Discover more from Hot Takes
A brief guide: how to report marketing results like a boss
Ensuring data capture and quality are correct is just the beginning ...once you've got that down, learn to report results like a pro
“There's only one thing that will make them stop hating you. And that's being so good at what you do that they can't ignore you.”
-Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
As marketing continues to become progressively more digital, it is important that all those within the industry understand the value of analyzing and measuring data yielded from programs to understand the complete picture of users and make better decisions.
I’ve always been passionate about the power of data. With that, I believe data needs to be in the DNA of all marketing and PR professionals – the agency side and client side – even more than it is today. These skills are table stakes, as I’ve written before.
My subjective analysis with brands and agencies across verticals is this: there is a growing divide when it comes to the analytics “haves” and the “have nots.” A study by MIT noted this gap:
Our research — based on a survey of 2,719 managers in organizations from around the world — finds that the foremost barriers to creating business value from analytics are not data management or complex modeling skills. Instead, the number one barrier by far was translating analytics into business actions — in other words, making business decisions based on the results, not producing the results themselves.
Those embracing measurement continue to get more sophisticated and advanced, while those who ignore it fall further behind. The good news is there are plenty of people in the middle that are passionate about learning and constantly improving.
Where does your team stand?
For today’s post, let’s start by exploring the three types of people I see at organizations, and hopefully inspire you to move more of your team up the sophistication curve. Then we’ll give a brief overview of measurement planning and how your team members can report results like consummate professionals.
These are the practitioners that really get metrics. In fact, they’ve been making data-driven decisions for years and iterating their marketing programs to achieve sustainable returns. Measurement isn’t new to them, and they are focused on insight and action as they have collecting and reporting nailed down. They submit clear dashboards metrics to key stakeholders and have educated those stakeholders about metrics, differences between outcomes and KPIs, how they conduct analysis to inform tactics, and so forth.
Leaders are focused on the critical few metrics and understand the importance of simplicity in reporting. They also don’t have shiny object syndrome when it comes to whatever the day’s fluffy metric du jour is and don’t feel like they have to report on something simply because it’s new. Instead, they calmly and rationally add defensible metrics that matter to their mix.
Leaders are the ones who have no problems translating analytics into business actions, as MIT points out is a major issue. If you don’t have any, find a way to hire or train some.
These practitioners know they need to embrace analytics, and are making the effort to learn. They’re testing and tinkering with tools and starting to analyze and report to see the bigger picture of how analytics across platforms and tactics work together.
Ideally, the leaders on their team help push them to the next level. With time and additional encouragement, students are positioned to lead their organization, be the ones establishing measurement processes and confidently educating clients, teammates, and superiors. In many ways, even the most sophisticated leaders will always also be students (no shame in this, in fact should be encouraged).
Unfortunately, there’s still a group that ignores data as they think it’s too difficult to use – it’s not. This group also remains tentative about digital marketing tactics overall. Leaders and students have their work cut out for them to educate these skeptics.
Hopefully in time and with the right coaching, current skeptics will get more comfortable with data and making informed decisions for their marketing initiatives. I know for most readers here, making marketing decisions based on gut feel sounds crazy – it is. But as hard as it is to believe, these people still exist. It’s all of our jobs to help bring them forward because it improves the industry as a whole and makes us all better, more accountable marketers.
This really matters…
Eventually, we won’t have any marketers or entrepreneurs not fluent in digital measurement. The confusion exists today only due to the transition of our industry into one that’s purely digital. As a new generation of marketers native to digital and measurement comes into the workforce, this trend will continue to accelerate.
In the meantime, the world belongs to the leaders: they have defensible, metrics-driven rationales for their strategies. They’re able to clearly show superiors how their programs are working and, due to this, are consistently given increases in budgets. Leaders win the biggest and best clients as the industry becomes more educated and is interested in outcome-oriented programs and agencies, versus those who just focus on KPIs. It should be all of our goals as practitioners to strive to be the best leaders and students we can. Need help building a team? We covered some of my fav questions to ask potential hires in a previous post.
Getting started with measurement planning
Now that skeptics have stopped reading (they were never going to finish a guide on analytics) let’s get into how to proceed. At the past few events where I’ve spoken to marketing practitioners, I continue to make the statement it has never been a more exciting time to be a marketing or public relations professional. Why so exciting? We’ve never had so many tools and tactics to reach our target audiences at our fingertips. We also have an unprecedented amount of data to shift our execution from “gut feel” to data-driven. But before we can dive into new tools and start to use data to improve our programs, a critical yet frequently missed first step is to conduct measurement planning. Let’s next go through just some of the key actions your organization (or agency) should conduct during the planning process.
