The annual report is a once-a-year piece of content that’s mandatory for many organizations and a powerful tool for many more. While it can be tedious to assemble, it’s incredibly important. This single piece of communication presents a wealth of information about your organization to many different audiences. How those readers engage with that content affects their perceptions of your business in significant ways.
If your annual report is simply slapped together as a statement of facts, you are losing a huge opportunity to bolster your brand.
The purpose of your annual report
Your annual report is more than a legal requirement. It’s an opportunity to be transparent about your financial health and make a bold statement about your brand. It’s also an opportunity to engage with many different audiences, including:
- Potential employees
- Industry colleagues and competitors
- General public
Each person will read your annual report for a different reason, and each will take away something different. That’s why your annual report doesn’t serve one sole purpose. Instead, it’s a chance to welcome your readers into your organization for a tour.
Some of the most significant things your annual report helps you do:
Share your mission. Your brand’s mission, vision, and values guide everything you do. Educating your audience about this in your annual report helps them feel more connected and invested in you.
Build trust in your business practices. By disclosing financials, showing how and where your money goes, you assuage the concerns of your shareholders and stakeholders.
Introduce your leadership and other team members. In addition to the standard communications from higher-ups, you can give a face to the people whose sweat, tears, and hard work make the company what it is.
Showcase company culture. Culture is an important element of any brand—rarely expressed through spreadsheets. Your annual report gives you opportunities to highlight your culture in creative ways, through brand voice, presentation, stories, content, etc.
Celebrate your success. Humility and hard work are important, but being able to celebrate the wins is important to show stakeholders that their investments are worthwhile, convince the public to support you, and congratulate and encourage your own team.
Lay the groundwork for your future. An annual report is a summary of a year, which lays the foundation for the next. Moving into that future with hope, enthusiasm, and a renewed commitment is essential to your future success.
To present all this information in a cohesive way, turning your annual report into a story that offers a holistic view of your brand is your best bet.
How Story Enhances Your Annual Report
An annual report that is simply a presentation of facts doesn’t engage your audience; in fact, it might alienate them.
No one (except maybe the SEC) feels inspired by a droll report of numbers. It is not a compelling experience, nor does it give you a comprehensive sense of the company or the collective human force behind it. While it’s called an annual “report,” it should really be a communication of your brand’s story—and, really, the latest chapter in that brand story (since it is annual).
As Keith Quesenberry, a lecturer at the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University, says, “We keep rediscovering and have to remind ourselves of the power of stories in a business context. We love stories. PowerPoint ruined that. Bullet points are not a story.”
Your annual report is a rare opportunity. Whereas the majority of your content marketing is not about your brand, an annual report is exclusively about your brand. The audience that views that report already has an interest in you. That means it is your opportunity and responsibility to engage them.
While an annual report is not a traditional narrative, it can still tell a great story that makes your audience feel many things.
- Interested and engaged: By applying the effective elements of storytelling, you bring those boring financials to life.
- Educated and informed: Presenting information in an easy-to-synthesize format helps readers better understand the content and what you’re all about—without reading your entire website.
- Connected to your company: No one wants to interact with a faceless corporation anymore. By humanizing your work through story, audiences become more emotionally involved.
- Confident in your brand: Telling a strong story, backed by data and real-life results, helps your audience trust in you and your work.
The good news is that there is a lot more opportunity for storytelling in an annual report than you might realize.
The Elements of Story in Your Annual Report
When we talk about storytelling, we are talking about both the words you use and the visual presentation. Both work symbiotically to create a unique experience for your reader. Crafting your report with these in mind is the best way to ensure success.
Look for ways to apply your creativity and inject storytelling at every level. A few things to consider:
Format: There are more options to experiment with than ever, and the format itself may help communicate the story. We’ve seen annual reports turned into true works of art, such as this gorgeous book series by the Adris Group.
Example: We turned the 2013 annual report for Krochet Kids intl. into an interactive infographic, allowing viewers to explore and engage with the story, which also included video and interactive data visualization.
Narrative anchor: Some brands build their reports around a theme, initiative, or goal. This can create a great through line, from your case studies to your stats.
Example: Krochet Kids intl. is a non-profit apparel company that empowers those struggling with poverty in Uganda and Peru by teaching them to craft handmade goods. This mission was highlighted throughout the report.
Human stories: Whether it’s a spotlight on your employee initiatives or customer success, humanizing these stories by putting a literal face to them greatly increases your reader’s emotional response.
Example: The Krochet Kids intl. report included photos and backstory of the people they work with.
Design elements: Design is always meant to enhance storytelling. It can also reflect the story of what your company does.
Example: As Krochet Kids intl. is an apparel company, we used thread art as a visual storytelling tool.
Data: Make sure your data visualizations are clear and understandable. You can also expand your story by providing comparative insight or additional data sets from previous years.
Example: The data visualization included in the Krochet Kids intl. report allowed viewers to explore various data points and see them change month-by-month.
Above All, Be Creative
There are plenty of of super creative examples of annual reports, such as the solar-powered piece by Austria Solar or the 2015 Flywheel annual report, which included temporary tattoos in honor of their cofounder getting a tattoo of the company logo. (For more inspiration, check out these 5 brands that nailed their annual reports.)
No matter your brand or business, there are always opportunities to try something new. We promise your readers will thank you for it—and you’ll have more fun doing it.
If you’d like to get a little more creative with your annual report, let’s chat. And if you want more annual report inspiration, check out the 12 lessons you can learn from Warby Parker’s annual report.