If you still think of a company’s annual report as a stodgy regulatory requirement that wraps a 10K in between a few pages of color photography and predictable headlines, you need to think again.
With its ability to aggregate information from other sources, provide graphic access to years worth of data, and tell a much more dimensional story of a company than simply financial performance, annual reports now offer investors and the general public far better ways to connect and engage with a company.
Here are some trends and best practices we see becoming increasingly mainstream in today’s investor relations.
1. Mobile optimized online reports
Last year, for the first time ever, mobile internet usage surpassed desktop, which means that if you produce an online version of your annual report, it is critical that you utilize principles of responsive design and make it mobile-friendly.
DuPont (NYSE:DD) has done an excellent job of creating a fully responsive investor website – one that maintains all the content and design flourishes when viewed on either a desktop or mobile device. No matter what device is being used to access the site, the user is still getting the full, intended experience.
2. Apps vs Open Web
Taking the concept of a mobile optimized app a little further, big-name companies with big IR budgets – including Unilever, Marathon Oil, and Kingfisher – now offer investors and analysts a custom-built app with touch-of-a-button access to everything from stock prices to a library of previous annual reports.
A series of annual report apps for iPads have come out in recent years, and while creating an iPad app offers stunning control over the visuals and functionality of the report, the relatively limited distribution of Apple’s app store (compared to the Web) also means only those with an iPad and an inclination to download your app will see you report.
Our view is that corporate apps should be used to provide access to multiple years of corporate reporting. These types of apps should provide the ability to read any of the reports inside the app, as well as the ability to download them as PDFs. Other key features we recommend include offline viewing of documents, a built-in document reader with page thumbnails and bookmarks, keyword search, and sharing.
But you don’t need a dedicated download from the App Store or Google Play to make an app work for you. An open source app can be deployed through the browser and doesn’t require downloads.
3. Customization of viewing numbers
Customization of viewing numbers is key. In terms of financials, readers are looking for selective historical snapshots. A data-rich interface such as SAP’s interactive chart feature lets the user visualize not just key financial data but also diversity & inclusion data and the company’s environmental impact. You can then download the custom chart you’ve created as a .jpg or an Excel or PDF file.
4. Homepage as information portal
Homepages of digital annual reports no longer have to mirror the covers of their printed counterparts. Instead, they can be dynamic portals with information tools, case studies, and a feed of current company activity. Coke’s AR homepage, for example, features real-time social media stats.
5. Motion to tell your corporate story
Motion helps add an emotional element to the corporate story. An animated microsite is a powerful way to bring to life what has traditionally been delivered as a dry, static annual report. In 2014, the interactive annual report from Shopify, the quickly growing e-commerce business, uses a deceptively minimalist format manages to pack in a lot of easily digestible data. Rather than stick with a single way to display each point, the report uses a combination of readable graphs, looping animations, linked images, and a timeline of events to communicate engaging information.