corporate reports are brand touchpoints

I’ve been doing research on some companies and have spent quite a bit of time looking at companies’ corporate reports – e.g., annual reports, official statements, corporate presentations, etc.  I’m amazed at how many companies completely overlook these reports as touchpoints through which people experience their brands.  Often the reports are dry and pedantic or fluffy and full of corporate-speak – they don’t communicate or reflect what is differentiating or compelling about their brands.

What’s ironic is these reports are becoming increasingly important brand touchpoints.  The combination of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements and the increasing use of websites for communicating with investors/potential investors mean corporate reports are much more accessible.  And because of their accessibility, they’re used not only by the investment community, but also by prospective employees, vendors and customers, strategic alliance partners, M&A prospects, bankers, etc.

These people and groups are important stakeholders in businesses – and brands.  They’re usually juggling competing priorities and deciding among several alternatives — so opportunities to engage them with the brand should not be overlooked or underestimated.  As with consumers, if they share the understanding of what the brand stands for and the value it delivers to them and their stakeholders, they’re more likely to choose the company over other options.

Once they’ve signed on with a company, these people and groups can either build the brand or weaken it.  The values and attributes that define the brand must be embraced by everyone and every group. Just think how shoddy materials or shipment delays can negatively impact the experience a customer has with a brand.  The recent flurry of toy recalls and tainted food supplies have shown how seriously a brand can be damaged when a company’s business partners fail to adhere to its standards.  The actions of a shady salesman or an incompetent service provider may yield less critical consequences, but they nonetheless reflect on the brand.

As the number of ways different groups interact with companies grows, the importance of corporate reports as brand touchpoints grows.   Instead of churning out the staid and predictable reports, companies should determine the best ways to express and deliver their brand through their corporate communications.

Two companies stand out of as examples and inspiration:

lululemon athletica has produced an “Annual Report Video.”

lululemon Annual Report Video 2008 from lululemon athletica on Vimeo.

The six-minute piece starts off with various lululemon employees relaying what the brand means to them.  It also includes clips of the company’s leaders discussing the past year’s results and future plans, and of actual store activities, including their in-store yoga classes.  It’s a creative and engaging way to communicate key information and brand passion — and by posting the video on Vimeo, the company is leveraging the power of social media to raise the brand’s profile.

REI releases an annual “Stewardship Report” to outline the company’s activities and performance related to social and environmental efforts.


The report describes what REI is doing in terms of Community (philanthropic efforts and nonprofit partnerships centered on outdoor recreation and conservation, and advocacy), Environment (initiatives and efforts to reduce the company’s overall impact on the planet), and People (workplace and fair labor compliance with vendor factory partners).

As such, the report not only communicates key corporate performance metrics, but also expresses the brand values and attributes that distinguish the company and make it so strong.  Certainly REI’s structure as a co-op vs. a standard corporation means such a report makes more sense than a standard annual report.  But I suspect the reason why the company issues such a remarkable report is that it is the most appropriate way to bring their brand to life.

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  • BSV

    Yes, annual reports are a strange animal in the marketing communications world. Companies typically throw in all the bells and whistles (read: colour pictures, glossy covers, and other brand identifiers) when times are good. Unfortunately, when times are financially bad, most executive boards choose the Spartan direction to display their financial responsibility, thus targeting the target they most often consider to be the most important one–investors.

    Though I completely agree with your post, this particular piece of brand communications has an uphill battle.