Drowning in data?


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hurdle on a track

Years ago I used to be crazy about running. My strength and passion was in track and field where I competed in the 100m hurdles and sprint, but in the off season I dedicated my time to training with the cross country team. Besides the fact that I was a pathetic long distance runner, it was a huge mistake. Why? Rather than building up the muscle groups that would improve my sprint, I neglected them and gained muscles that were counterproductive to meeting my objective of cutting down my average time.

When reporting, that same gluttonous need to do it all, or measure it all, sometimes rears it’s ugly head. Even if we can measure every single metric available, should we? Or will it be just as detrimental as long distance running to sprinters?

The challenge is that, as marketers, we feel the need to take in every metric. We sometimes act as data hoarders, carefully analysing and measuring everything – simply because we’re afraid that if we don’t, we’ll miss that one valuable insight that might turn all our efforts around. However, this doesn’t do anyone on our team any good. In fact, it is hazardous to our productivity, may overwhelm us and actually draw our attention away from insights that truly matter.

It is easy to deliver every piece of data available, but you’ll quickly tire of scrolling through endless KPIs and graphs. At Sweetspot we follow best practices from The Red Book of Dashboard Design. This guide was put together after many years of working with enterprise and agency dashboard consumers to help them get the information they need to make the most impactful decisions.  

So, to combat overindulgence in metrics and graphs, I’d like to expand on a few useful pointers from the Red Book:

Make scrolling your enemy.

An Agency once told me that they generate 200 page reports, weekly, for each one of their clients. After checking if I’d heard them correctly, our conversation quickly turned into how many insights they were able to find and how useful those reports were for their team and clients. Their answer was just as you might expect, “not many”. In 200 pages, you’d think there would be something, even a little bit of a hint, but who has time to diligently go through a 200 page report weekly?

Time is valuable, and attention spans are short, so reports should be just long enough to include the indicators that actually contribute value by answering whether or not we are meeting our objectives. Avoid the urge to deliver lengthy reports and make scrolling your enemy, the longer the scroll the quicker data consumers are likely to check-out while reviewing reports.

Use dashboard tabs rationally.

Dashboard tabs are not meant to be used as a loophole to the no scroll rule. This organizational feature should simply make it easier for data consumers to get the information they need in as few clicks as possible. For example, if the objective of our dashboard is to answer how our digital marketing efforts are performing, we can optimize presentation and minimize page scrolls by structuring our dashboard with owned, earned and paid media tabs.

As an enterprise, consider who the data needs to be delivered to and keep reports concise by creating separate dashboards for brands or countries. Agencies can also benefit from dashboard organization, by separating individual client dashboards into neat reports that their customers can easily digest.

Some of the clearest dashboard examples I’ve seen to date start with an overview tab and follow with channel-specific tabs. This allows the viewer to control what they want to see and find the information they are looking for with minimal effort.

Let your primary KPIs reign supreme.

We’ve spoken religiously on KPI and chart distribution for one main reason; if you open up your dashboard and see two KPIs stretched across the interface, your attention is immediately drawn to the two indicators that matter most. Otherwise, if reports have no clear footing or are overloaded with KPIs, key metrics are likely to be overlooked. Packed dashboards may even be tossed aside as they lack clear objectives.

If KPIs are consolidated and directly tie into objectives, consumers can extract more value from them. For example if my objective is to increase the conversion rate with a tight budget, my ideal dashboard will have the Return on Ad Spend and Conversation Rate KPIs at the top of my screen. By doing this, I will immediately see the two indicators which answer my question, and if my metrics are broken down into graphs below, I can dig deeper to see why they are performing the way they are.

Once your main KPIs and visualizations have taken the main stage, consider whether or not other indicators provide value to measuring progress towards your objectives. If so, add them to your dashboard, ideally in smaller, half-width panels. Or if not, leave them off completely.

Is your dashboard focused on performance?

The ultimate goal of reporting is to find insights that allow us to take actions. If your reports aren’t doing that, take a step back and consider whether your dashboard is truly focused on performance. If it isn’t, structure it in a way that is clear to anyone viewing it. Otherwise, you may be wasting your efforts and measuring too many indicators, which will leave you drowning in data.

If you’d like to learn more about how to structure your dashboard, download a free copy of The Red Book of Dashboard Design.

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Holly McKendry

Sweetspot Marketing Director. Wakeboarder & travel enthusiast. Communication Studies graduate of Texas State University, San Marcos.

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Dave Jones

Great post! … I regularly see ‘dashboards’ in Excel that are more like marketing’s equivalent of War and Peace. Some great tips in the red book on keeping it simple and clear…

Published on , 5:56 pm   

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