[ Updated Feb 17, 2023 ]
In a recent survey, 87% of executives claimed that data is the most underused asset within marketing. By structuring and visualizing that underused data in a marketing reporting dashboard, marketers can understand at a glance which marketing actions have been successful, and which ones haven’t.
These insights help marketers make well-founded decisions to inform their marketing strategy and operations, backed up by facts they learned from their data. With real-time dashboards, marketing reporting has become faster and more accurate, allowing you to drive direct action within your marketing team.
So, how do you create a good marketing dashboard that helps you realize all of this? In this article, we’ll provide you with four rules of thumb for building the ideal marketing reporting dashboard.
1. Center your marketing reporting dashboard around one topic
A common mistake marketers make is trying to track and measure too many metrics within a single dashboard. This can quickly become confusing, especially when you’re reporting towards your customer or your manager. They might get distracted by metrics that don’t contribute to the point you’re trying to make.
When it comes to marketing reporting, the first thing to remember is that you should build your dashboards around one specific topic. Before you start creating a dashboard, ask yourself the following questions:
“What are my marketing goals? What do I want to achieve? And which are the KPIs that track my progress towards that specific goal?”
Once you’ve drafted your goals, make sure that you create separate dashboards for each criterion that contributes to a broader marketing goal. A best practice there is to only include KPIs that align closely to these marketing goals.
Let’s imagine your ultimate marketing goal this year is to increase the number of marketing qualified leads by 50%. There will be multiple factors that influence the quality of marketing leads that enter your sales pipeline. For example, historical data shows that users who have heavily engaged with content are more likely to convert into paying customers during the sales process. Therefore, a key criterion for becoming a marketing qualified lead is content engagement.
To measure content engagement, you’ll have to start with defining the metrics that indicate how engaged your audience is with your content marketing. Examples are bounce rate, time on page, and number of conversions generated to name just a few.
But don’t go overboard on the number of KPIs though. Ideally, you’ll select 3 to 4 metrics that really give a good indication of engagement. Set off these metrics against multiple variables; for example, split out performance per marketing channel or across time.
Below, you’ll find an example of such a content marketing dashboard. It centers around one topic, “How actively are people engaging with my content?” It contains the necessary KPIs and historical benchmarks to properly measure engagement across multiple channels, which will help you to take action and improve your engagement metrics.
2. Use the right chart to visualize your data
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to measure, how do you visualize it? BI tools make the job pretty easy: pick a chart type, drag & drop your data onto it, and the job is done! In reality though, the first step is the hardest: “Which type of graph should I use?”
Just like a good story needs a good image, your data needs the right visual. If you choose the wrong graph it can potentially confuse or even mislead viewers of your dashboard. This can lead to the wrong interpretation of the data. As an example, the pie chart below compares market share of a product for the UK and USA. However, it’s difficult to see at a glance what the actual difference is between the two markets.
Source: The Next Web
If we look at the stacked column chart below, it becomes much clearer what the actual difference in market share is. Not only because of the percentage labels, but also the proportions are much more comparable visually. Have a look at the yellow part: it’s very hard to derive from the pie chart that this is the second biggest difference between the US & UK market share.
Source: The Next Web
Here are two things to keep in mind when you choose a chart:
- Which kind of message do I want to show here?
e.g. do I want to compare values, show an evolution, show targets,…?
- Which chart type gives a good visual representation of that concept?
Let’s look into an example to illustrate this. Below, you’ll see two versions of the same dashboard, but using different chart types. Now, there are a number of reasons why the first dashboard reads more easily than the second one, which are explained below the images.
Section 1: How to visualize targets & benchmarks
Both dashboards show how your emails perform, compared to the industry benchmark. However, in the first example, the green & red gauges show you in one glance if you’re above or below benchmark. In the second example, you’ll need more time to interpret the numbers and compare them with the benchmark.
Takeaway #1: to visualize targets or benchmarks, use gauges instead of number objects.
Section 2: How to visualize & compare evolutions
The best way to show an evolution in time is by using line charts. Both of the dashboards do so, but when it comes to comparing the evolution of two metrics, the first one does a better job. In this case, adding open & click-through rate to the same chart creates a richer experience as it allows you to immediately see if their evolution through time is similar or different. You’ll see much faster if you need to further investigate potential correlations.
Takeaway #2: Use line charts to show evolutions. When comparing evolutions of metrics that are logically seen together, add them to the same chart.
