Why Most Marketing Reports Curtail Options

This post isn’t about Brexit. Your views about Brexit shouldn’t be a barrier. Nor whether you regard Dominic Cummings as a hero or villain. There are huge ideas for Marketeers hidden inside Dominic’s January 2nd 2020 Blogpost.

Actually Dominic is assembling ideas rather than generating all of them. Other people had original ideas that he draws on. The ideas themselves have nothing to do with politics. So business should be rushing to investigate these ideas. Government and policy making is merely another application area.

I have to warn you there isn’t a ready to go solution (oven ready or not). But there is a hugely valuable chat that’s worth starting. Watch the video and drop your details in the box below – I’ve got a number of ideas for improvement and would like to start that chat.

7 Reasons Why Your Marketing Dashboard Can Fail

The typical marketing dashboard enables data to be thrown onto a screen. I chose “thrown” deliberately. It may look appealing, but the viewer can be easily misled. They can feel as though they are wading through a mess of data.

Your Data isn’t clean Sir..

The dirt can be well hidden. But destructive. This makes it hard for the reader to understand the story you want to tell.

To explain…

Many dashboards emphasize their ability to include data from online sources. This source data is simply fed through to the dashboard.

Sadly this simple flow creates the problem. The data in the typical online system has many problems. These include:

  • There are bits of data that should be filtered from your dashboard. Possibly from development or other test scenarios.
  • Encoded names are like jargon. The names can include countries and other identifiers. These have meaning to those that manage the online system. But the marketing dashboard viewer may be a business executive. This executive doesn’t know or care about the internals of some online system. So the jargon can make viewers reject the dashboard.
  • Splintered items due to case mismatch. These “duplicated items make reports useless Aggregation would make the reports readable.

Your dashboard charts don’t help readers with their real problem

Data gathering normally captures as much easy data as possible. The marketing dashboard can then show this presented at will. For example Google Analytics can easily capture every page on a website.
The data gathering may be deep as well. It may capture lots of detail. This allows the reader to segment the data.

For instance.
Google Analytics events are often labelled with the page. This means the reader knows on which page a particular event type occurred. There can be thousands of different pages on which even a single event type occurs.
Let’s suppose each time a web visitor downloads a brochure for a kettle an event is counted.
And suppose our dashboard user looks after household electrical products.

It still requires much work to make the numbers useful to our dashboard user.
1) We should be able to add kettles to all the other household electrical brochure downloads.
2) But we should also be able to see the kettle downloads on their own.
2) We should be able to exclude countries that the dashboard user isn’t responsible for.

But segmentation by page doesn’t aggregate products. And aggregating all products could include non electrical product downloads.
Geographical segmentation of viewers doesn’t precisely match responsibility for marketing in Southern Europe. The former is about the location of the potential consumer. The latter is about the location of the vendor. With easy global distribution of products we cannot assume these two are the same.
So our dashboard user has several nasty choices. None really address the precise problem the reader has.

The more we leave the user to do, the less likely it is that the dashboard will help answer their real questions. We relegate the dashboard to “interesting.. but not crucial”.

Your Data hasn’t been polished prior to display on the dashboard.

The example above shows how much we have to manipulate data to make it crucial information for the user.

Bad compromises result when the data doesn’t match what the user needs.

A dashboard can allow the user to segment and manipulate data. Yet this forces the senior manager to become an analyst.

Polishing takes work

I believe this is an abdication of responsibility on the part of the dashboard provider. Is the dashboard vendor just hoping that the consumer won’t notice?

Your dashboard doesn’t give adequate context

Dashboards often show data on a continuing trend. The dashboard user may compare this month with last month visually.
But the data has other relevant contexts. There may, we hope, have been a plan. So the dashboard should allow the user to compare the actual result against the plan.
But can every user see if it’s too far away from plan?
Think about the plane flying from London to New York. It will be off course for most of it’s journey. But the auto pilot will make sure the error is minimal. It would be a disaster if the plane ran out of fuel off the Brazilian coast.

Your dashboard doesn’t show comparators or tolerances

Any competent engineer understands the concept of tolerances. For instance diameter of each piston within a combustion engine has a tolerance. Each piston will be slightly different. But no piston can be so different it doesn’t fit into the cylinder.

