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Web-Based Annual Reports at First Contact: Corporate Image and Aesthetics

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Purpose: Enterprises aim for a favorable corporate image and use their corporate annual reports to impart it. The annual report is a formal document that fulfills the mandatory disclosure requirements and serves as an organization's mass communication medium to inform shareholders, investors, employees, customers, suppliers, and the press, as well as the general public. In particular, large enterprises provide an additional online version of their report. We investigated user engagement at first contact with such Web-based annual reports and the influence of main report characteristics—content, usability, and aesthetics—on corporate image and overall impressions. Method: In a Web-based study, 155 participants read one of eight online corporate annual reports from German companies. Corporate image was assessed before and after browsing the report, overall impression afterwards. The report characteristics content, usability, and aesthetics were measured with established and validated questionnaires. Results: Findings were in line with our hypotheses: Corporate image significantly improved from before to after reading a Web-based annual report, even as reading time was short, demonstrating a mere exposure effect. The report characteristics content, usability, and aesthetics explained 20.5% of the variation in this increase and 66.0% of the overall impression of the reports; the best predictor was visual aesthetics. Conclusion: Content features of corporate reports are often limited by legal requirements, and usability of online reports is mainly driven by users' demands. However, organizations can positively influence their public perception by improving the visual design of their annual reports online.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2017

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