Your Next Annual Report Should Be Visual

Lucy Todd
Lucy Todd
Oct 19 · 4 min read
A tablet showing 3D pages with data visualization hovering above the screen
A tablet showing 3D pages with data visualization hovering above the screen

When it comes to marketing, only a few types of content are as effective as visual content. It reaches your audience quickly in a way they truly want to engage with. As a result, you might see increased traffic to your site, a boost in leads, more closed deals — or all of the above.

But the power of visual content doesn’t begin and end with your company’s target market. There’s another eager audience within your own organization that craves a visual means of understanding processes, policies, and expert subject matter: your employees.

And while there are many ways to visually engage your colleagues and employees, an annual report may be one avenue that you haven’t previously considered.

If it’s important to you that your audience pays attention to, understands, and retains the information in your annual report, increasing the amount of visual content is a strong way to go.

In the US, nonprofits are required to provide a certain level of transparency about business operations upon request — and annual reports can be an effective way to do that. Large corporations must share their reports with shareholders, but they can also be a valuable tool for sharing throughout the company as well as with the public (even if the level of disclosure is different for different audiences).

What Should Go into My Annual Report?

Straddling the line of external and internal communication, annual reports are an excellent way to show off your achievements to devoted customers/donors and devoted employees alike. If it’s important to you that your audience pays attention to, understands, and retains the information in your annual report, increasing the amount of visual content is a strong way to go.

A virtual dashboard and stat: 82% of employees say they learn better from visual content vs. traditional documents
A virtual dashboard and stat: 82% of employees say they learn better from visual content vs. traditional documents

Whether you modify your reports to share more or less with each intended audience, practically everyone can agree that seeing a company’s achievements is far more impactful than only having the option to read about them.

The power of visual content doesn’t begin and end with your company’s target market. There’s another eager audience within your own organization — your employees.

Keeping your target audience for each report in mind, try to include information like:

  • Where you operate
  • Where your customer base is located
  • Company values
  • Areas of focus
  • Industry rankings
  • Major initiatives, projects, and accomplishments
  • Leadership activities and successes
  • Year-over-year revenue and/or profit
  • Personnel and departmental updates
  • Marketing and social presence

How Should I Visualize My Information?

The rules of data visualization are around for a reason. Your 5% YoY growth can’t be shown in a pie chart, because they only show a piece of a whole — not a growth, which indicates something is more than it used to be. Similarly, be careful about juxtaposing numerical data onto strange shapes, like a map or a person — even with the best of intentions, this can distort the data and affect your viewers’ perceptions of the information.

Donut chart showing that 93% of internal communication professionals say creativity is important for their role
Donut chart showing that 93% of internal communication professionals say creativity is important for their role

In addition to choosing the right technical application, be sure to consider the overall aesthetic as it plays to your audience. Fun and playful illustrations may not be the right choice for your CEO (… or maybe they are!), while an overly minimalist approach might bore your employees if they don’t have further incentive to review the report.

How Much Is Too Much?

Your visual annual report can reduce the amount of time it takes your audience to absorb the information you’re sharing. That being said, adding too many visuals can be a turn-off that loses your viewers just as quickly as a text-only report.

For any number of reasons, it can be difficult to part with a visual component of your design. You might really love the elephant illustration accompanying the section on company volunteer work or the complete and detailed company history in the introduction — but others may be pushing for their removal. And as Deena Khattab explains about both writing and design, “When you fall in love with something, it’s hard to see its flaws.”

Your visual annual report can reduce the amount of time it takes your audience to absorb the information you’re sharing.

If you’re having trouble letting go of that elephant illustration or the 3 sets of historical revenue charts, put yourself in the viewer’s desk chair. Does the elephant clearly communicate the volunteering your employees have done with the local zoo, or could the illustration be working harder to show that? Should your annual report focus on all of your company’s history, or offer just a brief recap of what’s happened since your rebrand last year?

A person petting an elephant’s trunk, and a set of data visualizations
A person petting an elephant’s trunk, and a set of data visualizations

If the answer is that your visual content is enhancing your message and driving your narrative, you can probably keep it. If it’s just for fun, or if it simply makes the report longer, but doesn’t add meaning or simplify understanding, you can probably scrap it.

The potential for visual communication within your organization is vast. While a highly visual annual report might benefit you, high-quality execution is the key to making sure your information isn’t ignored. With each business’ unique needs come a unique set of possibilities.


Originally published on the Killer Visual Strategies blog.

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Lucy Todd

Written by

Lucy Todd

Chief Process Officer @ Killer Visual Strategies. Writer at The Visual Marketer medium.com/the-visual-marketer

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +538K people. Follow to join our community.

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