When insurance group Aviva started to assimilate the information for its most recent annual report, it set itself an interesting challenge - could it articulate on one page just what it is that an insurance company is and does. 'We felt that we rose to that challenge,' says head of communications Sue Winston.
'When you are a corporate website, one of the first things that people expect to find is an explanation of what you are and what you do,' she adds. 'We wanted to move towards a more narrative approach. We looked at Aviva.com and recognised that we needed to have a clear articulation of what we are and what we do.'
What Aviva didn't want to do, according to Winston, was to replicate anything it had done previously. 'We wanted a completely different approach,' she explains. 'We were looking for a concept that made the complex simple. We wanted simple explanations rather than, as most corporates do, pages and pages of text. We developed the idea of using icons within our report and accounts.
'One of the things that helped us is that we are an organisation going through a huge transformation. Our new chief executive [Mark Wilson] is encouraging people to think differently. If you do things that don't add value then stop doing them.'
Explaining exactly what a composite insurer, such as Aviva, does has always been challenging. It sells life insurance and general insurance products but also has an asset management arm that invests funds on behalf of its customers and other clients.
'We wanted to bring some humanity to our story,' adds Winston. 'We found that people like quirky facts.' Aviva chose the fact that if it laid all the cars that it had repaired for customers in 2012 end to end, the line would stretch from London to Edinburgh. Next year, it could promote a fact from another side of the business.
The insurance company's solution was to create an infographic that contained key facts about the business, such as where it operates and sells its products; highlighted its size and scale; emphasised its role in society; and then contained all the key information about performance and the benefits to investors in choosing Aviva's shares.
'We illustrated our five key metrics [cash flow, operating profit, operating ratio, value of new business and expenses] as a flower,' explains Winston. 'It is pared back, straightforward and easy to follow.' Aviva has created a static infographic for use within the report and accounts, that can be printed as an aide memoire, which is particularly useful for its retail investors, and an interactive one for use online. 'Once we had agreed the way forward, we had to then consider how to use the icons to signpost the extensive information we have on thousands of pages on our corporate website,' explains Winston. 'Our web based infographic gives us flexibility. As the business changes, we can think about how to explain it and we can always update numbers as they change. We're pleased with where we are but there is more we can do to evolve the style and develop the tone.'