable on a large screen, but on a normal laptop it is tricky and on a mobile phone, impossible.

Further down the page is a bar chart showing how demand for different types of fuel have grown and will grow over the decades. It uses colour-coding and, by mousing over each column, it is possible to see the figures behind the chart. It is readable on screens of all sizes. The numbers are drawn from BP’s own Statistical Review of World Energy, which is linked.

The takeaway

This page shows how careful even the most experienced web team needs to be with images and formats. Infographics were originally designed to be used as posters to stick on walls. They can be brilliant for that, but rarely work well on a screen. Sometimes the shape is the problem: long and thin posters do not work on a short and wide screen. That is not the issue here - it is simply that the text is too small. As mobile usage continues to grow, it is ever more important to make sure that your information is readable by everyone; this image fails that test. A shame because it contains much excellent material, which could surely be neatly presented on an interactive graphic?

The chart, by contrast, is just dandy. It fits neatly on any screen, is not too busy, and uses simple interactivity to add detail. It also draws on BP’s own data, and is used to publicise its statistical tool. All perfect. Why the contrast?

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


The Index of Online Excellence: Who serves which audiences the best online?

Jason Sumner looks beyond the overall top-scorers in our annual ranking to see which companies are best at serving individual audience groups with their digital communications.


Last month we published the 2019 Index of Online Excellence, a ranking of the world’s 30 best companies at digital corporate communications. (See also a Forbes magazine article on the Index results).

Making it into the Index is an achievement in itself, because we take the 30 best from a pool of the largest 200 companies in the world by market capitalization. We spend thousands of hours analysing the effectiveness of their online communications in eight broad categories (and a total of 26 metrics in total).

Corporate digital communication is complex because companies have to satisfy audiences that have varying goals and information needs. The Index measures how well companies are managing this complexity through our five so-called ‘serving’ metrics, in which we take a granular look at how well specific audiences are being catered for – jobseekers, investors, media, customers and ‘society’ (including corporate social responsibility professionals and general audiences who are interested in a company’s record on ethics and sustainability).

Here are the companies that came top in each of these five metrics. (We will look at the best in the other three categories – construction, message and contact information – in a future column.)

Best for ‘serving jobseekers’

Top-scoring company: Verizon (29 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: BNP Paribas (28/32) and GSK (26/32)

Note: BNP Paribas (and some companies below) do not appear in the overall top 30 list, but were identified as category leaders when we evaluated the largest 200 companies in the world by market capitalization.

Verizon does an excellent job of ‘selling’ the company as an employer. The excellent new podcast for employees, ‘Up to Speed’ is available to anyone on the website.

Verizon does an excellent job of ‘selling’ the company as an employer. The excellent new podcast for employees, ‘Up to Speed’ is available to anyone on the website.

Best for ‘serving investors’

Top-scoring company: Shell (29 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: BP (27/32) and Zurich (27/32)

Shell is a long-time high-performer in this category. Information in the global site’s Investors section remains as rich as ever. The ‘Shell and our strategy’ sub-section is complemented by the impressive Investors Handbook and Annual report, both available online and in PDF.

Shell is a long-time high-performer in this category. Information in the global site’s Investors section remains as rich as ever. The ‘Shell and our strategy’ sub-section is complemented by the impressive Investors Handbook and Annual report, both available online and in PDF.

Best for ‘serving the media’

Top-scoring companies: Nestlé and Bayer (both scored 26 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: BASF, Daimler, Vinci (all on 24/32)

Nestlé’s press release archive is easily found, neatly presented and displays well on a mobile.

Nestlé’s press release archive is easily found, neatly presented and displays well on a mobile.

Bayer.com is a rich resource for journalists seeking background material.

Bayer.com is a rich resource for journalists seeking background material.

Best for ‘serving customers’

Top-scoring company: Microsoft (28 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: Texas Instruments and Maersk (both scored 27 out of a maximum 32)

The strength of Microsoft’s provision for customers through its online channels lies in doing a lot of things very well. Customer journeys are smooth and integrated, while good information is provided throughout to help customers make decisions.

