Marketing dashboard fails: Context Matters


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Welcome back to our series on dashboard and reporting blunders. We’ve already spoken about how effective data delivery methods & visualizations can turn reports into insight-filled works of art. However, today we’d like to dive a little deeper to reveal why objectives & context are necessary for marketers to effectively interpret their metrics in order to make truly data-driven decisions.

Unfortunately, we often speak to data consumers whose biggest complaint is that they receive reports and aren’t sure what to look for, what they should note, or even where to begin with them. On the other side of the coin, we also speak to worn out analysts who work night and day to build reports for consumers that simply get tossed aside on delivery day. Ouch!

We’ve found that this disconnect between the two parties is often a result of missing context and objectives. Analysts can build the most comprehensive reports, but without sufficient context or background information these may leave the readers’ heads spinning. While data consumers often have the best of intentions at heart, they lose focus when trying to decipher page upon page of charts and tables.

Added context and objectives, however, provide both parties with direction, understanding, and an open line of communication; thus making reports easier to interpret, and most importantly, a stronger tool for effective decision-making.

Why is context so important?

KPIs and graphs alone can be misleading without the human factor. Why did we run this campaign? Why did we focus on a certain audience segment and not another? What worked? Regardless of outcomes, when stakeholders consume reports they immediately want to know why metrics have behaved a certain way.

Simple applications of context to your marketing dashboard will not only ease data consumption, but will paint a clearer picture of your efforts for the stakeholders who will be using your report to make strategic decisions. Objectives further communicate the benchmarks organizations need to meet to successfully operate or grow. So, let’s take a look at easy context solutions to improve your marketing report:

What are you working towards?

First and foremost, dashboard consumers must know what your overall objectives are. By measuring key indicators against strategic objectives, viewers can immediately see:

  • Performance-based goals
  • Current progress
  • Expected timeframes
  • Where you are headed

This little bit of context can go a long way, and help teams collaborate, strategize, test different approaches, and stay focused on their goals. Assign strategic objectives to all of your KPIs so dashboard consumers have a roadmap of what is expected in order to be able to interpret performance and most importantly, plan how to meet those objectives.

KPIs that truly answer ‘How are we doing?’ should be the most prominent and easy to identify within your reports. Stretch them the full width of your dashboard and keep the list concise.

As for those ‘good to know’ KPIs, shrink them to 50% width and group them together for additional information that doesn’t distract the consumer. These KPIs can easily be moved to an additional tab, secondary dashboard, or visible to only those marketers who can benefit from them as to not over-saturate the report.

Learn from the past & get a jump start on the future

Historical data is vital to truly measure the impact of past efforts. Use it to identify exactly how far you’ve come, what has worked, where you’ve improved the most and which areas need extra attention.

Don’t rely solely on real-time results to judge your efforts – long-term performance objectives should be measured on a strategic timeline. A compilation of historical data allows you to build comprehensive KPIs which can be consulted at any moment. Not only that but the more historical data you have the more accurate predictive forecasts will be.

Forecasts are impacted by your historical data. Use it to predict how your current performance will impact on future outcomes. If your forecast isn’t looking bright, take the opportunity to test new avenues or alter campaigns. Predictive modeling can help you anticipate results and therefore make decisions in a more proactive manner.

Stay informed!

If your KPIs were to rise above or drop below a particular threshold, would you want to know? I would certainly think so! If your website visits suddenly drop off, you might need to call in the development team for a quick bug fix, or if your latest campaigns are killing it, you might want to take a minute to celebrate and explore opportunities to extend them further.

Dashboard alerts can be defined to keep your team informed and focused on performance. This focus on performance not only keeps your team on top of their most crucial indicators, but it also promotes a data-driven culture and helps teams acclimate themselves to acting on data.

See how your organization stacks up

Don’t just fall in line, stay ahead of the game with competitive benchmarks and insights! It’s great to know how your team is performing, but it is even better to know how they stack up compared to the rest of the market.

Include competitive insights in your dashboard so your team can view the current performance of their competitors and the market. Define strategic benchmarks to keep them focused and to give them an edge on the competition.

Give your data a voice

Sweetspot storytelling caption Let your data tell a story! You’ve worked hard and this is the place to communicate where you started, how far you’ve come, what you’ve tried, and what’s worked. Added storytelling snippets and images are excellent tools to liven up dashboards and communicate to data consumers.

Add high-quality insights to your dashboard to communicate recommendations or insights into the impact on performance that actions would have if they were implemented. While it is always nice to know what’s currently happening, data-driven recommendations are the most powerful driving force when interpreting and acting on dashboard data.

Collaborate around your data

The best dashboards by far are those that are full of comments and evidence of team collaboration. Comment, or mention your co-workers to note observations, ask questions, make suggestions or strategize on future actions.

Marketers who are able to see the actual impact of their decisions and to retrace their thought process are further enabled to optimize future decision-making.

Data-driven storytelling

Use your data to tell a story stakeholders can understand and employ to drive actions. Sweetspot’s latest white paper is full of real world examples of when beautiful metrics cannot beat words. This white paper explores the psychology and history of storytelling and how to effectively use it to communicate your data’s behavior and facilitate strategizing plans of action.


Data consumers, we’d love to hear your opinion: What type of context would you like to see in your next marketing report?

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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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