Well. It’s that time of year again.

It’s time to hit the gym, quit smoking, lose weight, save money, enjoy your family, read books, learn a new skill, get organized, or take your dog to obedience school.

(For those of you following past posts, my Bernese mountain dog, Lena, and I, are working on some training. Her 2017 resolution is to become a certified therapy dog.)

Over the years, I’ve also noticed that it also seems to be the time of year for marketers to overhaul their dashboards. By year’s end, the reports would be overwhelmed with data. We’d lose sight of their purpose. Exhausted marketers cast them aside, finding other ways to evaluate the return on marketing investment given the burgeoning complexity of reporting. Some might give up on even looking at data for the time being.

Why do marketers become disillusioned with dashboards?

They don’t give them the information they need to make decisions.

So, in the spirit of resolutions, let’s take action! Seize the day! Carpe… dashboard?

 

Start with a question

Another confession. I kind of hate reporting. I know, I know. I’m a former marketing analyst. How can I hate reporting?

Well, it often became a multi-dimensional problem. I’d work out the details, such that we’d contained the metaphorical height, depth, and breadth of the data. We’d get a neat, simple, contained report and think we understood the universe. Then, a colleague or client would come around and remind me about even more problem (time, gravity), and suddenly I’d end up like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar where he’s (spoiler alert) routed into a five-dimensional cross-section of the universe. Spacetime meets gravity, man. It’s gnarly.

Weird personal anecdotes aside, without guiding principles to deal with the sheer amount of information before you, your dashboard becomes unnecessarily complex.

What do you do?

Start with a question.

Why? Two reasons:

  • It helps you clarify what you’re actually looking for.
  • It helps your analyst connect data to your business problem.

Some examples:

Not ideal: “Can you make me a monthly report for paid search?”

Better: “Is the budget we’re spending in paid search driving sales?”

Not ideal: “How many times do customers engage with us before converting?”

Better: “What is the lifetime value of a customer?”

Not ideal: “What the heck happened in the last hour of Interstellar?”

You get the gist.

Of course, there’s a whole conversation to be had around marketing metrics, the decisions they support, and the level of the organization they’re best suited for, but that needs its own blog post. We’ve even got a note devoted to dashboard design (client login required). For now, though, focus on the takeaway – make dashboards actionable by ensuring they answer a question.

 

Don’t forget about dashboard deployment

After making sure that each dashboard answers a question, you’re ready to begin the deployment process. It’s easy to overlook. You get so excited about the multi-dimensional world, you have no idea how the heck Matthew McConaughey ended up there in the first place.

Dashboards face a similar problem. Rather than getting lost in a fifth dimension, they risk being cast aside as marketers find them too complicated, overwhelming, burdensome, or incomplete.

To make sure that they’re used, marketers must take into account the people involved in making the effort a success, a process for managing data, and a method to mitigate risk with a prototype to lay a solid foundation on which to build. Gartner clients can read more in “How to Successfully Deploy a Marketing Dashboard.”

 

Embrace asking, “Why?”

Hey, cool. You organized data, making sure your dashboard provided business insight. You also deployed the dashboard in a way that set it up for success in the long run. Now what? How do you make use of this dashboard you’ve created? How do you get your esteemed friends and colleagues to do the same?

You start by asking, “Why?”

I spent a month doing this once in a former role. Each time a colleague made a statement regarding data, I asked, “Why?”

At first, it was a bit awkward. Instead of commencing as a quest to promote critical thinking, it started off with me coming across as a challenging jerk. Changing my analytics organization’s culture required a bit more compassion, so my statement evolved into, “Why? Tell me more about that.”

In short, it was one building block to developing a data-driven culture. Over that month, I had fruitful conversations across a variety of topics, including:

  • How could we work to increase everyone’s knowledge of dashboard and reporting tools? What level of data literacy was required of my colleagues, and how could we get people there?
  • How did colleagues approach thinking about what the data in their dashboards told them? What process did they use to analyze data, and how could we standardize it across the company?
  • Who regularly produced and consumed dashboards, and what expectations did they have?

Asking “why?” and encouraging colleagues to do the same starts your journey to becoming a data-driven organization. Because marketing dashboards are inherently a communication tool, they can facilitate increases in organizational maturity and help foster a data-driven culture – goals common the many modern marketers.

As you overhaul your approach to marketing dashboards this year, what challenges have you faced? What’s been successful?

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