The strength of Microsoft’s provision for customers through its online channels lies in doing a lot of things very well. Customer journeys are smooth and integrated, while good information is provided throughout to help customers make decisions.

Best for ‘serving society’

Top-scoring company: Nestlé (29 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: Eni (28/32); and BP, Bayer and BAT (27/32)

Nestlé’s relaunched CSR section, ‘Our Impact’, does an exceptionally good job of presenting progress against a large number of goals that is both accessible and detailed. Corporate governance information is well-written, neatly presented and highly transparent. Its Creating Shared Value reporting also serves CSR professional audiences well.

Nestlé’s relaunched CSR section, ‘Our Impact’, does an exceptionally good job of presenting progress against a large number of goals that is both accessible and detailed. Corporate governance information is well-written, neatly presented and highly transparent. Its Creating Shared Value reporting also serves CSR professional audiences well.

- Jason Sumner

For full results and analysis and a free Index publication, visit our website.

The Bowen Craggs Database is the engine that drives the Index of Online Excellence, with detailed scoring and analysis for more than 100 global companies and best practice from the top performers.

BC tip: Bosch – Expert profiles

Skilfully written and presented profiles effectively introduce the scientists and engineers at the German engineering company.

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The feature

Bosch’s global corporate website has 35 profiles of its research experts in a ‘Get to know our researchers’ section, which is housed in a primary ‘Research’ section.

The landing page displays each profile in a click-to-expand panel with a photograph of the subject at work. Opening the panel reveals another image and short summary, written in first-person (eg, for Dr Raphaëlle Satet, ‘I am a materials scientist by training and joined Bosch in 2005 to work first on ceramics design.’).

Clicking the ‘More about me’ tab leads to an expanded profile page, with a pull quote, presumably by a famous figure who has inspired the subject – eg, for Dr Satet, ‘As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it. Antoine d Saint-Exupéry.’ Each profile page is organized similarly – with highlights of the subject’s CV, ‘Selected Publications’, a Q&A, and an email address to ‘Get in touch with me.’

The takeaway

Bosch’s ‘Get to know our researchers’ are well executed at every level. Navigation is simple and consistent, allowing readers to browse three levels, drilling down to get to more detail.

The presentation is modern and attractive, with creative photography (no sign of stock imagery or clichés here). The writing is pitched at general readers and describes complex scientific topics in simple, but not dumbed down, language. Linking to articles in professional journals reinforces the subjects’ expertise. Asking readers to ‘get in touch’ promotes open-ness and may be genuinely helpful for recruitment, for example.

Many companies talk about ‘innovation’ online – Bosch shows how effective it can be to open up about the people whose job it is to make the innovation happen.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: Deutsche Telekom – chatbot-style answers to common questions

An automated FAQs generator effectively saves a company money and its website users time

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The Feature

Pages throughout Deutsche Telekom’s corporate website have an ‘FAQ’ icon that ‘sticks’ to the right edge of the screen as the user scrolls. 

Clicking the icon opens a panel titled ‘Frequently asked questions’.

The panel contains the following explanatory text:

 Simply enter your question, results on the topic will be displayed underneath the box.

‘No matching results? Click the “send” button and we will reply as soon as possible.

For information on tariffs, services or products please contact our service team.

‘Services team’ links through to a customer services contact page.

Users can type their question into a text box.

A list of answers to relevant questions then appears in the bottom of the box, each in a click-to-expand panel. 

If users click ‘Send request’, they are presented with name and email address fields, which if completed can be used to email their question to Deutsche Telekom to be manually answered. 

The Takeaway

Deutsche Telekom’s tool is an effective hybrid of a chatbot, an email contact service and a traditional FAQs section. 

It successfully encourages users to find answers to common questions without the need for the company to answer such questions manually, in a way that does not force the user to scan an extensive FAQs section to find an answer. This should save the company money and the user time. 

