Why is the Marketing Reporting Overview missing?

Most Marketing Reporting leads you into a maze. It’s almost impossible to get an effective overview. It’s either missing the rest of the marketing – or sufficient detail to be useful.

How did we get here?

Forty years ago in 1979 Visicalc spreadsheets were invented for the Apple II. During the 1980s software spreadsheets developed rapidly. Soon anyone could generate and print graphs.

This was a hugely important moment. A real democratization was occurring. No longer was costly printing the only way to get neat charting.

However the skills to use this capability well did not increase at the same rate. It became easy to flood the world with badly considered graphs.

Marketing Reporting isn’t immune

Anyone can put a pile of figures into Excel and ask it to produce a chart for them. The charts can look smart. It is far from obvious that the reader will understand the chart or draw the right conclusions.

The problems of user understanding doesn’t only apply to charts in spreadsheets. It applies everywhere.

The weather is rarely constant for those of us living in Britain. In the 1970s our TV screens had weathermen. Back then they were all men. And they showed us maps full of isobars. So we saw high pressure and low pressure areas and cold fronts night after night. As though these meant something?

It took decades for the “presentation” to change. The technology changed from moveable magnetic stickers to huge digital screens. But the underlying communication didn’t improve at anything like the same rate.

It’s only in the last few years that presenters have started to talk about the jetstream. And started to show either this causing

  • warm weather to arrive from somewhere shown as a yellow overlay
  • cold weather to arrive from elsewhere shown as a blue overlay.

Yellow – warm sun. Blue – cold. Much easier to understand. Fantastic.

What about Google Analytics?

Free to anyone who wants to use it. Great. Does this mean everyone gets great value from it? No!

Elsewhere I’ve written how you have to teach Google Analytics what matters. Teach it how to understand your business.

But there’s another problem. There’s a mass of data being collected. It’s easy to assume that everyone wants to see it all. But that’s flat wrong. In fact most people probably don’t want to see any of it. You have to convince them it’s worth their time.

The number of reporting options can be intimidating.

There are 95 standard reports in Google Analytics. Without counting the reports that have multiple sections. For instance like the goal funnel report can have 25 reports under the one heading.

In addition there can be many other custom reports. These can use the hundreds of Google defined dimensions and metrics.

And you can use rules to define segments. To include or exclude particular dimension values. Or to define segments by applying rules in a particular order.

But Google Analytics is just the “front end” of marketing.

If we add reports from CRM and other marketing systems we could have hundreds of reports.

So selecting which reports matter is hard. And marketing will be judged on the decisions made.

Because every report reader muses brutal questions like:

  • “Why should I spend my time looking at this?”
  • “Is this graph just another way of wasting my time?”

This is the real problem.

Let’s compare Marketing Reporting to Finance Reporting.

Just 3 reports are used to assess the vast majority of companies. These the Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow statements. People accept them to provide the high level overview.

Shouldn’t marketing have a similar overview? Where are the overview charts for Marketing?

That are equivalent to these financial statements?

As you’ll guess I think the answer should be YES. In fact if marketing is to prosper it absolutely needs to be YES.

So can we pull the rabbit out of the hat?

Can we pull the Rabbit
Out Yet?

Whilst it would be the classic end to a magic trick I’m going to suggest a different approach.
Some authors would leap straight in at this stage and attempt to make some choices and then justify them.
Whilst this is legitimate there are serious problems with that approach.

The big picture gets completely lost. People wind up in a zero sum game. The proponents for each chart type can argue their case with religious zeal.

No. Not Yet.

So it’s much more helpful to set out the criteria that these overview charts should meet. I suggest:

  1. The report should change interactively as the user inspects it. This assumes that the chart will be shown on a screen rather than paper.
  2. The axes (and ranking) must be dimensionless. A single chart with axes must be able to display any quantity. This includes sales, conversion ratio, impressions, number of customers.
  3. It must be easy for readers to see at a glance what is good (acceptable) and what is bad (unacceptable). Using up for good and down for bad feels too simple to be helpful!
  4. Not all information can displayed all the time for every item. The initial report should show a summary of all the items. And allow the user to get more detail when required.
  5. Teaching users online how to use new report styles is acceptable. For comparison the financial reports have always needed explanation. As anything unfamiliar will.
  6. The plans and goals of the business should be shown beside historical performance.

What else would you suggest? Please put your comments in the area below…

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