It’s the same for marketing dashboards. There ought to be a tolerable deviation from plan. This enfranchises the non expert dashboard user. As a side note, the discussion of deviation is tolerable helps improve the plan. The qualitative what is good vs bad. What is better or poorer may be hard to assess.

Your dashboard assumes the user can accurately assess trend

Whilst most users have good eyesight this isn’t a good assumption. Changes in longer term trends can be difficult to see. Short term fluctuations may hide any acceleration or deceleration.

Struggling to see the trend is downwards

It’s like assuming that people know whether an approaching car is speeding up or slowing down. In this case the viewing angle makes a huge difference.

So the data often needs to be smoothed for the dashboard user. And manipulated. These can reveal subtle but important changes.
These changes may be important indicators of environmental changes. The effectiveness of marketing locations may be changing. Early warning of these is really helpful.

Your dashboard for marketing doesn’t relate to external objectives.

The client business has objectives. The marketing campaigns are subordinate to these. If the business executive can see a “line of sight” from a chart to a current business objective it’s much more relevant.

And if the link isn’t obvious the dashboard should state the link.

The client business has objectives. The marketing campaigns are subordinate to these. Can the business executive see how a chart relates to a current business goal? If it’s obvious the chart is much more relevant.
And if the link isn’t obvious the dashboard should explain the link.

Is your marketing dashboard great or just average?

Agencies are required to report regularly to clients. It can’t be escaped. But what makes the marketing dashboard great rather than just average? It can’t be the quantity of charts.

It’s not hard to bundle some charts and tables together and call it a dashboard. But what justifies a chart its place in the dashboard submitted by a marketing agency to its client. I want to suggest 7 criteria.

Is the information really actionable?

If the information simply generates a “that’s nice” then it has missed the mark. Going back to the basics – the reason for using agency was to create a particular result.

The stakeholder receiving a dashboard is answerable for the value received. They should be able to take action using the dashboard as justification.
So every part of a marketing dashboard should be answering

  • what are we getting value as a result of spending X? ( in time or money)
  • could we spend less and get the same results?
  • could we get greater results for the same or more money?
  • are there better options?
    Why? How can we believe that?

Is your marketing dashboard winning new friends?

If the dashboard doesn’t influence more people as time goes by; then the agency is almost certainly missing out.

Many marketing agencies can safely be ignored by most within their client’s company. The agency is only visible to 2 or 3 within the immediate marketing “department” of the corporate.
Why not create dashboards that actively generate interest in what the agency is doing? Why not stimulate positive questions at board level. That provoke discussion of options.
One way to do this is to ask a series of what if questions:

  • what if the conversion rate increased or decreased?
  • which roles would it affect?
  • what new opportunities would exist as a result?
    These will suggest people to whom the reports would matter if the trends were positive.

Does your dashboard enhance relationships?

The Dashboard should work for existing stakeholders. Do they read the reports regularly? If they don’t – why not? Are they boring? Does the dashboard empower the user to ask ever more demanding questions as time goes on. So a good question for every dashboard ingredient is:

  • Is this chart/table/element providing greater insights than last month?
  • Who does this help?
  • Does it provoke or lead to the next piece of work?

Does the dashboard support upselling and cross-selling?

Selling more to existing clients ought to be much less effort than getting new clients. The marketing dashboard can do a number of jobs to support this.

  • Provide the evidence that opportunities to do more exist.
  • Alert your client to these possibilities.
  • Publicise these opportunities.
  • Show how good your agency has been with the existing scope.
  • Provide the foundation justifying more work.

Does your marketing dashboard provide an Audit Trail?

What if the client people your agency deals with all left? Without warning? What would confirm the “rumour” that your agency did anything for that client?

OK – so there is a contract.

But what did you actually deliver?

Now for obvious reasons this scenario is rare. But is it wise to rely on your contacts alone to publicise how great your agency you agency is? Isn’t a plan B a wise precaution?
The reporting cycle and marketing dashboard provide the audit trail. They prove that not only did you have a contract and get paid – you also did something. Affected something. Helped your client in some specific ways.

Does the dashboard protect you against re-tendering?

Procurement departments are under relentless pressure to get more for less. Periodic demands to re-justify purchase contracts are inevitable. But it isn’t obvious that your contacts need to find alternative options easy.

