Aug 1, 2023

Power BI vs. Excel: Which one should you use for your marketing dashboards

5-MINUTE READ | By Jessica Wei

Marketing AnalyticsPower BI

[ Updated Aug 22, 2023 ]

Power BI and Excel are excellent data analysis tools offered by Microsoft, with the latter having been around for decades as part of the Microsoft Office suite. Business analysts use both to create dashboards and reports on desired insights.

As a marketing manager doing reporting, you might be torn between the two. Choosing the right tool will help you save time and resources, and this article will guide you in choosing the right tool for your specific use case.

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How are Excel and Power BI used in Marketing?

Modern marketing is a complex set of operations that creates hundreds of different goals and KPIs. Excel and Power BI are great tools to deal with these, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here’s how marketing teams are using these two popular tools to meet their demands. 

How Excel is used in marketing

Excel’s accessibility, simplicity, and ubiquity make it the go-to tool for marketing data, particularly as a storage or reference site. Excel is one of the most commonly used software applications that use the .xlxs, .csv, and other spreadsheet file types, and so wherever these files are generated — whether it’s through surveys, forms submissions, events registries, contacts lists, and data exports from marketing or sales channels — Excel appears as a baseline tool and first-touch point of managing that data.

However, seasoned marketers know that Excel is more than just a collection of data in rows and columns: its powerful custom calculations and fields and rich Microsoft library of templates allow a simple table to be transformed for an incredible range of use cases, from project management and large-scale KPI documents to content repositories for social media calendars.

Excel truly shines in relation to templates and third-party tools: its ubiquity makes it one of the most well-supported and understood tools on the market, and so there are very few limitations on what dashboards, views, and automated reports/sheets you can import and use in your marketing work. The work you do in Excel is easily transferable to data analytics tools, product management platforms, and more.

All this from a relatively freely available platform with low skill requirements and extensive capabilities. 

How Power BI is used in marketing

If Excel is the rubber tread on a wheel, then Power BI is the spokes: creating connections that reinforce the strengths of Excel and many other common marketing tools. Its custom applications, high degree of automation, and many data connections make it a perfect fit for teams who want to make their data and work as connected and flat as possible across their organizational hierarchies. 

Power BI is used differently from Excel because it’s not primarily a spreadsheet application. This business intelligence tool brings purpose and honed insights in the place of raw data storage. Marketers will use Power BI’s templates, dashboards, and intelligence tools to pull the most important data to their work, whether it’s case management, leads generation, website/channel analytics, or whatever else you’d find in a marketing department. This makes Power BI ideal for large teams with extreme variations in their work and KPIs. On top of this, Power BI gives easy access to powerful automation tools and customizable dashboards with very low technical or coding demands. 

Power BI is also used as a sort of “hub” between other Microsoft Office tools and third-party applications. This enables large-scale collaboration on single files and documents — something which Excel can have issues with. Power BI makes it simple to assign permissions and make full use of your most vital business data and documents without 100+ users accessing it and meddling with sensitive calculations and fields. 

Finally, Power BI allows for a safe back-end and connector for proprietary data and applications, a serious requirement in public sector organizations, government agencies, NGOs, and other public bodies. 

How does Excel work? Advantages and Limitations

Excel is a ubiquitous tool and has been around since 1985. Anyone who has interacted with Microsoft Office has used Excel at some point. It’s simply because it has many use cases from business to academia.

It’s an essential tool for data analysis and uses a spreadsheet format to distribute your data into columns and rows. Excel can also perform calculations and create colorful and customizable charts, graphs, and pivot tables.

Here are some of the advantages of using Excel:

  • Excel has over 400 functions available, which can be combined and customized to perform various calculations.
  • It’s effortless to create visualizations of data sets into charts and graphs and make presentations or reports for quick analysis.
  • Excel supports VBA (visual basic for applications), a programming language that helps you code to automate manual and redundant tasks making your work more efficient.
  • Many templates are available from Microsoft. You can also use templates created by others or create your own and share them with others.

While Excel is a great tool, it has limitations, including the following:

  • Collaborating on Excel can be a tall order, especially if the spreadsheet you’re working on is off the cloud. You and your teammates can’t work on it simultaneously when it’s on the cloud. And you do not want other people to mess up all your calculations and metrics. 
  • Excel works with a limited amount of data sources, which also depends on the software version of your program.

