Don’t report the weather.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either heard that phrase or said it in my time at Element Three. It’s used so frequently that it might be the unofficial reporting slogan of our agency.
People will often say (myself included) that good reporting is predicated on good data. But just having good data doesn’t mean your reporting is good.
Reporting is storytelling.
Pretty tables and charts with numbers are meaningless unless you can translate those tables and graphs into tangible insights that your stakeholder—be it your supervisor, your team lead, or your client—understands.
First, what is impactful reporting?
Is it impacting change? Is your executive team better educated on marketing efforts? Are they buying bigger programs that drive more bottom line revenue? Is it helping streamline processes and helping prioritize requests? Is your reporting being tied to strategic business goals?
If not, then no, your reporting is not impactful.
So, what should you be asking yourself to update your reporting?
Is it visually interesting?
Sorry, but if your graphs are a snooze fest or you have paragraphs of text when a visual would do, you won’t have the attention of your audience.
You might have found a way to drive hundreds of leads, but if it’s not clearly illustrated, it’ll be falling on deaf ears. It’s a fine line to walk: being brief, but informative. But your client needs to be able to take that report and run it up the ladder at work and also needs to be able to clearly explain the report.
Tip: truly think about your audience when putting together a reporting document or presentation.
If I’m presenting to an executive team or a finance department, I put key insights at the top of the presentation. Execs generally don’t care how those numbers happened, but they do care about what those numbers mean.
If I’m presenting to a director or manager, I bookend my presentation with insights and next steps. I always keep graphs as simple as humanly possible. If someone wants to get into the weeds, I will gladly go into my Excel spreadsheet, but more often than not that’s not the case.
Tip: show your report to someone who doesn’t work in your space and see if they can figure out what they’re looking at. True story, I’ve presented to my mom before. If you’re sending your report via email without a presentation to support it, this step is critical. Your report has to stand on its own.
Are you providing actual insights?
I firmly believe that engineering principles are applicable to marketing.
The “5 Whys” is an interrogative technique used to identify the root cause of a problem. The technique was formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used within Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies (the Toyota Production System). This system has influenced lean manufacturing and Six Sigma Principles.
When reporting, I do a blend of “5 Whys” and just asking myself “so what?” to make sure I’m getting down to the root cause and the truest reason for why someone should care. I want my clients to be able to take my report and have clear, actionable next steps.
Let’s try an example:
See? If you ask “why” enough you get to a root cause problem—and to a solution.
Have you tied your insights to money?
It’s cliche, but money talks and time is money. Your goal is to make your report so amazing that it is worth the time of the person reading it. You want to make your executive team look like complete rockstars for investing in your department.
If you can say that by reducing CPL by 10% you were able to stretch the budget by three months and make their return on investment X% better, that is meaningful. That is what gets a leadership team to give you more budget.
That insight is more impactful than “we reduced CPL by 10%.” Don’t just say what you did. Explain why it matters, and why it saves money or increases revenue.
In the end, reporting should feel like a collaborative effort. The stats, results, and impact should be crystal clear so you and your stakeholders can move on to talking about how to improve, iterate, or create new campaigns. Good reporting can easily elevate marketing from a subsidiary function of sales or operations to a critical arm within your business. Focus on the impact over just the results, and you’ll get there.
Lynsey Johnson is "mostly a Hoosier," but she's a digital marketer through and through. Marketing leverages her love of reading and writing, but her skills in math – honed in school and her past work as a financial analyst – help her find the best ways to maximize our clients' digital spend. And she's also an expert gardener, as it turns out!
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