4 Ways to Make Online Marketing Reporting More Productive

Reporting is an essential part of marketing. Effective reports let you analyse how each element of your marketing program is performing. One of the most powerful things about the digital age is the sheer amount and depth of information available, allowing you to drill down into the meaningful relationship between your efforts and the outcomes.

What segments of your audience respond to different types of campaigns? Which style of headline grabs your customer's attention? What images result in higher click through? Do people prefer static or animated display banners? Where marketing outcomes used to be based purely on numbers (views, coupons claimed, readership) you now have the ability to go past metrics and examine detailed demographic and behavioural information.

You can also better tie sales data to marketing campaigns, seeing which activities resulted in more enquiries and engagement. This granularity of micro as well as macro conversions is a goldmine of information for the savvy marketer, letting you build ever more effective campaigns. Profiling, targeting, delivery, design, messaging, branding - every element of a campaign can benefit from this wealth of information.

However, all this information can cause overwhelm, especially when it comes to reporting outside of your marketing team. So how do you isolate the most important information to ensure that key stakeholders, such as your CEO feel confident rather than confused after your presentation?

Here are 4 ways to make your digital marketing reporting more productive.

1. Decide What Matters

Understand that the metrics that matter to your marketing team may not be the same for others in a meeting. Your VP of Product Innovation may want to know which product imagery resulted in better ad click through, which areas of the help section are most visited or what search terms are trending in both internal site searches and across the industry in general.

The COO on the other hand might want an eagle-eye dashboard of key metrics such as overall site traffic and social engagement.

Others may be more interested any shift in demographics, such as geographic location or average age of website visitors.

Understand the purpose of any meeting where you are asked to present marketing metrics, and pull information from your reports that will let you deliver only the most relevant data, without distracting fluff.

Be prepared to quickly and easily drill down into more detail to add context to any number should someone start asking questions. For example, if you report a significant drop in engagement for mobile users you can expect a level of discussion around the possible causes for this. While it's tempting to frame all metrics with such circumstantial information up front in a report this is what leads to clutter that can cause frustration.

Your job is to highlight what is important, and have the rest of the information to hand to expertly answer any questions that arise.

2. Focus on Action

One of the biggest waste of corporate time is reporting that has no impact or follow-up. As you compile your report consider what action should result from key findings. \

If site traffic has dropped, can you identify possible reasons and have a plan for recovery?

When display ads are generating lower-conversion clicks, do you have ideas for targeting better potential audiences?

Are you seeing an upturn in search for specific terms, and can present your approach for taking advantage of this with a new content campaign?

Did you scale the budget for one social channel but aren't seeing corresponding results? Assure stakeholders that you will take steps to reallocate spend to ensure a more balanced returns.

This proactive approach is not only more efficient in terms of quickly improving your campaigns but shows that you understand the effect that your marketing activities have on the company.

3. Trends or Highlights

The challenge of sifting through the amount of data available and deciding what to show is compounded by the decision you need to make about how to display it. Studies show that we process visual information up to 60,000 faster than plain text and are 40% more likely to respond positively.

Use graphs, trendlines and charts to display metrics rather than relying on lists or spreadsheets.

While designing your report think carefully about whether you should display information as KPIs, trends or comparisons.

Metrics can appear dramatic or incidental depending on how you present them. Take this example: A single point of comparison a 10% drop in YoY website traffic can look awful unless you use a six month trend line to show a 80% recovery after a recent drop.

Decide if you want to show progress, momentum, scope or results of your marketing campaigns. Do you want to highlight notable successes, or indicate the steady growth in a specific area? Should you plot metrics to compare against historic data or initial projections to see how well the campaign is performing? Is the focus of the meeting to generally review quarterly performance or to make a cut/continue decision on specific programs or channels?

Think carefully about how the information you present will be used to guide discussions and decisions and what style of metrics best support those goals.

4. Be Results Oriented
Great marketing campaigns sail into success when those at the helm keep their eye on results. Knowing what is working and what isn't allows for constant optimization of campaigns and improved ROI. So presenting results shouldn't be an issue. Yet there are three important situations where a careful approach is necessary:

1. You are asked to present results too early.
Some marketing campaigns take a while to build momentum. There are often stages deliberately built in to campaigns to first grow awareness, then create interest to drive engagement and finally a push for sales conversions. If your CEO is demanding to see conversion data while you are still filling the top of the funnel you run the risk of the campaign looking as if it is falling short.

To combat this, include projections in your reports, showing how you expect your results so far to progress through to the sales stage. Plot actual metrics on these projections to show if the campaign is performing above or below expectations.

2. You are in the middle of testing
Possibly one of the worst times to be asked for a report is when you are testing various hypotheses in order to find the best way to invest the majority of a campaign spend. Perhaps you are testing ad variations, different delivery networks, or demographics. Maybe you are putting your toe in the water with video content for the first time or gauging response to a different style of messaging.

Testing is a normal part of marketing and sometimes the best results are ones that show firm failure for some parameters. Getting awful conversion on 1% of your overall budget is far preferable to committing to a larger spend. Negative results mean less waste of future budget and resources, and allow you to invest wisely in campaigns that are more likely to have a higher ROI.

So what happens when you are asked to deliver a report while all of your metrics spell disaster?

First, be clear about the limitations of these metrics. What was the spending cap for test campaigns? How long will they run before the "real" campaign begins in earnest?

Talk about the metrics in terms of what you have learned from them. Have you confirmed best practices, or revealed opportunities to improve?

The concept of experimentation can often strike fear into the hearts of clients or colleagues who are used to thinking in terms of sales figures. Allay these fears by showing that your tests were done in a calculated manner designed to improve ROI of the campaign in general. For example, explain that testing used 5% of overall budget in order to try and ensure a 30% conversion ratio on the remaining 95%. If you can, go further and tie in average sales figures or the cost-per-acquisition of a new customer.

3. Expectations are unrealistic
Dealing with disappointment, or worse, anger when presenting marketing metrics is never pleasant. The key to avoiding this situation is to set realistic expectations at the start of any project. When designing a marketing plan, be clear about projected success given the timelines, resources and budget available.

Another form of unrealistic expectations can arise from a flawed assumption that an increase in one marketing area will directly impact results another. For example many business leaders now expect an increase in sales to correlate with an increase in social media followers.

Always carefully talk through the actions and likely outcomes of marketing projects to manage expectations before work begins. If frustration arises despite of this it can be useful to frame metrics with a reminder of where they fall in the big picture. For example, a keyword may not be bringing any more visitors to the site than it was six months ago despite an aggressive content marketing campaign and website restructure but ranking data may show that the site is steadily moving up the search results and has gone from page 8 to page 3. You can also attribute any disparity between expectations and results by reminding them of any limitations that were imposed on the project, such as a lack of budget or availability of assets.

Follow the above tips to avoid frustration and glazed looks when presenting marketing metrics. Have a clear focus for any reports or dashboards that you create, display key information in an attractive way and be prepared to bedazzle rather than bore your audience at your next meeting.

Read more advice and information at the Magicdust website. We are a Sydney SEO company specialising in online marketing solutions.