Is Your Timeline Future-Focused?

Home screen of CorporateHistory.net's interactive timeline at the American Water Visitor Innovation Center in Camden, NJ

A well-constructed timeline remains an essential marketing tool: it can set your organization apart from its competitors, strengthen your branding, let you brag a little, and tell your story in a way that makes your company memorable. CorporateHistory.net has created dozens of company history timelines and looked at hundreds more. (For some examples, see our blog posts tagged with “timeline design.”) Here are CorporateHistory.net’s top 7 tips for contemporary timeline success:

  1. Think in terms of multimedia. Print, mobile, public display, a refreshed “About Us” page … it’s all good. For American Water, CorporateHistory.net wrote and photo-sourced a touch-screen timeline at the Innovation Center in the lobby of its Camden, NJ, headquarters. The info is sliced-and-diced by a few categories: company history, milestones in the history of water treatment, public events, and more.
  2. Use major events as centerpieces. Given your target audience, what are the six to eight major events in your company history? That’s what we did with a two-page timeline for BAYADA Home Health Care. Make sure your milestones don’t get lost in a barrage of less important data.
  1. Build story into the structure. Given that readers have notoriously short attention spans, can you make your timeline a connected story? A series of problems and solutions? A brief history of a niche subject, with your company in a starring role? The heritage timeline CorporateHistory.net wrote for The Clorox Company is story-rich.
  1. Layer in larger timelines—maybe. Do you want to keep readers laser-focused on your company, or will you set your company’s achievements in the wider framework of science, business, politics, or pop culture? Will your framework be your company, your community or industry, the United States, or the world? “Keep it simple” is our advice. That’s how CorporateHistory.net handled the web timeline for the State Fund of California.
  1. Add images, captions, and videos. What will you use for visuals: current or archival photos, logos, advertisements? Any item with an image will get more attention than an item with only text. Captions will get more attention than text. Choose your visuals and captions accordingly. It’s worth mining for historical videos, too.  When CorporateHistory.net consulted on the year-long anniversary campaign for NACHA–The Electronic Payments Association, we plowed through dozens of archival boxes. We struck gold with this priceless 1975 video with Rita Moreno, filmed when people had to be convinced to try Direct Deposit for their Social Security checks.
  1. Strategize the structure. Will you have one long timeline, or split it into or sections? If sections, what are the best divisions? Decades are easy and obvious, but if your major achievements came in 1932, 1939, 1955, and 1959, consider breaking the timeline in a way that gives those dates get more attention. Don’t forget to mark business anniversaries! Red Lobster keeps it clean-and-simple and adds a cool link to its logo evolution.
  1. Make navigation easy. Is the layout easy to understand? (Unlike, say, Boeing’s bafflingly complex timeline, a 130-page PDF!) If you’re using tabs for sections of the timeline, can readers see that option on both laptop and mobile screens? Lands’ End does a typically handsome job, with one image per decade.