Outline what you want to measure, both objectives and KPIs
Always step 1: what does success look like to your business? Get as specific as possible. If you’re reading this, you’re probably in marketing and your answer was revenue generated from marketing initiatives. If you said yes to this, awesome, you’re spot on and your marketing professor is likely applauding you. Now, go further: what tactics do you plan to implement to generate revenue, and how do they accomplish this? What does success look like (X percent increase in Y tactic)? Create a matrix outlining it, along with the key performance indicators (KPIs) that map back to revenue. For example, more (relevant and engaged) website visitors leads to more micro and macro conversions, which leads to more revenue. Or, a larger (opt-in) email list of excited users equals more click-throughs to landing pages for un-missable content, giving your sales team more prospects to work with. Or, a larger community in social leads to more re-sharing and clicks of your content back to your hub, which leads to improvements across organic marketing metrics. Outlining metrics is key, as it will guide your use of setting goals in analysis tools. As my friend and industry luminary Avinash likes to say, “If you ain’t got goals, you ain’t got nothin’!”
Before implementing any tools, ask tough questions
Until you know precisely what it is you wish to accomplish, it is premature to start testing out tools or shopping vendors. Different tools have different strengths and flexibility (not to mention costs and user preference). There is a lot that goes into selection of the right measurement tool, but really it comes down to the questions that matter to you first: can the tool easily (and in an automated fashion) measure the metrics you care about? Can you get the support you need (or for free tools, are there qualified consultants available)? Does the tool integrate with your other initiatives/digital systems (web, app, POS, and beyond)? How easy is it to customize reports and segment data? Be sure to ask all the tough questions (both internally with your own analyst and externally with a vendor) first.
Have a reporting/analysis plan with specific dates/deliverables
Now that you have your objectives down, your marketing plan complete, the KPIs associated with your programs established, and you know what tools you’re planning to use and how you’re going to integrate them, you need a plan to actually start using the data. Ideally, you have an analyst resource on your team focused on delivering the right reports, insights, and actions to their appropriate stakeholders and evangelizing data to those in your organization. This last point is important: it’s still not enough to assume people will act on data unless you make it clear what actions your team members should take and get everyone excited about actually implementing recommendations. Data-driven decision-making is undoubtedly the future, but it’s still new territory for many. Having a plan and process here will help everyone get comfortable and value metrics appropriately, and the right leadership is key.
While the above is just a primer on measurement planning and the actual steps you take will vary based on your organization and resources, the point is planning is the key first step in measurement. As simple as it may be to actually implement a tool, it’s ensuring you use it effectively as an ongoing part of your marketing that makes the difference.
Key steps to ensure you’re reporting results like a boss
If you don’t have a boss that expects you to deliver results reports on your programs today, you will in the future. But regardless of your current organization’s sophistication with marketing analytics, there’s no reason you shouldn’t step up and report results like a boss today (expected or not).
But what exactly does that mean? I don’t just mean “being awesome” (well, I do mean that too) but I mean being the leader in your marketing organization I know you can be.
Let’s put everything together into some easy to understand, actionable next steps, specifically on the reporting essentials. I may slightly reiterate some things stated above but that’s on purpose to try and drive home some key concepts.
1. Start with a plan
What are your goals for marketing? What channels will you use to accomplish them? Do you have alignment and agreement on all metrics from all stakeholders? What will be your reporting cadence?
A fleshed out measurement plan is a requisite prior to implementing any single marketing tactic. Once your plan is in place, channels and tactics determined, and resources allocated, only then are you ready to execute and report results to your team. I went through this in some additional detail above but reiterating since it’s so important.
2. Be sure you’re capturing all the data you need
This should go without saying, but be sure you have implemented all the right code and configuration with your marketing and analytics tools in order to capture all your data. This is one of the first things we talk about in my former team’s (free) Analytics Academy online courses.
If you’re not capturing data properly, it is exceedingly difficult to report on marketing results.
Bonus tip: setup alerts to know if something changes from a data capture standpoint. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a quarter only to see your data capture is not happening properly: alerts will help you sleep better. Tools like Google Analytics should do this out of the box without much configuration but take the time to confirm this/setup alerts in any analytics tool you’re using.
3. Create the right reports for the right stakeholders
Your CMO is interested in entirely different set of metrics than your product managers. Your marketing team loves all the tactical KPIs, but your sales team likely only wants to hear about leads generated and associated pipeline metrics.
It’s our job as marketers and analysts to make sure we’re delivering a view of data that is relevant for each audience.
This ensures not just that we’re showing how our tactics are delivering on promises, but shows respect for our peers’ time by delivering them a customized view of business metrics they care about.
You can always expand reports if certain people ask for more, but don’t overwhelm people with charts and graphs not relevant to them, especially busy executives.
