Archive for category BIWA
Things we learned from BIWA 2011, part 1: ‘You can deliver TV over the internet, but the internet is not like TV’
Michael Hill International have hit last place in this year’s Best Investor Website (BIWA) survey. This isn’t big news, the company have been consistently in the bottom five for investor relations communication since 2008. But their websites have always appeared to be firmly directed at retail customers, suggesting that shareholders are not a priority audience. In 2010 they decided that their new site would take advantage of the web’s ability to deliver moving images, putting most of their web content in video form: Michael Hill TV.
I believe there is a time to use multimedia online, and a time to present written information. Companies confuse these at their peril. Making such decisions is all about understanding ‘audience and purpose’. Customers may well be persuaded to buy jewellery because it represents an ‘aspirational lifestyle’. In effect: jewellery ‘looks flash’ and makes you feel flash. And the Michael Hill site uses moving images and sound to hammer this home.
But investors don’t make financial decisions in the same way. They make rational decisions based on market information, past performance and reasonable expectations of future performance based on corporate strategies. In other words, it’s about the numbers. And websites can do a great job communicating this.
Some information – such as plans for the future and summaries of recent corporate results – may be well-conveyed in video presentations. But most investor websites also favour reports, graphical presentation of statistics, and links to data feeds or independent market analyses. Good investor websites run the risk of being labeled ‘dull’ because they ‘stick to their knitting’ at the expense of leveraging off the ‘all singing, all dancing’ possibilities of online video – but by doing so they do meet the needs of their target audience.
By way of example, if you want information on the share price of Michael Hill International from their website, you have to download Microsoft Silverlight software so you can view the site at all. I didn’t want this software, and to be honest, I haven’t met anyone who really does, yet if you have to access the MHI site (as I do, every year), then you’ll have to take the time to get this first. Recently Silverlight has become more compatible with iPads and mobile devices, but it is also worth noting that excessive reliance on ‘singing and dancing’ web technologies does present serious issues for this growing market segment. Essentially, your site won’t work on them.
Once you have the right software, you then have to click down four levels into the site to where you are promised ‘share price history’ is to be found. And history is right – a rather plain-Jane table will tell you what the share price was last month. Most NZX50 sites will tell you – on their homepage – what the share price was twenty minutes ago, so as an investor, visiting the MHI site tells me mainly that the company doesn’t really care what I know about them. Other corporate information is contained in PDF reports. If you’re looking for specific information, you’ll need some time to download and check a few of these, as the site doesn’t have a search function. Googling specific information about their financial performance directs you elsewhere, such as to the NZX site. The PDFs on the Michael Hill site are not even searchable this way.
I could go on, but you get the picture. What the company’s website does do is show animated images of jewellery, and advertising. And of course it sells these things. It may do this very well (though you will still need that software first, as well as plenty of bandwidth) – but if you wish to access even basic data on company performance, look elsewhere. And in today’s challenging and competitive investment environment, relying on third parties to convey investment information about your company is giving up control of the conversation. You also defeat the legitimate expectation of investors and their advisors that you, as corporate governors, will have the courtesy to engage with them in a dialogue about your business. Surely that’s not too much to ask?
The strongest new trend evident was the rise of so-called ‘ethical marketing’.
For several years the number of sites in the NZX50 appealing to the social and environmental conscience of investors has been increasing. In BIWA10 half the sites use either social or environmental responsibility as a plank of their investor and customer relations strategies.
Appealing to the conscience of investors is not a new trend, but recent events, including the crisis of world banking and continued concern over climate change have made major corporations even more keen on ‘green-washing’ and related strategies.
Of the 25 sites, ten specifically featured only ‘social responsibility’ (including sponsorship and charity initiatives), while eight featured only ‘environmental responsibility’ (including sustainability initiatives). Seven sites included both these elements.
Significantly, this was especially true of new designs. Of the 15 new site designs in 2010, 12 included either or both social and environmental initiatives.
Clearly, this trend is now seen as part of a successful approach to online investor relations. The PR benefits are clearly seen as worth the investment in adopting these strategies which are not directed at maximising profit, but rather at attracting investment.
‘Social media’ are not yet important in NZ online investor relations.
The BIWA10 was the first time that we surveyed the NZX50 sites to see how many were using Facebook, Twitter and blogging to enhance communication with investors. We found that unexpectedly, despite media coverage of these new tools, only eight sites in the NZX50 use one or more of these ‘social media’:
- five used Facebook
- four used Twitter
- and three were blogging about corporate affairs.
The use of social media is not related to a high BIWA score. The companies using these tools to communicate with investors are not those who are already maximising their web presence to communicate with this audience. In other words, listed companies in NZ have yet to successfully harness the communication power of these new interactive strategies.
Some companies clearly used social media to communicate with customers (rather than investors), but this happens outside the corporate sites that we are surveying. Only when they are used for targeted investor communication will these tools become more widespread in the NZX50 sites. And this will only happen when listed companies become more accustomed to focusing their online strategies on communicating with potential and actual investors.
At present, given the number of NZX50 listed companies with below-par websites, it’s only fair and reasonable that they should avoid social media. Until they succeed in mastering the basics of online communication, a move into the riskier waters of Facebook and Twitter will only expose their shortcomings to public scrutiny.
Well now we’re looking at the end of the year, it might be a good time to consider what we learned from this year’s Best Investor Website Awards (BIWA2010).