A drawback of many similar services – especially chatbots – is that they are too often unable to answer many questions that users ask, due to the limitations of the still relatively nascent technology underpinning them.

The fact that Deutsche Telekom provides users of this tool with a prominently signposted ‘backup’ in the form of an email contact form means that this drawback is effectively overcome.  

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

The end of 'storytelling'?

When companies stop pretending that everything they publish online is a ‘story’, they clear the way for genuinely engaging narratives to shine, David Bowen says.

A few years ago, ‘storytelling’ was about as fashionable as it could be in corporate digital communications. It was almost compulsory to say you communicated by ‘stories’, as if they were the key to all effectiveness.

That was nonsense then, and it still is now. Communicating effectively online as a company means using many different editorial formats, only one of which – although an important one – is the ‘story’.

When used properly, stories are indeed a powerful way of putting across corporate messages, but to be fully effective at it, companies need to avoid two mistakes. One is an issue of labelling and the second is a failure to work around the risk-averse tendencies of big organizations.

First, a story is not a story simply because it is labelled as such. A story is a narrative, with a beginning, middle and an end. It is the most powerful form of editorial because it is the most natural structure, and answers our natural curiosity to find out ‘what next?’ There is a reason almost every novel is a narrative: it by far the best way of getting people to the end. That is not to say ‘non-narratives’ cannot be engaging; but it is harder work to make them thus.

PepsiCo used to have a ‘stories’ section that consisted mainly of press releases. Indeed the current pepsico.com has ‘stories’ over its home page – most of them are pretty much news releases. Danaher, the US conglomerate, has ‘feature stories’ in its news section; a similar problem. Coca-Cola took the idea even further by trying to convert its whole corporate site into a magazine. By launching the ‘Coca-Cola Journey’ site, it aimed to become a ‘media company’ taking on – and bypassing – traditional media by going directly to customers it wanted to woo. The site today still has much impressive and engaging editorial, but I doubt if ‘old media’ publications feel too threatened by it.

The second mistake is a failure to recognise that corporate risk aversion is a barrier to good storytelling. As my colleague Jason Sumner pointed out last year ‘large companies rarely want to publicise the elements that make for good drama – such as conflict, complications, or a “hero” trying to accomplish something difficult’.

It is very likely (pretty much certain) that there will indeed have been drama – hurdles, arguments, maybe even violence – in the course of every corporate achievement. But I have yet to see such stories told by companies themselves. Look to independent storytellers – such as Steve Coll with his gripping Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. But do not look to ExxonMobil. Mr Coll’s book is not all dirt by any means; but it is the gritty bits that give credibility to the rest. To resurrect another over-used word from the past, corporations find it very difficult to be ‘authentic’ – and so will struggle to match the credibility of independent sources.

However, the ‘authentic’ problem is not insuperable and corporate storytellers should not give up. Coca-Cola has been monitoring which pieces are most popular on its Journey site, and discovered that the best ones are those about itself. Special bottles for Star Wars, a Coca-Cola cake recipe (honest), a history of Coca-Cola advertising slogans (they should definitely revive ‘The Great National Temperance Beverage’). You get the idea. There may not be any drama or violence, but at least a company is likely to get the facts about itself right, and presumably has better access to insiders than anyone else.

Two more elements help. First, where you can, write about individuals. They might be employees, customers, people in a local community, but humans are generally more interesting than companies, products or trends. Second – and most important – stories can only work if they are well written. Use experienced feature writers or copy editors; they will have a feel for language that it is hard for others to match.

Here are some other examples – not all have all elements, but they cover my points.

I come back to PepsiCo. Among the non-stories on the home page, there is one that really is one. ‘New home, new hope’ leads to a video in which a Colombian woman tells how she brought her children from a violence-wracked region and found a job in a Pepsi-owned plant. It feels real, and probably is.

Siemens’ careers section has ‘Our Stories’ – some are, some aren’t – but ‘Taking on the seven biggest mountains in the world’ has a beginning and a middle, and promises to have an end. It is about an employee who decided to become the first Kuwaiti woman to do the climbs, and tells us what she has done so far.

