We have reams of data at our fingertips, and using that to support business cases or budget increases is paramount. How do you do this in a way that conveys truth to a less-knowledgeable audience?

When presenting results to stakeholders, marketers will often find themselves talking to people who don't understand the metrics to the same degree. Let’s make smart choices in how we choose and display data. From cleansing data and choosing the right metrics, to visualizing them in a way that helps build support and omits bias.

Winning friends with reporting

Marketing reports are about communicating a message through data. Often that data can be fairly complicated — augmented by segments, audiences, time periods, and campaigns. The message is usually much more simple. There is a key thought, implication, or decision that you want to leave the reader with. The key to good reporting is making sure the data elicits those thoughts in an unbiased way that is easily comprehended.

Consider your audience

The first step in ensuring your reports are useful to other people is putting yourself in their shoes. Go back to basics with your report and ask yourself this: who is the audience of this report? 

The audience is central to the reporting process. After all, you’re trying to convey a message. So, when designing your reports, you may want to conduct some research first — that is, speak to the people who will be receiving your report. This might be a client, your line manager, a colleague, or an outside stakeholder. Whoever it is, they’re likely to have a different set of questions they want to have answered by the data than you.

Ask them some of the following:

What questions do you want this report to answer?

Find out from the report receiver if there is a specific question they need answered by the data you're presenting. This might well be something along the lines of needing to know if the campaigns being run are generating ROI. It might be wanting to know if the budget is being assigned efficiently. Perhaps they need to know whether the new marketing channel being trialled is bringing about results, or if the test you’ve been running should be rolled out across more pages of the website.

If you don’t know what the report needs to answer, it'll be hard for you to write one that’s useful to the people you’re presenting it to.

Who else needs to see this report?

Your key stakeholders may not be the only people who will pick up the report and draw conclusions from it. As an agency account executive, you may have a key contact who you send the reports to, but find out from them if they then send them on to others. If it goes to your contact’s colleagues or boss, they may have different needs.

Perhaps you send the reports to your line manager, who then discusses it with the board of directors. Is there key information the board needs that you can include front-and-center in your reports?

What insights do you want to be able to pass on?

The marketing report you provide might be useful in helping the recipient communicate ideas to their stakeholders. For instance, if the report is designed to show the performance of SEO for your company, might your line manager like to be able to argue for a bigger budget? What can you include in your reports to make this decision clearer?

What do you already report on that you would also like to see in this report?

There’s often a lot of duplication going on with marketing reports. Each marketing channel will be commenting on their impact on the website, or how they’re improving brand awareness. Can you help to simplify the reporting process by bringing some of these other reports into yours? If your report’s recipient is already reporting on metrics of their own, find out if they’re aligned enough to include in your reporting. You'll instantly be adding value to the report you’re creating.

What are your key objectives and performance metrics?

Ascertain what metrics actually matter. Marketing reports can end up cumbersome, and unfortunately, skim-read as a result. Are there any pertinent metrics that your report recipients really need to know? What are the KPIs they're being measured on? How does your work impact those? Include these metrics directly into your report so your stakeholders can see how your activity is benefiting them.

How much of what I report on are you already familiar with?

It’s not an easy question, and requires some tact, but it’s important to understand your report recipient’s level of understanding about what you’re reporting on. Are they marketers themselves, or are you their main touch-point within your marketing department? Are they seasoned SEOs who have seen every iteration of an SEO report under the sun?

Once you know their level of understanding on the subject, you can decide how to format your report to aid in explaining details more clearly, like including a glossary or notations.

Copyright Helen Pollitt
Original article: https://moz.com/blog/accurate-data-visualization


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