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Establish thought leadership through your annual reports

While preparing the annual report of a global manufacturer of industrial products recently, it struck me what an ideal channel the annual reports are for establishing thought leadership. But it seems that many companies lock themselves into a standard formula that is all about reporting from the perspective of the company – like a true propaganda Voice of Company channel. It’s easy to miss the opportunity to truly engage stakeholders with content that is relevant and interesting to them.

One of the reasons your annual reports are a powerful medium is that, of all a company’s publications, it is one that people choose to read. Many will even seek it out, certainly more than the marketing material published by the same company. Let’s face it, most people avoid reading marketing propaganda if they can. But they are more likely to take notice of an annual report because it is a medium through which companies are expected to be more factual and neutral, and, in the best case, open up.

How many annual reports do you see that aren’t all about propaganda? An annual report is supposed to paint a true picture of the company in its current state. But when the company does not want to reveal too much information, it can end up with vague messages that are highly unsatisfactory for readers. The suspicion and lack of trust this creates are surely the opposite of the very intention of hiding information.

Furthermore, many companies have difficulty admitting openly and honestly that they are performing below expectations – even though this is not uncommon in today’s economy. The bad news is often wrapped up in positive spin and optimistic forecasts. “We grew in this market.” “We won these contracts.” “We increased our market share.” “We met the challenges of the current economic climate.”

From here it’s easy to fall into the sort of propaganda-like messages that most companies love to tell – and that everyone else writes. Savvy readers and analysts will see through the spin, which means the company risks losing credibility in their eyes – again, the opposite of what was intended.

Buyers today want to know the truth – and they want it from industry experts. They don’t want to have to spend time interpreting messages to get to the true picture. In an annual report, you can bring out the knowledge and opinions that are held by the industry and technology experts within your company. You can open the lid on your company’s expertise. You can also include relevant third-party content that brings larger industry issues to light. Readers will feel they are learning something from you, which will add more credibility to the publication and expand its appeal to a broader audience.

By doing this, you will turn your annual report into a Voice of Industry publication. Readers will be left with an impression that your company is a thought leader within its field and that your experts are people who want to share their thoughts for the greater good. What better way to establish credibility in the market?

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David Hoskin

I've helped B2B companies create and implement international marketing and communications strategies since 1999. I've been fortunate enough to work with some great companies and highly talented individuals during the years. But the game's changing fast. Although my aim is always to create pragmatic solutions that produce measurable results, there are always new challenges to overcome. I studied engineering and music and I have an Executive MBA (with Distinction) from Henley Business School, University of Reading (UK). Today, I'm a partner at B2B marketing agency cylindr and BBN International. Here on Integrated B2B, I want to share my personal opinions and perspectives on the changing face of B2B marketing. I hope you join in the conversation, too.

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