With companies under the spotlight like never before, it’s time to see digital reporting as an opportunity to connect with a wider and more varied stakeholder audience.
The world has changed a great deal over the last twelve months. Covid-19 impacted everyone’s lives in a way nobody could have imagined at the end of 2019. Lockdowns made us work from home and moved almost all of our human interaction online, even for the most digitally resistant among us.
The pandemic year has also been a catalyst for change in how companies communicate and how they interact with their stakeholders. Even before dealing with the impact of the pandemic upon trading, corporate reporting professionals were busy adjusting to new regulations and guidance that will change how their companies communicate. Perhaps the most significant of these are s172 of the Companies Act and its impact upon how directors carry out their duties and the Corporate Governance Code 2018 which encourages companies to talk more about the culture of their business and their role in society.
The environmental agenda remains a major issue that continues to be important to institutional investors, regulators and governments alike. In addition, climate change is, of course, a subject of considerable importance to a much broader audience. A company’s stated position and track record on climate change issues will be scrutinised on social media and may even fuel employee activism if performance is perceived to be negative.
Retail investors are becoming increasingly vocal too. The high-profile Reddit/GameStop saga grabbed headlines in January and, while the vast majority of companies are unlikely to find themselves in such an extreme situation, the story highlights the influence of digital and social media in shaping stakeholder attitudes and forming opinions.
These increasing demands for accountability underline the need for companies to have a stronger and more consistent voice online. Where once reporting content was largely overlooked by many nonfinancial stakeholders, now they’re paying attention and are willing to make their opinions known online. In addition, how businesses and brands behave also matters to consumers.
A global consumer trends study by IBM in January 2020 found that a third of consumers reported that they prioritise brands that are sustainable, transparent and aligned with their core values – further emphasising the growing value and importance of a strong corporate brand.
As the UK slowly returns to a new kind of normal, companies are adjusting to the post-pandemic world. Looking ahead, the role of the corporate brand has changed forever as more companies now recognise the importance of building trust with all stakeholders.
Rethinking digital reporting as an online experience designed to meet the expectations of today’s audiences is a big step towards a stronger corporate brand.
A corporate report is a valuable content asset with the potential to reach a more varied audience than institutional investors alone. By adapting and repurposing content as a searchable and snackable experience, companies can extend the reach of reporting content and gain credit for their achievements from more of the people that matter to the company.
Corporate brands must now have stronger voices, communicating positions in response to global trends and the issues important to their audiences. Through telling authentic stories, supported by evidence of a positive impact, companies will prove that they’re living up to their financial, cultural and social responsibilities.
Digital reporting is also an opportunity to communicate progress as the year develops. Through quarterly updates, digital reporting content provides the opportunity to create a performance narrative that goes beyond quarterly financial results to communicate progress on a wider range of important issues. By communicating more frequently over the year, companies can sustain the engagement of stakeholders, develop a conversation and build trust.
Bringing reporting content to life online also means breaking away from formulaic microsites that position digital reporting as a distant annexe of the digital estate. Instead, the stories that communicate performance, illustrate purpose and demonstrate commitments need to be featured prominently throughout the investor and corporate websites and promoted through social media channels.
Nike has embraced the value of communicating purpose with a Webby Award-Winning website in support of the Company’s Impact Report 2020. The site presents extensive content from the Company’s Impact Report in a digital editorial format that encourages audiences to explore. Print content is supplemented by video and brought to life through elegant digital design that mirrors the look and feel of the printed report and enhances engagement through interactive graphics.
The digital experience Nike has created for its impact Report is a true digital sister to the print version and offers a genuine alternative for digital-first audiences.
Roche has been pioneering a storytelling approach to digital annual report for several years. The 2020 report communicates the achievements of an important year for the healthcare company with an engaging mix of copy, interactive graphics and video content.
At a time when digital platforms such as Tik Tok are becoming increasingly popular, providing video content describing their work developing Covid-19 tests, supporting vulnerable communities in times of disaster and telling patient success stories creates an accessible experience for all audiences.
To communicate its core Purpose ‘to put better health, within reach, everyday’ Hikma focuses on building relationships with its investors, patients, care-givers, prescribers and employees. To improve the understanding of the business across these key stakeholder groups, over the past few years its reporting has adapted from dense and wordy to streamlined and accessible in both print and digital formats.
Online, Hikma effectively repurposes content, infographics and case studies generated from its reporting process to keep the site feeling active and relevant year-round. Beyond its summary annual report page, assets from the document are reutilised across its corporate site to highlight its business model and value creation story. Hikma have also adopted a digital-first approach to sustainability reporting, generating web-first copy that feeds back into the printed Annual Report’s Sustainability section each year.
Vodafone has placed Purpose and ESG content front and centre in how the Company communicates online. The corporate website, Vodafone.com, presents Purpose as a primary navigation item reflecting the importance of ESG content about digital society, inclusion, environment and company governance to all of its audiences.
The Investors website also supports this narrative. The Company’s ESG Addendum 2020 is accompanied by an engaging Purpose and ESG performance section that brings the Company’s ESG performance to life for online audiences. The digital content goes far beyond being a simple introduction to the printed addendum to make the Company’s ESG performance accessible and understandable for non-expert audiences.
As a government organisation, Highways England is under scrutiny from a wide range of stakeholders – many of them unfamiliar with communications targeted at traditional investor audiences. Its 2020 Annual Report signalled the completion of its first five-year ‘Road Investment Strategy’ and the launch of its second, each involving billions of pounds of investment to further improve the network for road users, the communities and the environment.
To effectively explain its strategic journey to a wide range of interested parties Highways England successfully introduced a more digestible reporting platform online for 2020 – to offer an alternative to the detailed information within its 200+ page printed report – summarising its achievements with shorter form content, infographics and animations to herald its first five years’ achievements and setting the scene for the next. It also links to additional online summary reports for its 2020-2025 Strategy and Delivery plans.
It has never been more important that companies connect with investors and non-financial stakeholders alike. Companies are recognising the value of digital storytelling to make their performance and purpose story accessible and understandable for all stakeholders.
To be truly effective in building a corporate brand, companies must be more ambitious for digital reporting and harness the opportunity to connect with investors and nonfinancial audiences. They must communicate the past year’s performance, look ahead to the future and, critically, sustain engagement across the year. To harness the power of digital reporting, you need a brand partner with a holistic perspective of your brand. This needs to work across every aspect of the brand experience from your annual and sustainability reports, corporate website, communications, community engagement, product design, distribution and customer support.