Pharmaceutical companies often tell patient stories, but Novartis also uses narrative well to bring its scientific investigation to life. ‘Investigating the myopia mystery’ lays out the tale of a scientist couple investigating the spread of short-sightedness.

Novartis also understands the power of a good headline – on a magazine front cover, it makes you turn to the piece; on a website, it makes you click. How about ‘Giraffes have high blood pressure. Why don’t they drop dead?’ Or indeed ‘How I built a mini-gut with next to no biology training’ – how can you not read on? These headlines may seem simple, but a lot of thought has gone into them.

AbbVie, another pharma company, has at least one powerful writer on its books. Here is a story about a doctor helping after the Puerto Rico hurricane. The writing is simple but strong.

None of these, sadly, has any violence or even arguments in them. But given the reality of bosses being bosses, they are doing as good a job as we can hope for. Don’t give up on storytelling; just do it well.

- David Bowen

The Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence 2019 was published last week. Visit our website to see the ranking of the 30 best corporate digital estates in the world and download a free PDF publication.

Reading the signals in the noise: Five takeaways from the Bowen Craggs Conference Berlin

Our theme at our annual conference last week was ‘Where will communications go and what route will they take?’ Jason Sumner shares five quick highlights from the event.

1. Scrutiny of corporate behaviour means old-fashioned honesty will matter more than ever

Futurologist Ian Pearson opened the conference with a look far beyond the future of digital corporate communications, forecasting a world where self-driving vehicles are commonplace, people can link dreams and download themselves into the cloud. New technology will continually challenge public trust because people will depend on it more, but understand it less.

How should corporations respond, Ian was asked, when surveillance over business practices will increase and bad behaviour becomes increasingly difficult to hide. His answer, ‘Be honest’.

2. Technology will change, but the fundamentals of good online communication will not

Scott Payton of Bowen Craggs returned us closer to the present, exploring technology being implemented by companies now, which shows ‘glimpses of corporate communications tomorrow’. Scott looked at real-world examples of new tech in action on the corporate web – virtual reality, augmented reality, personalisation, chatbots and voice.

However, no matter how much technology changes, the tried and tested rules of online comms still apply. ‘Corporate communications needs to be easy to find, clear, engaging, relevant to the audience and effective at communicating your company’s key messages,’ Scott said.

3. Can we measure hopes and fears?

Most digital communicators know they need to move beyond measuring ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ into more sophisticated metrics of ‘engagement’. This was reflected in a quick poll of delegates who said their top measurement concerns were – ‘Measuring the impact of digital communication on company reputation’ and ‘Linking data sources together’. Siemens is moving ahead quickly in both of these areas, and provided a possible glimpse of the future of engagement metrics, with its new algorithms that emphasise the emotional aspects of social media.

The company’s content strategy for engaging on social media is changing too; adapting to a world in which an unexpected tweet by the CEO derails a carefully thought-out comms plan. One to watch.

4. Channels old and channels new

David Bowen of Bowen Craggs explored the trends emerging from this year’s Index of Online Excellence, our ranking of the best 30 companies in the world at corporate online communications. Old channels such as podcasts and blogs have been reinvigorated by the likes of Daimler, Shell and Verizon, proving that no idea ever really disappears on the internet.

A newer ‘must have’ channel is Instagram, David said, with careers-specific feeds booming. For the moment, it is also less likely to receive hostile comments than Facebook.

5. Digital communications in 2030

A panel discussion on future tools ended with a crystal-ball question – will we have corporate websites in 2030? A quick poll of delegates indicated yes, with 76 per cent of the audience thinking they would still exist in 11 years. On stage, panellists from Eni, Norsk Hydro and Siemens believed it would likely exist in some form, but ‘trust’ is the issue that will need to be addressed, no matter what the specific channels will look like.