Evidence that your agency dashboard is hard to replace could really help.

Help directly, because other agencies could be forced to offer similar or better. Because agencies who did this would feel the need to charge more – and the ease with which they could undercut the incumbent would lessen.

Help indirectly, because change isn’t valued. Any significant group of people from within your client arguing against change (even quietly) could help push the actual re-tendering process further into the future.

Are too many of the wrong views in the marketing dashboard?

All too often marketing dashboards have one overall view with segments. But if these segments don’t align with the responsibilities of the dashboard “consumers” then they aren’t going to really hit home. The reader isn’t going feel the hard work your agency does is relevant to them.

Using segments like this isn’t ideal either. It’s tedious to have to apply “your ideal segment” every time you open a report. Technology ought to do that – remember which segment you prefer. Or relate your profile to your ideal segments.


Creating a marketing dashboard that works effectively is not about drag and drop. It requires deep thinking about what the reader wants, needs and how your agency can benefit. So why not go for a walk and think?

Are Marketing Dashboards Just About Look And Feel?

Is look and feel the determinant of a great Dashboard?

Well the first dashboards had a very different look and feel (picture of carriage).

They were the wooden or leather boards on the front of the carriage that stopped the mud and stones hitting the driver..

And as the meaning of the word changed car designers worked to achieve a classic look and communicate information effectively

And of course the modern marketing dashboard is nothing if it doesn’t communicate information effectively.

Now look and feel is obviously an important contributor to that… but I’d argue that for any marketing agency your experts
are your greatest differentiator.. The source of the agency’s creativity… the major reason the client picked your agency..

Now your experts gain power from their expertise, and clients want the human connection – not least to answer questions.

So shouldn’t the marketing dashboard for your clients also share the personality and expertise of your people?

How does an Excel spreadsheet do that?

Or a web page full of pretty pie charts?

Of course an obvious answer might be – that’s why we have a monthly meeting…

But how often have you found corporate demands made it impossible for all the people interested in the report to attend.

Deprived of personality your dashboard can become another dry report circulated to the busy executive, so your visibility reduces.

So what kind of content would best share your people’s expertise and get clients excited?

Shouldn’t the meaning and information content of dashboard be changing once again! At least in part to help agencies build better relationships with their clients?

A Dashboard Video Unlike The Others!

Welcome to a video about online Dashboards that isn’t like the others..

For a start – there’s no visuals of the dashboard…which’ll probably seem odd…

But showing you a screen of what your dashboard could look like would be sensible
only if we’d decided our dashboard should limit your choice to our ideas…

And we think that’s daft.

And we could have shown you pictures of charted trend lines & pie charts…

but we figure that wouldn’t is innovative or worthy of your time…

The different approach we’ve taken is more like the way wordpress and web “themes”.
So it’s not light or dark – but any look and feel you want..

Anything that can be shown on the web (audio, video) and yes even text!! if it makes sense.

No fancy drag and drop editor to stifle creativity.

No pretence of self service, forcing you to find staff capable of being training and accepting yet more workload.

Instead powerful, flexible automated cleansing and customisation of data unlimited by spreadsheet like functionality.

So why not grab some paper, doodle some ideas and arrange a chat about possibilities…
opening up the prospect of really innovative dashboards for you and your clients…

Is your Dashboard Mute?

Are your marketing reports mute like grainy silent mime?

Quick extract of Marcel Marceau..

You see charts / spreadsheets aren’t anywhere near as good as Marcel Marceau was at conveying meaning through mime.

Any accompanying commentary won’t be in a repeatable form. Chances are it’s verbal via phone conference, meetings, Q&A. And you know how easily messages get lost as these get sidetracked.

I’m not advocating writing it all out longhand. For many purposes tables and charts are much better. They make it much easier to communicate. But where do you put the soundtrack (the expansive explanations that are really needed)?

Many important corporate stakeholders won’t get to the meeting or hear you. All they have is the report without the sound track..
Worse – people who heard the sound track and thought they understood – will try and explain, putting their spin onto it.. Your clarity, pearls of wisdom get lost… misrepresented even..

And what happens when your contacts are off sick or leave? Evidence of your insights, understanding & hard work are lost to your client.

It’s broken. Ridiculous. It shouldn’t be like this. Not in this day and age?