Annual reports we admire: Volkswagen’s latest model voted ‘World’s Best Report’

Candice O'Sullivan
September 28, 2012

Having just been voted ‘World’s Best Report’, Volkswagen’s 2011 annual report should be impressive – and that it is. From its key messaging theme, Experience D(r)iversity, to its creative execution to its innovative use of technology, this report is one slick number. With such high production values, it’s no surprise that this report is also stunning to look at. So much so, you want to keep turning the page – and frankly, invoking that response from a reader of an annual report is rare. So if you only do three things differently when developing your annual report this year, what best-practice examples should you borrow from Volkswagen?

1. Invest in high-quality photography

It’s tempting to skimp on photography costs when producing a large publication such as an annual report but in an otherwise text-heavy, figure-laden document, your choice of photographer (and photography style) can mean the difference between stakeholders briefly flicking through your annual report versus taking the time to sit down and read it.

If photos, like those featured in Volkswagen’s report, were people, we’d describe them as having a great work ethic. A photo that is doing its job right and working hard on behalf of your brand will  – seemingly effortlessly – enhance the character of its subject. It will bring its subject matter, and what that subject matter stands for, to life. In this way, great photography can personalise the report of a large corporation and help make what that corporation stands for directly relevant and meaningful to its target audience. Report photography done well will help draw an audience in (make an impact), appeal to them emotionally (create a connection) and encourage them to think twice about subject matter they may not ordinarily be interested in (make the report content resonate).

See for yourself by checking out some of our favourite spreads from Volkswagen’s winning report below:

2. Choose a theme directly relevant to all aspects of your business (and brand)

Volkswagen’s 2011 theme, Experience D(r)iversity, is an excellent example of how an annual report theme executed well can take a single brand premise and credibly show how it relates to all aspects of a business.  There are many cases where this ‘single-minded’ approach simply doesn’t work – where it looks like a company is trying too hard to attribute one idea to every thing they do and it doesn’t ring true or appears clichéd. Volkswagen’s report is an example of where this approach does work – well. It shows how diversity, in every way, is Volkwagen’s driving force (no pun intended).

Interpreted simply, the theme is merely a clever ‘play on words’. A closer look, though, reveals a robust business strategy at play. No one comes away from reading (or even glancing) at Volkswagen’s report without understanding that the company puts diversity at the core of its business. Volkswagen delivers a diverse range of vehicles designed by a diverse workforce to meet the diverse needs of a diverse customer base. Sounds like Volkswagen is trying to be everything to everybody, right? In fact, Volkswagen is highlighting its commitment to the individual.

This brand promise speaks directly to Volkswagen’s target market. Volkswagen has always served drivers who are ‘non-conformists’, customers who see themselves as successful because they dare to challenge convention. Indeed, marketing research psychographics describe Volkswagen drivers as passionate risk-takers, visionaries and adventurers. Volkswagen drivers like brands that project success in a humorous, convention-challenging manner rather than using the traditional, conservative symbols adopted by the older, more serious corporate world, i.e. people who work in very tall buildings and drive BMWs. Brand loyalists choose to drive Volkswagen because VW vehicles reflect their own attitude to life: non-traditional success and personal freedom.  In this respect, the 2011 annual report’s focus on diversity is 100% on-brand and 100% on-message.

3. Present your report using media that best reflect your brand and audience preferences

In keeping with the diversity theme, Volkswagen also made a conscious decision to use multiple, diverse forms of media, including an iPad app, to present its report this year. Beyond its commitment to diversity, this approach also aligns with and supports Volkswagen’s other core brand attributes such as innovation and technology leadership. The iPad app, in particular, has allowed Volkswagen to include content and insights that do not usually feature in traditional reports. This has allowed stakeholders to interact with the company in new and different ways, raising the bar on what defines the typical ‘report experience’.

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Of course, its fair to say that none of the above would have been possible without the right creative partner, which leads to our last piece of advice: choose your design agency wisely! (Hint! Hint!)

Click here to access the PDF version of Volkswagen’s annual report and here to download the iPad app from iTunes.

By Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan.

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