Digital corporate communications, in whatever format, will need to be the place for ‘truth’, and a channel for jobseekers to check up on corporate values. In the future, corporate communicators need to have more ‘ongoing conversations’, not just jump in when a reputation crisis blows up.

- Jason Sumner

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC tip: Aviva – Corporate values in the real world

The UK-based insurance company illustrates its corporate values online by using relevant examples and engaging videos.

BC tip - Aviva.png

The feature

Each of Aviva’s four corporate values have a page on the company’s global web presence – ‘Kill complexity’, ‘Care more’, ‘Create legacy’ and ‘Never rest’.

Most of the space on these pages is devoted to showing how Aviva has put values into action. For example, ‘Never rest’ describes how the company allows customers to interact over Amazon’s Echo device: ‘We were the first UK insurer to deliver a Skill on Amazon’s Echo.’

‘Care more’ has the story of insuring customers after a wildfire destroyed homes in Canada, with an engaging embedded video. ‘Kill complexity’ also presents a customer case study to illustrate how it tries to simplify the claims process.

The takeaway

Values pages on corporate websites are often dull and clichéd, failing to say what is unique about a company’s ‘passion for excellence’ or ‘drive to innovate’, etc.

Facing public scepticism about ‘corporate values’, it is much more effective to illustrate the point with narratives that allow readers and viewers to decide for themselves. Values pages with well-told examples are also more memorable, and could help to convince a jobseeker, for example, that they want to work at the company.

Even if the company’s values themselves are dry or commonplace – which digital teams can’t do much about – it is usually possible to produce an interesting story to illustrate even the dullest value statement.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: Chevron's top biography

Chevron’s site has an unusual news-driven CEO biography

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The feature

The leadership section of Chevron.com has biographies of the directors and corporate officers. Most are standard text, but the CEO, Mike Wirth, gets more.

The text biography is standard - in fact rather less detailed than some of the others - but the page includes four downloadable photos. At the bottom an ‘In the news’ section has links to four interviews with Mr Wirth about a recent acquisition and other news - two from Bloomberg and two from CNBC. These open the media sites in new windows.

The takeaway

Executive biographies are part of the furniture of every site, but they are often poorly thought out. Chevron’s is unusual in working out what their job is. A key one is to provide media organizations with a selection of good photos, but even more important is to provide material that is both interesting and believable. Journalists have a healthy tendency to disbelieve anything a company says, but if the company directs them to a third party, they may as well as well follow the link - especially if it looks newsworthy.

They can then watch the videos to see what they think of the speaker, as well as his views on the news. Combining a news element with the biography also helps keep the page fresh. The contrast with the coverage other executives and directors get is however sharp - they should at least be given a set of photos.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.






BC tip: Maersk – Unrealistic filters

An online date of birth tool allows for improbably aged job candidates, and illustrates the importance of setting realistic limits on filters.

Maersk 1066 v2.png

The feature

Maersk, the international shipping group, asks online job candidates provide their date of birth using a calendar tool.

Users can scroll through a conventional month by month view or, more conveniently, click on the Month and Year headings to launch overlay menus and navigate to the correct date. The Month overlay brings up a list of the 12 calendar months, while the Year menu lays out a set of years, two decades to a screen, providing an efficient interface to reach the candidates’ date of birth.

However, the Year menu is not restricted to options within the range of a probable working career, or even human life span. Instead, users can select any date from 0001 CE into the far future (we stopped scrolling when we got to 4583). There is no subsequent form validation to highlight errors so a candidate could, for instance, submit an application with a date of birth in the future or one that coincides with the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066).

The takeaway

Although in this instance the neat form interface makes it unlikely that candidates will accidentally select a date centuries before or after their actual birth date – other than for a fun screen shot – the calendar illustrates a wider point about the importance of getting date range parameters right.