If you are on a tight budget and don’t know where to start, check out the (free) Google Data Studio to make beautiful dashboards from many of your data sources.
4. Always include an executive summary with anticipated reports
This is where the real analysis work comes into play. Sending reports with agreed upon metrics to your manager or to a client is great and illuminates your hard work that month or quarter.
But context is critical. What worked well and what didn’t? Did you have a blog post, social ad, or email campaign that stood out as a shining star that month? Call it out and share the what and the why, as well as “what’s next” (replicate your successes!).
Executive summaries are your chance to tie all the metrics together with your team’s hard work and show you can articulate what the data means – your most valuable skill as a marketer and how you grow trust — and marketing budgets (we can go deeper on analysis in another post, which goes along with reporting).
5. Start to learn and become proficient in marketing forecasting
You’ve got a marketing plan, you’re capturing data and sharing it with the right team members as part of a process. Awesome work, you’re already in the top percentile of marketer.
Now go further: after you learn to walk with results reporting, you’ll soon want to run. Start to forecast where you see results going.
This can be done not just by having goals, but by also including a dashed or light grey line within reports to show how you’re trending compared with expectation. Truly sophisticated managers will appreciate this forward guidance.
And even if you don’t exceed your numbers every month, the fact that you have goals will motivate your team to do better, dig in to see what’s working and in the future get good enough at forecasting to trend with – and hopefully beat – your forecasts.
6. Spend some time on attribution but realize it’s impossible to solve for perfectly (and that’s OK)
Many marketers continue an unhealthy obsession with only crediting the last click as the reason for their marketing success in reporting. This is called last-click attribution, and it’s about as shortsighted as crediting a sign outside a store as the sole reason someone came inside and made a purchase. Yes, the sign does matter. It may have actually been the reason for the customer to enter the store and buy a product. But what if you could see all the other interactions with your brand that a customer had prior to seeing the last interaction and making a purchase? You can, at least directionally. And smart marketers and brands already do this using modern analytics platforms. While perfect attribution is impossible (you can’t open your customer’s brains and many will invariably take actions you can’t measure, or do things like see an ad in social, later Google your company and convert through organic search - your slick creative and perfectly targeted campaign getting no credit) getting ‘close enough’ is critical for a number of reasons.
With all this said, no matter what tools you are using, going beyond ‘last click’ attribution and attempting to assign credit to as many channels as possible is key if you hope to fully value your marketing efforts. Here are three important reasons you need to do this:
The modern path to purchase is across devices, platforms, and sites. While working at Google on analytics, my team discovered years ago that, on average, customers interact with a brand 4.3 times over a two-day period before they finally make a purchase. In addition, the average U.S. shopper consults a total of 10.4 new and traditional media sources prior to purchasing. These insights were several years ago so very likely we have even more complex purchase paths today! This makes sense, as consumers are going through an increasingly complex digital journey to find information, build relationships, and connect with brands. They ask their social networks. They share a product with friends on their mobile devices while out and about. They research the web from their laptops at home. They consult reviews, media, and apps. But if you’re only looking at the final interaction that happens before a purchase, you might miss some of the most important engagement events with your brand that led to a purchase. Last-click attribution is looking at your marketing with one eye closed, whereas looking at the entire customer journey is seeing it clearly.
Last click ignores the supporting players. Crediting just the last click prior to conversion greatly undervalues your digital marketing program. But how, exactly? The analogy of a basketball game works well: if you are a good coach, you realize it isn’t just the player who scores the basket who should be credited. Rather, it also involves the hard work of the rest of the team that sets your shooter up for success. Like a good basketball coach, however, not all players should be credited equally. Appropriate marketing attribution will give different levels of credit to different channels and interactions based on their relative impact on the final conversion. For example, the non-branded term a visitor used to initially discover your product could be valued higher than a later, branded search that same user conducted that ended in a sale.
Soon, last click will mean your marketing comes in last place. As data-savvy marketing becomes the norm, the number of brands and marketers who look purely at last click will shrink. With more and more marketers doing a better job valuing their efforts, the brands who do the best job activating digital will be those able to look across their marketing mix and strategically dial up the efforts that are working. Those marketers still living in a last-click world will have a difficult time winning against competitors able to understand specifically what’s working and what’s not (and why).
The world of digital marketing is growing more complex, but the good news is modern tools are keeping pace, making it possible to accurately measure results and take action. It might take a shift in mindset (and definitely process) to do things such as value new channels such as social and mobile as highly as they should be. But it’s worth spending the time. With proper reporting and analysis, you can gain a clearer understanding of consumer behavior to help you make better decisions on all channels and platforms: today and into the future.
Hot Takes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.