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The new purpose of annual reports

Organisations aren’t as clear-cut as they used to be. They’re developing their core offers and products and services: the third sector is now more corporate friendly and corporates are now developing socially-impactful initiatives.  Just look at what Apple and Virgin do now compared with when they started. Greater brand fluidity, and people’s desire to buy from companies that behave responsibly, mean that companies, now more than ever, have to define what they stand for and why they are in business. This is their brand purpose.

But what about annual reports? These have always done the job of reporting the financial health of a business and, increasingly, set out the company’s strategy.

Brand purpose is coming into play here, too. We’re seeing companies setting out their brand purpose in the opening pages of their report, replacing the traditional mission statements about shareholder value, profits and growth. The sentiment of the brand purpose forms the basis of much of the content of the strategic report, allowing more flexibility in strategy to respond to changing market conditions. It doesn’t replace the corporate social responsibility report, but adds a filter that can be used in the reporting on responsibility and sustainability issues.

Like consumers, investors are now investing in why companies do what they do, not only what they do: their decision runs deeper than just performance and profits.

The same goes for employees – they want to commit their careers to companies with visions they believe in. And it’s been shown that employees are more satisfied and more productive if they share the vision and beliefs of the company they work for.

The annual report is still a unique record. It communicates to a wide range of stakeholders, and is the one document that is produced once a year, every year, enabling businesses to report on the previous 12 months and sets out their focus for the future.

Companies that make brand purpose the thread that runs through all parts of their annual report, create a report that has a more focused discussion and provides a more revealing account of their place in the world.

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