Providing an exhaustive list of menu options may seem thorough, however it is exasperating when, for example, press release date range filters extend further back than the press archive leading to frustratingly fruitless search results. Setting forms to reflect the relevant parameters – including dates –provides users with a more focused and satisfying search experience.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


BC tip: BASF – Preferring not to personalise

The German chemicals giant has dropped a careers-related online personalisation tool from a recent website redesign

The previous version of BASF’s online careers section used a personalisation tool, but it has not been carried forward in the recent redesign

The previous version of BASF’s online careers section used a personalisation tool, but it has not been carried forward in the recent redesign


The feature

BASF maintained a personalisation tool in its corporate website careers section for several years. The ‘My preferences’ tool, which was signposted prominently in the in-section navigation of the previous version of the website, allowed visitors to ‘select your interest to customise page content’.

Visitors could choose to customise website content based on their experience level – graduate, professional or student, and business field, such as administrative, engineering or marketing.

Following a recent redesign, BASF has dropped the feature from its global site.

The takeaway

The ‘My preferences’ tool was part of a package of innovative features that BASF introduced to its online careers section a few years ago, including a quiz, a blog, WhatsApp chat and 360-degree videos. Some of these, including ‘My preferences’ were abandoned in the recent redesign, although WhatsApp and the videos have remained.

‘My preferences’ worked reasonably well in our tests, although most content within Careers stayed the same no matter which preferences were selected. Maybe, as with other personalisation features we’ve seen on the corporate web which have been quietly dropped, it did not have enough take up to justify keeping it; although we do not have any inside knowledge of BASF’s reasons.

Personalisation is being pushed hard by agencies at the moment, and we are sceptical of the promises being made.

Remembering the experiments that didn’t work out are important when considering whether or not to jump on the personalisation bandwagon.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC tip: LVMH and Mercier Champagne – Sustainability messaging lacks fizz

Parent and subsidiary companies fail to keep their offline and online communications consistent

Champagne Mercier website - cellar tour page

Champagne Mercier website - cellar tour page

The feature

Mercier Champagne, based in Epernay, France, offers a charming train tour of its impressive caves (cellars), which we were lucky enough to experience recently. The audio guide talks about the brand’s sustainability efforts, including the reduction of herbicides and pesticides through the use of natural alternatives, such as bugs. It also references its parent brand LVMH’s commitment to sustainability.

The Mercier website does not evidence the sustainable activities, even on the page dedicated to the tour , nor does it link to the LVMH website. The Mercier page on that site is engaging, but also fails to mention sustainability – and the main area of LVMH’s site dedicated to social and environmental responsibility is sparse too.

The takeaway

We often encounter organizations which fail to ensure that the messages on their global corporate and brand or subsidiary sites match up. In this case the sites themselves are not linked together well either – at least from the subsidiary to the parent site.

It is also important that offline and online communications are joined up. When they are not, the impact of messaging is diminished, and inconsistency can undermine authenticity. In our experience, governance is often at the heart of such problems: digital managers and teams must not be in a silo.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: Vinci – making sense of search results

French construction company Vinci cleverly uses visual elements to make its corporate website’s search results listing easier to digest

Screenshot_2019-04-23 VINCI - carbon emissions - All.png

The Feature

The internal search engine results page on Vinci.com has a comprehensive set of filters in the left column. These allow users to filter results by site section, sub-section, year, category (including ‘Acquisitions’ and ‘Events’), document type (PDF or web page), country and language.

As is conventional, the number of search results available via each filter is shown in numerical form alongside each filter label (see screenshot). Unusually, visual elements are also used to indicate the number of results in two filter categories:

  • Number of results for each of the last ten years are illustrated by horizontal bars. 

  • A ‘word cloud’ style device is used to indicate the country filters with the most results. 

The Takeaway

Vinci’s search engine filters are exceptionally comprehensive. This could potentially make them overwhelming for some users. The use of visual elements to clearly illustrate the number of results available in key filter categories helps to avoid this potential problem. 

The use of horizontal bars to show number of results by year is particularly intuitive. However, the word cloud approach used to indicate number of results by country may not be immediately obvious to all users. 

Overall, however, the use of visual elements here is an effective complement to standard numerical indication of results in a set of filter tools. 