How does Power BI work? Advantages and limitations

The BI in Power BI stands for business intelligence. It’s aptly named because it employs the use of powerful tools which allow you to visualize your data into interactive dashboards that are easily shareable. These tools are specifically tailored for business.

You can easily connect all your data sources, even from Excel itself, right from your desktop or online sources like Google Analytics. In addition, power BI allows you to connect data from cloud services such as Azure, BigQuery, and SQL.

The advantages of Power BI include the following:

  • It’s part of the Microsoft environment, allowing simplicity and easy integration across your most common business tools and applications. 
  • It can connect to almost any system and pull data from any application, especially from the cloud.
  • It allows collaboration meaning that people can work on a file simultaneously.
  • Power BI is designed to handle large amounts of data, making it perfect for big data.
  • It makes excellent visualizations designed to make the data more insightful and understandable.
  • You can leverage artificial intelligence on Power BI to build ML models that can give insights from structured and unstructured data.
  • AI tools available through Power BI also allow you to use image recognition and text analysis for fast and powerful functionality in your applications. 
  • It’s extremely easy to connect and use with Supermetrics.

The limitations include the following:

  • It’s challenging to create tabular reports on Power BI.
  • It requires your team or business to be on Power BI to fully share everything.
  • It works on Windows only, and you can only share reports with people under the same domain name. 
  • Rigid formulas — the DAX language isn’t the most flexible or easy to work with.
  • The free version has a low data handling capacity. 

What is the difference between Excel and Power BI? What scenarios each of them can handle?

Microsoft built Power BI to cater to organizations and offer a more specialized service for their business needs. Until then, Excel was the primary solution for data visualization and business intelligence.

While Excel as a spreadsheet application is still popular, Power BI has carved out a niche in the business world because it has more powerful features in modern data intelligence. Here are the key differences:

  • Power BI has a learning curve compared to Excel because it’s relatively novel and lacks enough resources. A bit of technicality is involved in building and implementing solutions for businesses. But Microsoft has made it very intuitive and easy to master.
  • If you have a large amount of data, there’s only so much you can do on Excel, but Power BI can handle a colossal amount of data. But larger datasets will incur additional costs, which means you need to be prudent with data when building models.
  • Excel is perfect for creating reports that are in tabular format as opposed to Power BI.
  • Power BI is a better tool when it comes to doing a comparative analysis between datasets, tables, and reports.
  • If you’re concerned with security, Power BI offers a more secure environment than Excel. 

Suppose you have several different social media marketing channels— instead of manually combining Ad spending and the conversion rate, Power BI allows you to put together all those metrics. The datasets can then be used to create dashboards with interactive visualizations to help you account for money spent and if it was worthwhile.

Excel would be more appropriate in scenarios requiring tabular data, for instance, tracking essential KPIs. It would allow you to represent and analyze your data efficiently.

Which one to choose?

The same company, Microsoft, makes Excel and Power BI. They’re not competing with each other but are targeted at different individuals. Excel is more generalized in terms of use cases, which is why you can use it alongside Power BI.

Deciding on which one to use will ultimately depend on the use case. Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before you decide on either:

  • Do I have the skill set to build and implement solutions in Power BI?
  • What is the size of the dataset I’m working with?
  • What kind of report do I want to make?
  • Am I working in collaboration with other people?
  • What other business tools or applications do I rely on for my work?

In short, Excel works best with data-first work, where generating, tracking, storing, and analyzing data is the name of the game; if you’re looking for a high degree of automation, shareability, and collaboration across interconnected teams using key business data, then Power BI is your go-to option. Many organizations comfortably use both tools side-by-side for an extensive range of work, so at the end of the day, it all depends on what your business goals and use cases are.

Whatever your choice is, you can easily and quickly connect all your data and start processing it with Supermetrics for Power BI and Supermetrics for Excel. Get started for free with our 14-day trial — it’s the perfect way to decide which works best for you.

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Jessica Wei

About the author:

Jessica works in product marketing at Supermetrics. She help marketers and analysts learn how to use Supermetrics to get better at analytics and reporting.

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