Companies invest three to nine months of work and five- to six-digit euro amounts into the preparation of an annual report. Several employees of a company and often also an agency commissioned for this work on it. In the end, however, they will be read for only three minutes on average. Why do people read exciting novels voluntarily up to 2 clock in the morning or sit three hours quietly in the cinema, but an expensively produced and highly glossy annual report collects dust on the shelf? Corporate reports are much about numbers and facts, which are very monotonous for most readers. But the final report can be entertaining and emotional with the power of stories.
Annual reports are more than just a summary of business activities and finances. They open up the opportunity to take shareholders, employees and customers on a journey. Through their annual publication, companies can draw a route that illustrates the origin and the goal, the vision and values, the plans and experiences. Behind every dry figure might lie an exciting story. Data storytelling brings success to the spotlight, explains complex correlations and gets to the heart of the matter. We combine facts with emotion and content with individual digital or analog formats. This works in the area of print as well as online. In a business report in print form, the design also plays a role that should not be underestimated. The report must be authentic. Instead of impersonal agency pictures, photographs show the employees from their personal side while at the same time conveying the company’s values.
In contrast to listed facts, stories literally awaken larger parts of our brain, which in turn allows us to remember them much better – to be precise: 22 times better – than mere facts. The design of the presented annual report has a major impact on the processing of the information. With lists of bulletpoints, the language center is activated, which allows us to understand words. But that is all. Storytelling also activates those parts of the brain that are actually needed for experiencing. When speaking of salty sea air, the part of the brain that is responsible for taste or smell is activated. Even when physical activity is mentioned, the part of the brain responsible for movement, the motor cortex, warms up. The more senses and images we activate in the head, the more the content is internalized and the desire for continuation is activated.
The aim of the annual report is to convince all stakeholders of the mission and the successes of a company and to take them on a long journey together. Storytelling mechanisms help to master this challenge. For companies that need additional support, it is useful to hire external PR and marketing agencies. In addition to booklets, a business report can also be supplemented by additional online content. The corporate report therefore offers more opportunities than initially assumed.