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

Podcasts: the past becomes the future

Once ignored as ‘old technology’, podcasts are now essential listening for hipsters as well as the rest of us. David Bowen explains why this bandwagon should keep rolling, and examines a sprinkling of corporate examples

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Audio files were an early stirrer of excitement when the web came along in the Nineties. They did not need high speed internet access, so were happily accessible while videos were still stammering and stuttering. But - perhaps because they were not much of a technical challenge – they were never seen as particularly exciting. The spoken word was always useful, particularly to people who could not see well, but few people would want just sound when they could get pictures as well.

 Or so the thinking went. But those of us who hung on to speech radio as an important link with the outside rather appreciated a world delivered into our ears rather than our eyes. And I’m happy to say  the rest of humanity has now caught up.  Audiobooks are huge, podcasts are even bigger. The BBC, which has always been a big radio provider, is now pushing its podcasts hard, and so are other broadcasters.

But what of corporations? They are in there too. I am always suspicious of bandwagons, but I feel this one will keep on rolling. Audio will never be as quick to absorb as text, but for people whose eyes  and hands are occupied (for example while driving or in the gym), podcasts make a lot of sense. As they do for people who like radio and, of course, the visually impaired. Another advantage over video is that there is not a desperate need to keep them short – if people are driving they want a chunky listen, which is why 20 to 30 minutes is normal. Finally, the nature of podcasts means that you can subscribe to them – while some just play from sites, most are also delivered through an app: people can listen to them without ever going to the ‘mother site’.

Here are five we listened to. They each take a slightly different approach, which is what tends to happen when new things are introduced (or re-introduced). Where should they be kept on a site? Should they play direct or through a player (and if so, which player)? I suspect a standard approach will relatively quickly be adopted; that tends to happen.

Daimler has just launched its Headlights podcast series. It is currently promoting it on the home page of Daimler.com, though it actually lives in Careers, which is a clue to the target audience. A new episode is launched every Monday, alternating between English and German, and is accompanied by links to subscribe on various players.

Headlights has a young and upbeat feel, and kicked off with an interview with the CEO, followed by one with the head of an incubator unit. It should do well with young jobseeking audiences.

Daimler has an interesting site because it is happy to try things out in the cause of innovation, and has been running ‘audio reading’ versions of its blog posts since 2015. Presumably these were included primarily as an accessibility aid, but they are now also available as podcasts. It is encouraging to see an accessibility tool becoming a standard bearer for new technology. 

Verizon has a podcast series called Up to Speed. It is not kept in a particular place on the corporate site, but links to it are found dotted around. For example under News > People, a recent story headed ‘The imaginable reality of 5G’ is an Up to Speed podcast. There are no options to subscribe to Up to Speed on apps but a little control panel lets you jump forward or back, or download the file. You can also download the transcripts, which is good for accessibility. The podcasts take the form of interviews with experts, inside and outside the company,

Shell launched Inside Energy initially as an iPad app, but technological fashions move on and it is now a section of Shell.com with a shiny new Energy Podcast. This is less ambitious than the others in that it is touted as a five part series – but presumably if it is successful there will be more. It does not play directly from the site – you have to choose whether to hear it through iTunes, Google or Spotify.

The first episode, ‘Battery technology: where could it take us’, is a professionally presented and interesting piece. It sounded like a serious radio programme and set me wondering whether it is tainted by being a corporate production. I decided not – the interviews are all with scientists and engineers, and it would be nice to think that Shell’s specialists know as much about energy as anyone else.

Morgan Stanley uses its Ideas podcasts to present itself as the thinking person’s investment bank. The current programme is part of season four, we are told, and is based on a ‘trip to the future’. The destination here is Dar es Salaam which, we learn, has one of the most advanced rapid transit systems in the world. Choices here are to listen direct, or on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.

This is a serious documentary about a general interest subject, and it might make you wonder why an investment bank is bothering to produce it. But maybe that it the strength – it is hard to see how talking about a Tanzanian transport system directly benefits Morgan Stanley. In any event, if someone is sufficiently intrigued to subscribe to the podcast series, they will find they are being fed material by the bank without even trying. Brand-building at its most subtle.