New sites continue to do better. The most obvious thing, which shouldn’t be news but is, is that newly-designed sites in general are better than older ones. This was not always the case. I was disappointed in 2008 to discover that of the sites that had been redesigned in the 2007–08 year, only half had improved their ranking.
So in 2008 a site that was redesigned had the same chance of being either improved or made worse. The outcome, rather than being a sound investment in improved user experience, was the same as a simple coin toss.
This year 80% of the redesigned sites have retained or improved their BIWA rankings. Each year more and more of the new site designs show an improved experience for the investor audience. In other words, if a listed company recently paid for a redesign, this year there was four times the chance it would be improved for users rather than made worse. That makes paying for a new web design look like a fairly solid bet, if you want to enhance the experience your actual and potential investors have in using your site.
I think that this turnaround is a product of broader understanding about user-centred design within the NZ web design industry – which is good news, if a little overdue. It seems that our efforts at Wired to agitate for enhanced understanding of users and their needs is bearing fruit – or are at least in tune with the times, since probably it’s not ALL our doing!
‘The Gap’ is widening – I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years that the NZX50 is gradually splitting into two ‘bunches’, like a cycle race. The leaders have made an effort to design online information for the investor audience, and those in the trailing bunch have still failed to understand the point of this.
Following on from my earlier point about new designs being better, this year six of the Top 10 company sites feature new designs. But by contrast, in the Bottom 10, there are still three that have new designs which are frankly still not up to scratch.
The overall spread of BIWA scores between top and bottom was only 39 points in 2008 – but in 2010 this had increased to 54 points. And while the best and the worst are moving further apart, the overall average score of the BIWA remains much the same around at 66 out of 100. But don’t be fooled! This does not mean that there’s an even spread of scores from top to bottom. There really is a ‘gap’ opening between the top 10 – whose average score increased this year by two points to 82.5 – and the bottom 10, whose average score decreased by three points to 46.2.
And what is the message of all this? Any listed company wanting to enhance the online information it offers to investors should seek the advice of web designers with experience in understanding the investor audience. Because these guys are going to give your investors a web design suited to their specific needs – and that’s what your competition is doing, which is why your investors are increasingly likely to expect it from you.
In winter 2008 I organised a comparative review of the homepages of the fifty biggest NZ companies not in state ownership. This revealed a few interesting things, including that in NZ good homepage usability is at present largely the preserve of B-to-C transactional sites. Currently NZ companies are not regarding the web as the primary, or even a major, means of investor or customer relations management. But that’s a separate story.
What I want to discuss today is what happened next. After a month or so I decided to check the sites and find out what changes had occurred, since we were getting ready to mount a bit of publicity on the back of this thing. My curiosity was roused by the discovery that five sites had had pretty major makeovers in the intervening weeks. Could we discern any trends, I wondered?
And the answer, friends, is yes we can.
The sites that had been worked on are the following:
The sites themselves gave some background to this. The BNZ site was redesigned in order to introduce enhanced customer security, Works was redesigned because of a corporate rebranding exercise, and the others stated no reason. Obviously I don’t know what these exercises cost, but my guess is that at least three of these were fairly expensive.
And the bad news in summary? Two went up in ranking, and three went down.
Those that improved were:
AFFCO was rated at 44%, now 86%, that’s a climb from 47 to 2 out of 50.
Fisher & Paykel was rated at 52%, now 69%, that’s a climb from 44 to 21 out of 50.
Those that became worse were:
Works was rated at 73%, now 45%, that’s a drop from 12 to 47 out of 50.
BNZ was rated at 78%, now 69%, that’s a drop from 4 to 21 out of 50.
Guardian Health Care was rated at 67%, now 57%, that’s a drop from 27 to 37 out of 50.
To my mind, these results are actually fairly random, and that’s a trend in itself.
I would honestly have thought that a business that is going to expend some serious shareholder coin on revamping its website would give thought to the issue of making the homepage more usable to site visitors.
I don’t feel I have to justify or explain that – it’s a no-brainer, even if there’s an ulterior motive for the redesign, such as rebranding. And yet, whether or not their usability improved is pretty much a coin toss. If there is any trend, it’s towards declining usability.
Frankly, I find these results a little shaming. Is this how poorly our major corporates are ‘getting’ the web? Sadly, I think that’s true.
In fact, if I may be permitted an anecdote to support this contention, the case of MacquarieGoodman is even more damning. In a separate study of the NZX Top 50, I rated this homepage as second most usable of all the Top 50, on 85% [http://www.goodmanintl.com].
A week after the study was made public, they rebranded the company with a major ad agency-driven makeover. The homepage plummeted to a 56% rating, taking itself down to 49th out of the 50. You could smell the money they’d spent, wafting out of the monitor – and the net result was, you couldn’t tell from the homepage what their business was about, who the site was intended for, nor what content you might expect to find in it. It looks very glossy, but usability isn’t just a beauty contest – and this thing looks good in a bikini but can’t name the current president of the USA.
It’s really hard to credit, but so many businesses still think a good website has to look uber-glossy and utterly minimal, and consequently be completely opaque as to your actual meaning. This is a sign of terminal corporate self-regard, rather than an indication of a mature user-centred web presence.
Please work with me people. Repeat after me – in preparation for that next web strategy meeting with your managers: “What is the web? The web is a medium of communication… Stupid!”