If you do the how without the why, you might be doing beautiful marketing reports, but they aren’t helping anything.
– Lindsey Wiebe

Have you ever received an email from your leadership or a marketing project sponsor asking for some ‘statistics’ on a project? Starting down the road of discovery on a marketing project brings up the question, “What does success look like?”

If you’ve asked this in a kickoff meeting and received blank stares from across the table,  you’ll definitely need to make the most of your marketing reports.

This can also ring true if your role as a marketer includes analytics and reporting, and it’s not your specialty. Where do you even start? How do you know what data to collect to tell the right story? These are familiar, sometimes daunting challenges encountered by the marketing strategist.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I recently sat down with Lindsey Wiebe, a senior specialist in analytics and reporting for the Office of Advancement at the University of Calgary. I asked her advice on planning for marketing reports that tell the right story to drive effective decision-making.

“One metric will be a vanity metric for one organization and not for another,” says Wiebe. “The only way to avoid using metrics that don’t mean anything to you is to be purposeful.”

We covered a lot of ground, and here are her top three ways that you can make purposeful and impactful reports:

1. Be curious. Connect with others.

Conversations with leadership and project sponsors are key. It’s important you both use a common language. If you don’t receive explicit targets to measure, showing curiosity about a project can be an effective way to open new areas of discussion.

According to Wiebe, “What appears to be a vanity metric might lead to other questions that are important to you.”

Connecting with other teams like client services, product development or sales is also beneficial. Share your data with your colleagues as it starts to come in. They may ask questions you hadn’t thought of and give you the opportunity to evolve your dashboard.

2. Focus on the purpose.

Some metrics are often misunderstood, like web traffic. When you receive nebulous targets during discovery, it’s up to you to help tease out what people mean. And always go back to the question: Is it an indicator of something important for the business or is it not?

“It’s important to know what metrics you can get easily, but if people focus on what matters for the organization, they can go find something that matches each tactic they’re employing more easily,” says Wiebe.

3. Start small and stick to the fundamentals.

If you’re not sure what tools to use, don’t get seduced by shiny new technologies. Fundamentals can be difficult to achieve and sustain.

“If you’re in an organization where operationally you feel comfortable, go for it, but it can be easy to get distracted from your business goals,” says Wiebe.

A simple spreadsheet can be the right tool to capture data if it’s capturing the right data for your project. When you’re comfortable using the basic tools it can free up mental energy to focus on the actual input. It’s tempting to invest in a new AI engine that will select one of 50 articles to target specific audience members. It still doesn’t answer the question: “Did we need to write those 50 articles in the first place?”

If you’re unsure where to start when setting targets for a new project (or reporting on an active one), keep your eye on the “why”. Stay curious, drill down into the numbers and ask questions. Focus on how the data connects marketing activity with the goals of the business.

Catherine Francis is Senior Advisor, Marketing and Communications.
She comes from a performing arts background as an actor, singer and playwright and has over 10 years of nonprofit marketing and communications experience.

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Resources recommended by Wiebe:

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