Data Reporting Best Practices
Using your data and analytics to inform your strategy and execution is only half the story — the other half is presenting the data effectively. Fair reporting is essential to both illustrating the value and justifying the purpose of your marketing campaigns, either with internal teams or external clients. When it comes time to report on your campaigns’ successes, there are several best practices you should keep in mind.
Consider Your Audience
Reports generated for you, the digital marketer, should contain the most detailed information. You need to know what to improve for your next month of campaigns so you can take data-based actions and reports from your employees can be as detailed as possible.
The marketers who work underneath you — SEO researchers, content creators, PPC ad buyers, and social media managers — all need to see the low-level data that helps them do their jobs. However, it’s a good idea to give them a high-level overview of the strategies and performance of other departments and their own. They’ll want to know general success metrics so they can help each other integrate strategies across campaigns.
Look for Quick Wins
A quick win is a pronounced increase in a significant number like lead generation, conversion, or sales. Some of the numbers generated by your reporting will be obscure and difficult to parse without more detailed analysis, so start your reporting with the most intuitive highlights.
Quick wins are often best expressed as percentages rather than raw data. For example, Client A may have reported 20,000 social engagements this year. Unless the person reading the report has additional context, they won’t know whether that number signifies a noteworthy improvement. Expressing the same result as a “75 percent year-over-year increase” has a much more immediate impact.
Compare your campaign reports to both previous years and previous campaigns when appropriate. Your campaigns will vary in their goals and execution, but it’s worthwhile to examine whether focusing on social engagement or email conversion has a better effect on your bottom line.
Put ROI Front and Center
The exact metrics that you report will vary considerably, depending on your business goals and the nature of your company. Regardless of the metrics you prioritize, make an effort to frame every marketing campaign in terms of return on investment (ROI). ROI is likely to be a priority for the people who set your budget, but it can also be instrumental when deciding the most efficient use of your marketing department’s time.
When calculating costs against returns, don’t forget to distinguish between organic and paid marketing. Organic outreach isn’t free. You might not pay to boost organic posts on social networks or appear in organic searches on Google, but the time spent engaging with those channels and optimizing your on-page SEO is still expensive. Examine organic and paid media separately, but don’t lose track of the way they interact.
Reporting to the C-Suite
One of your most critical responsibilities is effectively illustrating your marketing campaigns’ value to the executives who approve your channel plans and set your budget using marketing data and analytics. Executives are busy people, and they’re generally not concerned with your marketing team’s day-to-day operation.
Focus on results. Find out what the c-suite at your particular client or company cares about, then craft your reporting around those key metrics. For some, the priority will be sales numbers. For others, lead generation or customer retention might be more important.
Once you know what the executives care about, focus on hard numbers. Marketing is often subjective. Some metrics, like social media engagement or positive online reviews, don’t translate well to dollars and cents. It’s your job to turn the more ethereal gains of your campaigns into precise results.
In general, we advise updating the executive team monthly, focused on high-level performance trends. Each report should include a comparison to the previous report, either week-over-week or month-over-month, for analysis. Be considerate of season trends — if you often run promotions around the holidays, back to school, or tax season, for example — it’s useful to generate year-over-year comparisons as well.
Present Marketing as a Strategic Asset
As marketers, it can be challenging to convince the people in charge that marketing is more than just window dressing. Data and analytics are your most powerful tools for doing so.
Your goal should be to demonstrate the value of your marketing initiatives by showing both what you’re doing and why. Your data collection and analysis details precisely who your customers are, how they think, and what they value most. You’ve employed that knowledge and created timely, relevant, useful information that has addressed their pain points and turned them into loyal customers. All that remains is to show the C-suite how well it’s working.
Be ready for challenging questions. The C-suite may ask why one channel or another is worth pursuing, even if they had no involvement in the initial strategy meetings. If the CEO asks you why you’re spending $50,000 a year on Facebook ads when no one he knows uses Facebook anymore, you need to have the data that shows that your customers are very active on Facebook and have generated $200,000 in revenue since that ad campaign started.
Finally, remember that presentation matters. Pure numbers are dull and obtuse, so take the time to add graphs and other visualizations to more intuitively represent the data you’ve been collecting.
Add in narrative imagery and customer perspectives. Tell the story of a hypothetical customer who tried to make a purchase on your old website, only to be turned away by a flawed navigation system. With the updates that your team has implemented, the menu is much easier to navigate, and John Doe can find the exact products he needs. Don’t forget to tie in hard numbers — finish your story by adding that cart abandonment is down 50 percent.
If you have them available, incorporate customer testimonials and specific case studies. Mention a large client struggling with inefficiencies in their internal processes until they read your blog and purchased your product. Add a quote from that customer explaining how useful the product is. If you can show that your marketing has tangible results with real people, your reporting will be far more compelling.
The Bottom Line
Data is only as useful as your ability to glean actionable information from it. Every company is gathering troves of data on their customers’ behavior, browsing, and purchasing habits. What matters most is your ability to turn that data into action by informing your strategy and execution. Customer data can be extremely valuable, as long as you use it intelligently.