Section 3: How to use bar charts vs. bubble charts
In the first example, the bar chart visually lets you compare values in one category: how does the open rate differ per day of the week? The difference in bar sizes shows you at a glance how they differ from each other. Looking at the bubble chart, the difference in open rate is far from clear, visually. This is because the bubble chart is more fit for ‘part-of-whole’ comparisons: they show spatially how larger volumes act as part of the whole.
Takeaway #3: Use bar charts to compare or rank values within one category. Use bubble charts to compare individual components to their whole, by spatially showing their sizes.
Section 4: How to visualize geographic data
In the first example, you can visually see your global presence in terms of email subscribers. It gives you a clear idea of which countries are well- or under-represented. In the second example, the bar charts shows a ranking of countries in terms of the number of subscribers, but does not classify them, neither does it give an idea of geo-spatial distribution.
Takeaway #4: to get a visual idea on how your data is distributed spatially, use maps.
To learn more in detail which chart to use for which purpose, this flowchart is a great tool to help you pick the right charts for your dashboards.
3. Connect marketing KPIs with business impact (i.e. dollars & revenue)
You’ve set your KPIs and you know how to show them off visually. What more do you need to build a killer marketing dashboard?
The answer is: context.
Imagine you ran a great marketing campaign that generated a ton of new leads. The last thing you want is your boss to come to you and say: “That’s great, but no one actually bought our product in the end.”
If you can show how your marketing actions contribute to the wider business context, you can create even more impact. In the case above, you’ll want to know where leads are blocked down in the sales funnel. Looking at marketing data in isolation always comes with a risk. By bringing marketing & sales data together, you’ll avoid working in silos.
Let’s take a look at an example. The lead generation dashboard below brings together marketing data (e.g. the acquisition channels) with sales data (e.g. pipeline & revenue closed). You can easily see how much revenue each marketing channel or campaign generated. Or, you can look deeper into which channels bring in the most qualitative leads, in terms of number of deals won/lost.
FYI: at Cumul.io, we use Google Analytics & Pipedrive data to track our customer through the whole funnel. However, you could do the same thing with other CRMs like HubSpot, or even add marketing spend data to monitor real marketing ROI.
4. Make your dashboards actionable
With the tips above you can create really solid marketing dashboards that show you the most important marketing information in one glance. But what’s the use of having all these insights if no one acts upon them afterwards?
So, how can you ensure that your dashboards drive action? When creating your marketing dashboard, have the following questions in mind: What do I want people to do? and Which actions should they take?
Side note: informative dashboards are still very valuable, especially for status updates & reporting. However, having a mix between ‘actionable dashboards’ and ‘informative dashboards’ creates an added value.
Let’s have a look at the example below. Suppose you want to optimize the performance of your ads. Let’s say your average CTR is 3%, but you want to increase it to 5%. The following chart shows the evolution of your CTR over time. You can see that CTR is dropping, however, you have no idea why or how this is happening. You need to take action, but this chart doesn’t tell you how.
Now, have a look at the chart below. It shows the current CTR of each ad creative. It’s set off against two benchmarks: 3% and 5%. You can more clearly set actions for when each of the benchmarks is reached:
- Below 3%: your ad performance is lower than average, this is a trigger to investigate why the ad is not performing well, and look for ways to improve its performance.
- Between 3% and 5%: your ad performance is well enough to keep it running, but add a new creative to test if you can increase performance.
- Above 5%: your ad is doing great, keep it active!
This will allow you to take action and continuously optimize or rule out less-performing ads, which will ultimately get you to reach your target CTR. If you create a dashboard from this point of view, you’ll spark much higher engagement among employees, customers, or whoever needs to take action on the data.
These four rules of thumb are a good framework to improve or get started with your own marketing dashboards. The examples above serve as a source of inspiration to create your own actionable dashboards. Let your creativity run free to create dashboards that engage your marketing and management team.
If you’re interested in creating similar dashboards for your business, here’s a simple 4-step process:
- Gather all your marketing data in Google Sheets through the use of Supermetrics
- Connect these Google Sheets to a data visualization platform, such as Cumul.io
- Build a dashboard using drag & drop with up-to-date information at all times
- Use your dashboards on a regular basis and modify them as your goals change through time
About Mieke Houbrechts
Mieke Houbrechts is Digital Marketing Manager at Cumul.io, a provider of embedded analytics solutions for SaaS platforms & agencies. With three years of experience in digital & performance marketing, she has developed expertise in measuring, visualizing, and optimizing marketing activities across the customer journey.
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