I won't buy a product online from a company with a bad website. You probably won't either. It's because a poorly executed website makes us question the reliability of the site, the security of the site, and perhaps most importantly, it makes us question the validity of the brand itself.
Which is why I was surprised to see that one of the most respected brands in business today, Berkshire Hathaway, has a REALLY BAD website. In fact, I'm not sure how you could come to any other conclusion, as evidenced by the screenshot below.
A quick check of the Wayback Machine shows that the site has been essentially the same for the last 13 years. This would say to me that Berkshire Hathaway is a company that doesn't understand the value of their corporate website. The design hasn't evolved, the content is sparse, and the technology is outdated. In fact, the most advanced feature on the site is a section for the sales of Berkshire Hathaway activewear, which has been around for 13 years, too!
It would be easy to explain this lack of focus on the site as a reflection of Warren Buffet's investment and life philosophy, which stresses basics and simplicity over extravagance. But I would argue that the Berkshire Hathaway corporate site is not an extravagance. In fact, it should be an essential part of further building value for Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. What surprised me most was that they've known that shareholders are the most important audience on the site since it launched in 1997. You can see that represented in most of the features, such as letters to the shareholders, meeting reports and even activewear. Yet the site has stayed the same while the world changed.
Here's how to redesign the Berkshire Hathaway site in simple ways that will make it a shareholder destination worthy of the brand that Warren Buffet has built:
- Create New Shareholder Communications
Aside from the standard items shareholders expect, like annual reports and SEC filings, Berkshire Hathaway has an opportunity to create more unique communication opportunities with shareholders. They already have some interesting things like letter from Warren Buffet, and the "Owners Manual." Yet I think that Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger have an unique opportunity to communicate more regularly with shareholders about the company, as well as their investing philosophy. Clearly both of these guys should at the very least have a blog. In fact, I think you could turn the whole site into a blog and it would be a vast improvement.
- Adopt Shareholder-Centric Technology
Why not explore moving beyond PDF downloads for letters to shareholders? Part of having a shareholder-centric mentality is catering to their technology preferences. Today's investor is used to attending webinars and watching videos for quarterly earninings. They are spending time on a Kindle or iPad. The class A or B Berkshire Hathaway shareholder surely indexes much higher for these devices and smartphones. Start simple by creating mobile and iPad versions of the site, and delivering Buffet's "message to shareholders" via video.
- Create Two-Way Communication with Shareholders
The best way to do this is through social media, of course. Berkshire Hathaway does not have a Facebook Page. With all of the time spent on thought leadership within the company, a social community would be another way to provide much shorter communication with shareholders, as well as a great way to tap into shareholder concerns and questions. Think of having a weekly "question" for Warren or Charlie.
I understand with all the money coming in, Berkshire Hathaway might want to pay a dividend, and they should. But I would propose setting a modest amount aside to update their digital presence. Warren Buffet won't invest in a company unless it's been around for 10 years. By that math, I think the website is past due.