Traditionally, annual reports are a review of the finances and performance of a business over the past year that is presented to shareholders and other interested parties. While this is still the core function of an annual report, it can also serve as another branch of your brand’s marketing tree.
To create an engaging annual report, there needs to be a clear story being told throughout. A continuous through-line that can be followed by the reader with each piece of information building on what has come before. When annual reports are written in this way, the content they present will be more engaging for the reader and therefore more rememberable. So how do you go about creating a story of financial trials and successes?
Start with a simple idea
You don’t need to write the next bestselling novel to write a good story in your annual report – you just need to start with a clear and simple idea. This idea can be expressed through the copyrighting, the design, and the format of the annual report. Is there a theme that you worked around for the past year, or an initiative that you were all working towards? Was there a big change in the way you work? These core ideas/themes can help inform the way you present your data and your progression throughout the year in your annual report.
For example, if your business sells toys and there was a big push for children’s literature, you could style your annual report as a child’s story book, taking your reader on a journey through the year of your business.
Choose your annual report format
Do you want your annual report to be presented in print, or digitally? This will not be the same for every business, and may even change year to year depending on how the business has changed. You need to choose the right medium that will allow you to showcase your branding achievements in the most consumable way for your readers.
Print is the ‘tried and true’ method of presenting an annual report. If your report has a lot of copy, print may be the better medium to go with because it is easier to read large blocks of text on printed paper than digital. The most popular printed annual reports are:
- Booklet/bound book – Most printed annual reports will be in the form of a multi-page booklet. Booklets are able to contain large amounts of information in an easy-to-read format for the consumers. They can be more on the pricy side with the volume of pages and binding all adding up, but for professional meetings where a physical copy of the annual report is needed, they are the best option.
- Brochure – brochures can act as highlight reels for the full annual report. They are quick to read and have enough real estate to include all the main points featured in your annual report.
- Custom printed reports – You can also go the extra mile and print an annual report with more unconventional materials/methods. These are the most expensive option due to the custom nature of the materials but would also make the biggest impression.
Digital’s main advantage over print is with how shareable it is. You can send the same annual report to a recipient half way around the world in a matter of seconds. It is also able (for the most part) to be edited even after publishing, a benefit that is entirely unattainable in print. Popular Digital formats include:
- PDFs – A digital booklet that can offer the same amount of content as their physical counterparts. While less editable after publishing, pdfs do give you the ability to add links, videos and some interactivity with the navigation. Most companies will have a pdf of their annual report that contains all the information from the year, with the highlights being shared through other mediums.
- Web based/Interactive media – This is a website page that acts as a full interactive annual report, complete with moving graphics and easy navigation. There is a higher technical component to creating a report in this format, but it your brand is about being at the forefront of technological advancements, it could be a good way to get across your branding message.
- Video – A quick video summarising your annual report is a more effective way to engage viewers for a short period of time. Video is also a great medium to push the story of your business by limiting text and instead showing your results through your actions and achievements.
Present your information – The design of an annual report
How you present your content is more important than the content itself. A bold statement, yes, but also true. It doesn’t matter how important your content is if people will not (or cannot) read it. Present your data and copy in a visually appealing way to engage the reader and to help them understand what you have included in your annual report.
Below are some basic design tips for creating a more engaging annual report
White space – give the document room to breathe
Have you ever looked at a page and felt suffocated by the sheer volume of text and imagery? Well this is what should be avoided when designing a spread in an annual report. Make sure to keep a large enough margin around the edge of the artwork to have ‘breathing room;’ for your eyes. Keep your copy to 7-10 words at most per line and break up big blocks of text with images, graphics, or even white space. These blank areas in your document help to draw the eye to what you want the reader looking at, and to avoid the eye glazing over everything.
Graphs – visualise your numbers
Humans are visual creatures. To most people, a table with numbers will mean very little to them because they cannot visualise what these numbers mean. Instead, wherever possible/appropriate, turn these numbers into graphs. Graphs help people to process large amounts of information in a short space of time. Artwork that is used in the annual report should also compliment the data that you are presenting and reflect your brand.
Always remember the human element of your business
In advertising, people respond best to people – the same principle can be applied to your annual report. Occasionally take the time to highlight how your work has impacted your community. One idea is to include any charity events that were hosted or attended by the business. There can also be a section to highlight a particularly hard worker and to recognise their contribution to the company. This human element of the business can help connect with the reader and build trust with them.
Remember: Try to keep the visuals and message of your annual report ‘on brand’ for your business by using your corporate colours and fonts where appropriate.
If you need help getting ideas for your annual report, the best place to look for inspiration is at how other companies have adapted their annual reports for marketing purposes. See how they have used their branding and message in the report and if there are any lessons or ideas that you could adapt for your own.