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The Life-changing Magic of De-cluttering (Your Dashboard)

By Christi Eubanks | November 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

MarketingData and AnalyticsDigital CommerceSocial Marketing

If marketers have one problem it is that we have too much data. The more data we collect about consumers and about our marketing performance, the harder it becomes to tell a cohesive story about what’s going right or wrong, the harder it is to focus. Mess equals stress.

Perhaps a purge is in order.

I first heard the gospel of Marie Kondo from my sister. Dubbed the millennial Martha Stewart, she’s a home organization consultant in Tokyo and her 2015 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sold 6 million copies. Forget Martha, she is the minimalist messiah for neat freaks. Truth be told, she did not change my life, or even give me much new material. I was already a devout minimalist – I’d been folding my t-shirts the special way for years.

But as it turns out, she does provide a darn good framework for de-cluttering your dashboard.

Step 1: Assess your mess. You heard me, lay it all out there. Round up all of the ad hoc campaign reports and special requests for exports. Ask the recipients and requestors how they used the reports and how they would improve them. If you are starting from scratch, interview your marketing colleagues – the people who will be the target audience of the dashboard – and ask them what metrics they look at regularly or what they wish they had more data on. List out all of your metrics, their sources, the business questions that they help you answer. But we already know all of the things we’re measuring, do we really have to go through this step? Yes. You do. You need to face reality of how many pieces of data you are pulling. If you can’t muster the will to put them all in one spreadsheet or on one whiteboard, you have too many.

Step 2: Classify. I don’t have to explain the value of classification to you. I don’t have to tell you that patterns emerge when we group like things together. You’re a data person, after all. You know this.
For this exercise I propose three systems for classification:

  1. By Channel: This is the most obvious and probably the easiest system. Label all of your social metrics “social” and your web metrics “web.” Since you’ve gone through the exercise above a simple sort by channel will do the heavy lifting for you.
  2. By Goal: This more holistic approach filters by the question this metric helps you answer. Most marketers go with some version of the marketing funnel: Awareness, Engagement, Conversion, (sometimes but not always) Retention.
  3. By Role: I’ll go ahead and show my hand – this is my preferred sorting method. It puts the stakeholder at the center of dashboard design and it forces you think about what each metric means for decision making. The CMO needs data for CMO-level decisions. The marketing specialist needs data for optimizing at the tactical level.

In Hierarchy of Digital Commerce Metrics (clients only) we suggest four role-specific levels you can use for this.

Now, take a good hard look at the data piles you’ve created and commit to rationalizing them.

Step 3. Ruthlessly edit. If I were to distill the “Konmari” decluttering philosophy into a single Tweet, it would be this: Identify the things that spark joy and get rid of all the rest. Of course no self-respecting data person would advocate only keeping the data points that bring you joy. I have, in fact, said before that too many scorecards and reports are self-congratulatory and fail to highlight painful but important marketing misses. But the spirit of the recommendation is still useful here. Identify the things you can’t live without, the things that really spark insight.
It is worth noting here that nostalgia and joy are not the same emotion. Nostalgia is the enemy of de-cluttering. Don’t get caught in the trap of grandfathering things in just because people have gotten used to seeing them. Keep the metric you look at every day, that always delivers; dispense with the rest.

Step 4: Honor what’s left. Kondo-ism goes so far as to anthropomorphize one’s belongings, saying that they deserve respect; they deserve to be showcased in their best light; they even deserve to be thanked explicitly for the value they provide. When it comes to closet / wardrobe organization, this means using a special folding technique that keeps each item fully visible and accessible. The corollary for dashboard design is thoughtful data presentation and visualization. Don’t bury your metrics in uninteresting or illegible charts. Let the data speak and let its utility be obvious. Tufte and Few’s books are great places to start if you find yourself in a pie chart rut (hint: pie charts are rarely the best choice).

Step 5: Systematize. Clutter relapse is real, people. And without an easily followed system for keeping your dashboard in check, you are likely to fall into old traps of excess reporting. Simple and effortless is the secret to maintenance. To that end, you may want to consider a marketing dashboard to help automate data collection and data preparation, manage different user views and permissions and keep track of how your stakeholders are actually using the dashboard. The more you can make checking the dashboard a part of the marketing team’s everyday routine – a part that they enjoy – the more successful and long-lasting this transformation will be. We’ve pulled together a list of providers in our Market Guide for Marketing Dashboards (clients only). If you want to skip steps 1-4 many of them even have templates you can use as a jumping off point.

Why go to all of this trouble?

It’s no surprise that not everyone believes as passionately in tidying as I do. For me, physical clutter begets mental clutter. I follow a capsule wardrobe philosophy, for example, only buying items that fit a pre-defined neutral color scheme to ensure everything goes together and that it takes minimal time to get dressed in the morning. Before I had this epiphany, I had a walk-in closet (neatly) filled to gills and, ironically, never had anything to wear.

There are numerous benefits to de-cluttering and organization but the most important one is that distractions are limited and decisions become obvious. In essence: Every metric counts!

Need some objective help whipping your dashboard into shape? Are you ready to become a Konvert? We’ve got you covered.

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