nexxar has devoted itself entirely to the topic of online reporting. This is unique, across the globe. Since 2003 we published more than 500 online corporate reports. With so much experience, nexxar naturally has the edge in matters of innovation. The following post is based on our extensive research that tracks several hundred online reports every year. For better readability we only publish top-line results of the analysis for the main areas:
- web accessibility,
- design and user experience.
If you are interested in receiving your detailed results and benchmarking please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Methodology – what has changed
This year we extended our research to follow a more holistic approach on digital reporting. Instead of just focusing on the Annual Reports and Accounts we now include Corporate Responsibility (CR) Reporting into our yearly research. On the one hand this reflects the increased importance of sustainability within corporate reporting and on the other hand we wanted to understand how CR reporting evolves considering an “Integrated Reporting” approach. Given our pan-European focus, we decided to include the 145 biggest European companies in terms of turnover (source: CNN Money / Fortune 500) and market value (source: FT Europe 500).
1. Web accessibility – HTML what else
The term ‘accessibility’ usually refers to efforts taken to improve the web for people with disabilities. Since this requires consideration of non-standard devices and browsers, making websites more accessible also benefits a broad user base: including mobile devices, which have limited resources. Whereas common sense in the web community that content published as PDF will never measure up to the accessibility of a HTML website, this still has to be understood in the digital reporting space. One of the main reasons for the implementation of HTML reports is that they can be easily found by search engines. The order of the obtained search results plays a major role in deciding whether (and to what extent) the information found is considered relevant – and if it can’t be found, it doesn’t exist!
Across all researched companies we found that 51.7% (75 of 145) offer either AR or CR report content in a HTML format. Interestingly this is not consistent for AR and CR. A large percentage of companies that offer just a PDF of their Annual Report do convert their CR Report into HTML and vice versa. This might be due to different target groups or simply due to different internal responsibilities. Additionally, only 20 (13,8%) companies follow an integrated approach, a clear sign that Integrated Reporting still has a long way to go. Another interesting fact is the HTML affinity in the field of CR reporting. 42% of the companies that publish a CR Report provide the content in HTML – more than with Annual Reports where 40% of the companies offer HTML.
In terms of accessibility we also looked at how the online report is optimised for mobile devices. The use of an adaptive layout means the content can be optimised to fit all screen sizes on any kind of device. Around half of the online reports already took advantage of this technology called ‘responsive design’. According to our usability experts, best practice examples for responsive designed reports include BAT, Daimler, TeliaSonera, and Linde.
2. Interactivity – engage your audience
The Web is an interactive and non-linear medium, and as such it requires its own communication concepts. This is why online reports should include web tools to offer added value and engage your audience. A successful digital reporting strategy embraces web technologies and integrates them for the benefit of the users. From our research we learned that 46.4% of the reports use an interactive chart generator, 30.4% offer find-as-you-type search and 68.1% provide Excel spreadsheets for download.
Outstanding examples for interactive highlights are:
- Siemens videos with an integrated navigation concept offering users several options to shape their own video infotainment journey.
- ArecelorMittal’s interactive value chain infographic offers case study examples and provides contextual information.
- The interactive timeline showing the historical overview of sustainability in eni.
- Philips telling their company story with a parallax scrolling page.
3. Video – a CEO speaks for himself
The integration of video clearly is a key benefit of the web for corporate reporting. A short video of your charismatic CEO tells your stakeholder all they need to know about what you have achieved over a year’s period. It is a clever way to present yourself as modern and innovative company and establishes an emotional bridge to the hard reporting facts. The success of YouTube shows how important videos are in today’s digital environment.
Best CEO videos:
- For us, the Annual Report 2013 of Daimler clearly offers the best CEO video. Mr. Zetsche perfectly demonstrates that innovation and serious reporting facts can be combined in a subtle way that puts a smile on your face.
- More than just a video – Ahold’s Dick Boer on strategy and the retail landscape.
- Nigel Wilson convincingly outlines how Legal and General steps up in terms of corporate responsibility.
- Centrica’s Sam Laidlaw answering stakeholder questions.
4. GRI-Index – a perfect fit for hyperlinking
Linking is one of the key potentials of the Internet. In online reporting, it can be considered as the golden thread of reception: Since web content is used selectively and not in a linear manner, hyperlinks provide a secondary orientation. It brings together what actually belongs together and reveals the inter-dependencies between social, ecological and economic factors. 87% of the companies that publish their GRI online do hyperlink indicators to their respective contents.
Based on the idea of cross-linking, another feature has recently been integrated in several online sustainability reports, namely what is known as GRI backlinking. A service box on every single page of the report shows which indicators are mentioned in the relevant text. E.g. BASF Report 2013 on value-based management.
5. Design – managing the stage
Good web design is in the eye of the beholder. This is also true for online reporting. Even the most creative concept is only good if it suits a company’s corporate identity and it is still important to remain on the cutting edge of industrial standards. In a palpable case, this means creating a clear and visually appealing user interface. For online reports, the provided information is always the most important, so the access to it must be fast and above all well-structured. At the same time, there are no limits to the design possibilities: large-scale motifs, animated infographics, the use of Web fonts and for example, the magazine inspired section of some reports opens the door to creativity.
Best of usability and design:
- The ING report puts the content first. Focused on simple stories, clear navigation, intuitive structure and high impact visuals this design is one of our favourites.
- The Volkswagen Report offers an elaborate OSIT mix (orientation, selection, information, transaction) into key areas of financial report and magazine section.
- Deutsche Post DHL uses a classic box concept with a clean look, sticky elements and background visuals add a modern touch on scrolling.
- AXA implemented a creative solution that provides innovative solutions for different content needs. Additionally imagery is optimised for Retina displays.
The complete, sortable list including relevant cross-links is available as full screen version to open in a new window www.nexxar.com/research/ogb-14.html.