How to stand out with About

As long as the essentials are covered, the ‘About’ section of the corporate website is ripe for experimentation, Scott Payton says.

Most sections of a typical corporate website have a clear purpose. ‘Investor relations’, ‘Media’ and ‘Careers’ exist to serve specific audiences. ‘Contact us’ is there to provide enquiry routes.

The ‘About’ section – or whatever the equivalent area happens to be called – is different. It has a wider, more complex but no less important remit: to explain to multiple audience groups what the organization is, does and stands for – in a way that captures the essence of the firm’s ethos.

So what can companies do to stand out in About?

Breaking conventions

Although there are some aspects of the About section that many visitors will deem essential – executive biographies and details of business activities, locations, structure and history, for example – it is also an area ripe for experimentation in formats, content and presentation.

Goldman Sachs’ corporate site offers a number of examples of such innovation – some of which pay off and some of which do not.  

In fact, Goldman Sachs’ site does not have an ‘About’ section at all. Instead, there are three primary sections containing equivalent information: ‘Who we are’; ‘What we do’; and ‘Our Thinking’.

Signposts to these sections, alongside a fourth, ‘Citizenship’, are more prominent than other links in the primary navigation bar (‘Careers’, ‘Investor Relations’ and so on). This conveys the impression that the investment bank wants to make an effort to explain itself to the world. This can only be a good thing.

However, when users delve into these sections, they will find detail lacking in many places. What we do > Overview, for example, consists of just seven sentences – with no onward links to deeper information. This, we would argue, is a bad thing.

Yet the site’s ‘About’ areas also boast features that achieve something rare: making dry and complex subjects interesting and clear.

An ‘interactive guide to the capital markets’ allows users to build an easy-to-understand yet deceptively detailed picture of the role, nature and composition of the financial world in which Goldman Sachs operates.

The firm also uses every trick in the multimedia book to make information about its ‘Business Standards Committee Impact Report’ – an insomnia-curing topic if ever there was one – clear, digestible and engaging:

  • A striking graphic provides key facts and figures about the company’s global round of reputation and accountability meetings.
  • An interactive flow-chart neatly illustrates the firm’s transaction review and approval process.
  • Videos feature the bank’s president and co-chair of the business standards committee discussing the key aspects of the company’s business standards improvement efforts. Magazine-style pull-quotes are also provided – as are links to relevant executives’ biographies.

In providing all of this thoughtfully crafted material, Goldman Sachs not only makes a boring subject engaging; it also sends the powerful message to the world: ‘we take this reputation management stuff seriously’.

Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Roche also successfully employs unusual elements to make its ‘About’ material striking and engaging.

Indeed, the entire About Roche section has an online-magazine-style long-scrolling structure unlike that used throughout the rest of the site – putting the emphasis on telling the company’s story rather than helping visitors to find particular information (see our recent BC Tip for more details).

There are other innovations, too. For instance, users can take part in a witty and visually engaging quiz to discover what type of medical researcher they would be. They can also take an interactive, 360-degree tour of a research lab, clicking on items to view further details.

Like Goldman Sachs, Roche recognizes that unlike, say, the investor relations section, the ‘About’ areas of the website (which in Roche’s case also includes a Research & Development section) are not just about providing clear, conventional signposts to facts. They are also about informing and enthusing visitors about life inside the business – and the contribution that it makes to the world at large.

Good practice elsewhere

That’s not to say that the parallel role of the About section as a repository of facts is not important. Here are examples of sites that do this well – in an engaging as well as informative way:

  • Italian oil and gas giant Eni presents its listing of management biographies as an organizational chart – so visitors can see how the company is structured as well as find out about who runs what. Several senior managers – not just directors – have a biography page with a summary, photograph and downloadable biography in Word and PDF. There are also downloadable images.
  • US media behemoth Comcast has a sub-section of Our Company titled ‘50 Iconic Moments’. This is a highly engaging and well-presented set of videos and slideshows, plus related links, bold headlines and text commentaries on ‘milestones’ in the company's history. Users can filter the list by category (news, sports, history and so on) at the top of the page. Multiple categories can be clicked: the filtering is instant. A rich, well-designed resource.
  • German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer’s ‘Profile and Organization’ sub-section has an overview page that acts as a useful fact sheet. It includes an organization chart (downloadable with extra information as a PDF), a summary of key financial and sales data, and links to other pages on the three main businesses and the three central service companies. Information on all of these is laid out in a standardised form, with right links to their own sites and to other relevant information. Innovative? Not especially. Informative? Very.
  • UK healthcare firm GSK’s corporate site has an ‘About us’ section that makes it easy for stakeholders to see what the company does. From the summary on the landing page to the well-structured text in ‘What we do’, messages about the company's main customer areas come across clearly.
  • London-headquartered tobacco company BAT shows that good ‘About’ information need not – and arguably should not – be confined to the About section. Content in ‘Our industry’, ‘Our products’ and other sections engagingly round out the picture sketched in the About section itself.
  • British brewer SABMiller’s About Us > Where we operate feature is an impressive piece of web design. Designed to look good across devices and screen sizes, it features an at-a-glance world map of the company's activities and multiple ways for users to zero in on information about specific regions or countries.

 

All good ‘About’ sections succeed in informing their visitors. The very best ones educate and entertain them, too.

First published 18 February, 2015
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