An annual report offers an outstanding marketing and communication opportunity when used appropriately. Long gone are the days of boring and dry annual reports that provide little in the way of a company update, other than business financials.
Today’s effective annual reports tell the brand’s story and entice the senses with stunning visuals and video, while making readers feel good about the year ahead.
But to achieve all these communication objectives, one should consider our top 10 annual report objectives.
1. Clear Big Picture
Before drafting your annual report, decide what the big picture or main idea of your annual report is. How will your stakeholders easily and quickly digest it?
Within your annual report, you have full control over the narrative. You can tell your company story your way, and showcase it with good data.
2. Print and Online Versions
Print is not dead when it comes to annual reports. Mail a copy of your annual report to important stakeholders. Place a stack of them in your lobby for light reading and signal them to take one with them.
Online engagement is critical for today’s investor relations. Most stakeholders will still likely review your digital annual report. You can offer it two ways on your website: an accessible PDF that users can download and an interactive webpage.
Your interactive webpage can use all the same photos and graphs as your PDF version does, but you place the content into your website layout for easy reading.
3. Accessibility in Printed and PDF Versions
Making sure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to review your annual report is important. In addition to being viewable by all people with disabilities, accessible PDFs are also crawlable on the web, which increase your SEO equity and overall viewership.
For your printed annual report, use high-contrast colors to enable those with low vision to read the report. You’ll also find that using high contrast is beneficial because it won’t be as volatile to minor printing errors.
4. Clear Charts and Visuals
Data charts and visuals, such as infographics, can help users digest large amounts of information while skimming. These elements also make your annual report look attractive and invite the reader to stay engaged.
However, don’t add fluff data or irrelevant information just to provide a chart or graphic on the page. Users can see through this and will know when you’re manipulating their time or the narrative.
If your company experienced a known problem, explain what happened, why and how you’ll grow from it and how you’ve positioned yourself for the future. Bring them into your story. Showing transparency can build trust with your stakeholders and they’ll appreciate the honesty and be more understanding of your position.
5. Sustainable Printing, Paper, and an Eco-audit
Some organizations worry that using sustainable printing and paper will make their annual report too costly. But the reality is, continuing current methods is too costly to the environment, which our customers count on us to protect.
Do an eco-audit of your annual report to showcase your impact. This might include the number of trees you saved, greenhouse gasses you avoided, and decrease in energy usage. Devote some space in your annual report to showcasing these statistics. There’s always space in the back of the report. You might be surprised the goodwill this generates, making it all worth it financially.
6. Annual Report Video
Mobile video consumption increases 100 percent year over year. And let’s be honest, what mobile user will read your annual report? Video offers you the opportunity to reach more people with your annual report message (don’t forget to transcribe your video for closed captioning).
And including video in your annual report offers social media content and ways to engage your audience across every online platform. You can even create small snippets of your annual report videos and share them throughout the year to keep people engaged in your corporate mission.
7. Address All Stakeholders
An annual report has big shoes to fill. It speaks to a large audience of diverse stakeholders — media, investors, partners, potential partners, employees, customers, potential buyers, etc.
Before finalizing your annual report, pause and reread it through the eyes of each of these major stakeholders. Make sure you’ve included relevant information for each.
8. Hierarchy and Skimmable Content
Breaking up your annual report content with headers and subheads makes for a quicker read and navigation of content. Using clear charts so readers can understand data a glance improves retention. Putting your most important information and big ideas at the forefront allows the rest of the report to support your message.
A lot of readers will skim your report so consider how you’ll leave them with your big idea and how they’ll take away your key messages. Think about creating small, snackable paragraphs and visual stories to communicate key facts or important milestones.
9. 100% Accurate
There is no room for mistakes in an annual report. Having a team review your annual report multiple times before sending it out is always a good idea.
And as part of these reviews, make sure you’re scrutinizing the data within charts and visuals. More often than not, this is where mistakes happen with one misplaced or transposed number.
Even a small mistake can harm your report’s credibility and do more harm than you think.
10. On-brand Annual Report
For many organizations, the annual report is the largest touchpoint with stakeholders each year, which means it needs to make a big impression. Therefore, it’s best to engage your audience with a feast for the eyes while staying on-brand.
Content is king, so it should dictate the design, not the other way around. Remember, your first step in the annual report planning process is to create your big idea or key communication objective. Everything else falls into place after that.
Styles and designs can be edgy while still reflecting your design because next year you’ll use a new design in line with that year’s trends. Make sure you’re meeting your brand guidelines to strengthen your brand’s presence and messaging.
Remember, your annual report is a big piece in the puzzle of your full marketing and communication plan. Treat it that way by giving it the attention, time and resources it deserves.
Design Positive is a strategic branding and accessibility agency with more than 20 years of conceptualizing and designing annual reports.