Information. We’re asked for it all of the time. Clients want their campaign status, lead updates, traffic growth, etc. But information isn’t magic—it comes from somewhere.
Where does it come from? It comes from that big scary word: data.
But no client just wants data. After all, data is boring. Data is ugly. Data is that thing that analysts stress over in chaotic spreadsheets. Nobody wants just data.
When your clients, internal or external, ask for status updates, they want more than just data—they want information that tells a story.
This begs the question “how do we use the data to give clients the story they need in order to make good marketing decisions?”. You could always check out our post that provides visualization examples and reverse engineer some lessons from that, or you can read on as we break some data visualization and reporting lessons down.
This article will present some of the top ways you can use data to give helpful guidance rather than a boring report card.
Why You Need a Story for Reporting
When trying to answer campaign questions, numeric responses to questions simply don’t cut it.
Let’s look at the following scenario that may seem familiar to many of you.
Boss – “Hey Brian, how did leads do last month?”
Brian – “89.”
Boss – “Is that good or bad?”
Brian – “Pretty good actually.”
Boss – annoyed, walks off, shaking head.
Brian – “I wonder what his deal is…?”
While Brian technically gave the right answer to his boss, he didn’t give the context. In other words, even though he reported the right number, his answer didn’t provide real insight and he didn’t tell a story his boss could understand. Therefore, Brian’s response didn’t answer the underlying question his boss had, which was “what did last month’s data tell you about our lead conversions, and what do we need to do to foster more growth?”
Brian may be great at number crunching, but might not be doing an awesome job conveying the right insights about what is working well and what needs to change (based on the data). And, Brian isn’t alone in this problem. In fact, 51.8% of marketers said their biggest hurdle in data-driven marketing was building reports that delivered insights.
Thankfully, there is an answer to this problem, and it comes with housing your data in an automated marketing reporting platform like TapAnalytics. TapAnalytics not only provides the reports, but also shows how different points of contact contribute to the overall success of your marketing program.
Marketing Analytics doesn’t have to be boring. Data analysis isn’t about graphics and visualizations; it’s about telling a story, and that’s exactly how TapAnalytics helps marketers.
Our best advice to marketers is to start looking at data the way a detective examines a crime scene. Try to understand what happened and what evidence needs to be collected. The visualization—it can be a graph, geomap or even a single number—will come naturally once the mystery is solved. Remember, the focus is always the story.
Building a Story – The Basics
Now that you know how important it is to tell a story with the data, here are some pointers to help you actually build your story.
1. Find the compelling narrative. Along with giving the facts and establishing the connections between them, make sure you’re not being boring. You are competing for the viewer’s time and attention, so make sure the narrative has a hook, momentum, and/or a captivating purpose. Finding the narrative will help you decide whether you actually have a story to tell. If you don’t, then it would be worthwhile to reevaluate your question(s) and shore up the gaps. Remember the goal is to convey information—not show fancy charts.
2. Think about your audience. Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to help you prepare the right story for your audience:
- What does the audience know about the topic?
- Is it meant for internal decision makers?
- External customers?
- Your own team?
The visualization needs to be framed around the level of information the audience already has, correct and incorrect. The way you tell your story will also be different based on the level of expertise your client already has (or doesn’t have). To help guide you, here is a breakdown of the different audience types you may need to report to:
- Non-Expert: First exposure or limited knowledge of the subject, but doesn’t want oversimplification.
- General Knowledge: Aware of the topic, but looking for an overview understanding and major themes.
- Management: In-depth, actionable understanding of intricacies and interrelationships with access to detail.
- Executive: Only has time to glean the significance and conclusions of weighted probabilities.
3. Be objective and offer balance. A visualization should be clean of bias. Even if the intent is to influence, your information should be based upon what the data says–-not what you want it to say. Avoid the Lie Factor, or charts that mislead viewers about the underlying data. Remember that viewers and decision makers will eventually sniff out inconsistencies, which in turn will cause the loss of trust and credibility, no matter how good the story is. There are simple ways to encourage honesty and objectivity: labeling to avoid ambiguity, making sure your graphic dimensions match data dimensions, using standardized units, and keeping design elements from compromising the data.
4. Don’t Censor. Don’t be selective about the data you include or exclude, unless you’re confident you’re giving your audience the best representation of what the data says. Selectivity includes using discrete values when the data is continuous, how you deal with missing, outlier and out of range values, capped values, volumes, ranges, and intervals. Viewers will eventually figure it out if you are being selective, and that will lead to you losing the trust of your client when it comes to reporting and anything else you might produce.
5. Explain, Don’t Just Decorate. Really try to explain the data within the report, don’t just decorate it. Don’t fall into the “it looks cool” trap, especially when a fancy design might not be the best way explain the data. Remember that if your reports are producing more curiosity from your clients, you’ve struck a chord. This is the opportunity to dive deeper and educate your client on the value of what you do. Building this trust will pay off in the future when the time comes for bigger marketing experiments.
This type of calculated thinking and presentation is where an analytics and reporting platform becomes crucial. Building a story is challenging enough as it is. Not being able to scale, automate and create cohesive formats regardless of the services your clients use makes meeting the needs of your business near impossible.
Ready for a Better Way?
TapAnalytics was built to solve this exact problem. From the small agency to the large scale publisher, the TapAnalytics reporting platform can scale to fit the needs of your business, today, without messy customizations. Request a demo and let one of our account managers show you how TapAnalytics is the first step to building your new, scalable reporting story.
Colby West is the President & Co-Founder of TapClicks Connect with him here