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Marketing & Tech
Dec 28, 2010 | SiriusDecisions lock

Marketing reports and dashboards must be well-designed and logically structured to drive maximum utility and adoption; how do yours stack up?
With all due respect to protective mothers everywhere, looks matter. This doesn't mean everyone should aspire to be a supermodel, but taking a little extra time to make sure one's teeth are brushed, hair is combed and shirt is tucked in makes it a bit easier for others to be open to learning about our more inward-facing gifts.

Looks certainly matter when it comes to marketing reporting; a cluttered, convoluted dashboard that is presented haphazardly will almost surely fall flat, no matter how good the results are behind it. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we share four elements for structuring and presenting marketing dashboards and reports so they will be more attractive and useful to the audiences that consume them.

The Elements of Dashboard Style
When a marketing dashboard is met with resistance from an executive viewing it, the knee-jerk reaction is to try different data the next time around. Not only does this not fix the problem, it makes things even more confusing. Consistently gathered data that employs four principles in its presentation is almost certain to make a bigger, more positive impact, including:

Summarize success. The most frequent comment about reports we hear from marketing leaders is that they want to get to the point faster, with a less-is-more, highly visual approach used to communicate key facts. Marketing operations, on the other hand, is trained that quantity is key to meeting needs of multiple audiences in a single report, meaning that there is an inherent conflict. To construct a tighter summary, agree on the key performance indicators and metrics that the receiving audience cares about most before the report or dashboard is delivered, and then focus on how they will be best visualized. If the audience will be some form of senior management, present current results and trends in the same chart, as well as performance relative to goals and to external benchmarks when possible. Snapshots of point-in-time data inevitably lead to questions about how performance compares to other time periods, and about what's likely to happen next. Finally, add a summary analysis of why the data is as it is; what the potential reasons for improvement/erosion might be; and what has been planned to fix any problem areas.

Focus on information flow. Reports that combine results and activity in no particular order maintain the myth that the efforts of specific marketing functions are independent, not additive. Start with your summary, then present additional supporting information regarding how the marketing function is working together in terms of supporting key goals. In a previous brief we discussed how over time, the development of the waterfall concept has helped crystallize marketing's role not only in relation to sales, but between marketing functions themselves. The five task families identified that surround the waterfall – seed, create, enable, accelerate and nurture – are a logical way to dive more deeply into marketing results, especially as they form the detail for why the waterfall is currently performing as it is. A sixth category may be related to the operational aspects of marketing, including project management and the current state of the database. Beyond the initial summary presentation, consider whether the audience prefers more or less detail, which impacts the volume of information to be included overall.

Weave in proper analysis. At the root of most requests for a report to be more visually compelling is a desire for charts to provide insight rather than simple data. It can also be related the way data in charts can be combined to provide greater meaning and insight. Think about the decisions to be made and the data that can logically be combined or contrasted to help make those decisions. Visualization of data also allows analysts to show relationships between data points that help to tell a story about marketing impact. Ideally a chart can make the point for you; standard pie charts tend to make this difficult because they provide only a snapshot of one element without context. If the platform where reporting is done does not allow the addition of comments on charts, use mouse-over comments or use the chart's title to be more explicit about what the data is saying. Consider adding commentary to any communication that goes out with a link to the online report, and make it easier to interpret charts by including "red-yellow-green" performance indicators, especially if measures are combined into a table.

Consider a broader toolset. SiriusDecisions defines a marketing dashboard as an online, interactive presentation of data and analysis, while a report is a static, often manual compilation of information in document or presentation format. A fully online dashboard is reality for only about 20 percent of our clients today; the majority still rely on a combination of spreadsheets, externally created reports from agencies and outsourced service providers, and screen shots from in-application reporting (e.g. a CRM system or marketing automation platform). Companies that have purchased business intelligence (BI) tools allow them to combine data from multiple sources for visualization and analysis, with dashboards that look better and are more flexible in their construction.

A good marketing report has both looks and brains – in the form of useful and trusted information – going for it. The most attractive dashboard won't be used if it lacks the right measures to derive insights and make decisions, but neither will fancy charts that depict unhelpful information or that lack accompanying analysis. Setting the goals for a report or dashboard early on and making it easy to navigate for a user will help to ensure the right information is delivered more quickly.

About the Author:

SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance. 

©Sirius Decisions, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

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