Using Reporting As A Valuable Insight Tool & Not Just A Box-Ticking Exercise

Your reporting framework and processes can be powerful tools to surface customer insights, gain competitive advantage, and ultimately, drive commercial growth. Is your approach to analytics and reporting anything less? How realistic is the dream of reporting as this powerful feedback loop and what’s getting in the way?

For many of us, reporting is the means by which we prove that our efforts have commercial value. It can demonstrate the mix of channels and tactics that work for our business or provide targets to work towards. It can also be the last box to tick once a campaign has run its course, the necessary paperwork before we can move on with something else.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve come across many attitudes to data, analytics, and reporting. I have reviewed many setups and shared many frustrations. I’ve come to appreciate the responsibility and potential dangers that come with the territory as well as the immense opportunity that a strategic approach can bring.

Approaches to data and reporting seem to vary between two extremes. On one side is the road to analysis paralysis — an inability to make decisions due to overanalysing or overthinking. On the reverse is extreme reactiveness — constantly changing approach & determining success or failure from the smallest of data sets.

In a sense they present the failings of two of the main things we want from our reporting; we want it to be thorough and insightful but also action-oriented and timely. Ultimately, we want to use the insights to gain competitive advantage. The challenge being that marketing teams are under pressure to make decisions to drive performance & avoid wasted spend often quicker than the feedback loop can inform these decisions.

So how can we improve things — the quality and speed of insights for starters — and what’s getting in the way?

KPI setting

The first and most important step here is a discussion of business goals and the setting of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Too often there’s a disconnect between business goals and the metrics that can advance them. The success of your enterprise is not the same as the success of keyword X reaching position 1 on Google. Failure to understand and breakdown business goals at this stage can severely limit your marketing strategy.

A host of other problems can creep in here:

  1. KPI Overload — too many KPIs and we’re really devaluing the ‘key’ part and making prioritisation that bit more difficult.
  2. Wrong KPIs — sometimes a business will put too much emphasis on lesser or ‘vanity’ metrics — “sales are up but sessions are down”. This can also present itself through a lack of understanding of the quality vs quantity tradeoff, for example focusing too much on sessions vs leads.
  3. Channel first mentality — we often state our overall business goals through the prism of channels. Hitting a certain impression share on Google Ads is not a business goal — it may be a tactic. This also assumes a channel is right for you rather than keeping focus on the core goals at hand.

The data: getting the ‘plumbing’ right

Between KPI setting and the analysis and reporting itself lies the data, underpinning the entire endeavour. Broadly speaking this involves everything from the various sources of data a business may be using, such as Google Analytics or a CRM, to how they’re configured.

It’s not uncommon to see the trust in the quality of data available drop so low that it’s no longer used in digital planning and strategy. I know how hard it can be to untangle the mess in these situations — sometimes with key parts of the puzzle held by multiple former employees. For all the caveats and frustrations, it’s worth working through this even if you feel like you’re starting again. Reaching even a minimum viable analytics setup can greatly improve the effectiveness of your digital channels.

In many (even larger) organisations, it’s not clear who’s responsible for the configuration and maintenance of these platforms. There may be developers involved in technical tag set up and marketers using the analytics platforms for reporting but a technical expertise gap at the configuration stage. I think it’s important to engage the whole marketing team but having someone responsible for this certainly helps.

The analysis & reporting

If KPIs are outlined and you’re confident in your tracking and analytics setup it still remains to analyse and report in a meaningful way. Just as there’s a danger in the good analysis of bad data, it’s just as possible to arrive at incorrect conclusions from a sound analytics setup. Here are a couple of ways I’ve seen this manifest itself:

The attribution headache. Customer journeys involve increasing touchpoints and devices and for many analytics platforms this results in a black hole of attribution. One of the benefits of digital media over more traditional and out-of-home advertising is supposedly increased trackability. On the whole, however, it doesn’t always feel like this is the case. There are technical changes in your setups that can improve things here but it’s never going to be a closed loop. I found that businesses that adopt a more open approach to attribution tend to establish and optimise their mix of channels faster.

Accountability can also be an obstacle here. When things haven’t worked out as hoped, a marketer’s first instinct may be to search for some validation, proof of success behind the metrics pointing to the contrary. After all we judge the success of a strategy, tactic, or campaign as much on the individuals or teams executing them as we do on the complex combination of factors resulting in a successful customer journey. This won’t go away, but a business culture that more readily embraces failure will have a faster feedback loop than one that hides it.

It’s clear then that even reaching a position of confidence in the reporting and feedback process isn’t plain sailing. Whether it’s from a misalignment on goals, technical problems in the tracking and setup of these in analytics platforms, or at the reporting process stage itself, many businesses struggle here.

There is immense scope to utilise reporting and data to drive growth but it’s too often neglected. The biggest piece of advice I’d have to improve this is to keep it on the agenda. Audit your setup and processes from KPIs down and work on a plan to fine tune each component. Put time aside to regularly check in and review this and the benefits will be clear.

As much as we may wish it’s just a matter of getting the machine up and sufficiently well-oiled, in reality, this process is science and art.

Charlie Watkins, Senior PPC Executive

Author Bio: Charlie Watkins is a paid media consultant at Curated and our resident analyst. Starting in the world of PPC, he’s gone on to build key analytics frameworks and strategies for our clients. If you’d like to learn more about Charlie’s approach to analytics, get in touch through our website today: curated-digital.com

Clever digital marketing for ambitious brands. Founded by an ex-Googler, based in London.