Goldman Sachs has just launched the 120th of its Exchanges podcasts. Even though the interviews are interesting (about market and other developments) it is not as professional as the others. The presenter is the head of corporate comms and he sounds rather rushed and perhaps a teeny bit bored. So these podcasts, which can be played direct or though iPlayer, could give us another lesson. That if you are going to become a broadcaster, you need to do it professionally – and that may well involve using professional broadcasters.

- David Bowen

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

 

 

 

 

BC tip: Barclays Center – Accessibility add-on

An accessibility widget is a potentially useful shortcut for compliance, but the ideal approach is to build accessibility into the fabric of a site’s design

Screenshot 2019-04-16 14.44.45.png

The feature

The Barclays Center, a sports arena in Brooklyn, New York, uses a widget on its website to make the site usable for visitors with special needs.

An always visible icon to the left of the screen opens a menu of options to toggle on or off, including: screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigation, a text reader, font sizes, magnification, image description and other features.

The menu also includes a link to an ‘accessibility statement’, which gives details of the changes developers made to the site.

The takeaway

Using a third-party add-on to make a website accessible could be a useful short-cut for companies that do not have the time or money to build the necessary changes into their corporate site. The ever-present widget icon demonstrates the company’s commitment to accessibility to its audiences (and perhaps regulators) for relatively little effort.

However, the corporate websites that are best at accessibility build it into the core of the design – navigation that works via keyboard, clear captions and headings, closed captions and transcripts for videos, a comprehensive and customised statement on website accessibility, providing a channel to report problems, etc. Shell’s corporate web presence remains one of the best examples we’ve come across of designing for accessibility.

The widget approach is at least ‘better than nothing’ when ‘nothing’ is too often extent of company’s efforts to make their websites accessible for everyone.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


BC Tip: Merck and the non-scrolling home page

Merck, the US pharmaceuticals company, has a home page that neatly avoids scrolling on a computer screen, while allowing it on a mobile device

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 10.14.26.png

The Feature

The home page of Merck.com is dominated by a carousel of features with images and introductions; their subjects vary, but always include technological stories.

On a desktop or laptop screen, a top menu triggers dropdown panels or links to other parts of the site. A bar across the bottom of the screen - always in view - has three links: Latest News, Social@Merck, and Other Merck sites. Mousing over any of these triggers the same panel, which springs upwards. This has the latest news story and tweet, and a set of links to other company sites.

On a mobile phone, the top menu is replaced by a ‘hamburger’ menu, while the bottom bar disappears. Instead news stories, the latest tweet and links to other sites are displayed below each other, to be viewed by scrolling.

The Takeaway

Most companies assume that users will happily scroll down their home pages, and will pack them full of juicy titbits. But Nielsen Norman’s research shows that on laptop or desktop screens clicks drop off sharply ‘below the fold’, and common sense says that you should not make visitors do any work when you have a few seconds to convince them to stay on your site. A mobile is quite different: scrolling is the natural thing to do.

There are ways of tempting people to scroll on a computer, but Merck’s answer is blindingly simple - it makes sure nothing is out of view. If you want to see news, tweets or other sites, click on the bar at the bottom. Otherwise let yourself be tempted in without distraction by the main features, or click links at the top to get where you want.

It could be done better. The images and headline in the features are not strong, and we are sceptical that a carousel is in any event the best way of drawing visitors into a site. The spring-up panel could be better used too. There should be a separate one for each link, and they could be more enticingly populated.

But the idea of treating laptop and mobile visitors quite differently is good, and respects likely usage. Latest Bowen Craggs figures show that 67 per cent of visits to corporate sites are still on laptop or desktop computers, with 27 per cent on mobiles. The first is dropping, the second rising, but there will have to be much more change before it no longer makes sense to give much as much attention to the one as to the other.

https://www.merck.com/index.html

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.