Marketing Dashboards: The “So What?” Questions

Gordon Braun-WoodburyMarketing Operations

These days, it seems that conversations on how to measure marketing quickly lead to the to the topic of Marketing Dashboards. “We really, really need a dashboard” is a statement I often hear. And the questions I ask in response are always along the lines of “So what?”

In asking those questions, I’m not (deliberately) trying to be a pain. Rather, I want to be sure that I (and my client) understand the real business need for a dashboard before going any further.

In my personal definition, a marketing dashboard is a display of relevant marketing metrics in real time (or as close to real time as the data allows). It provides feedback to the marketing team (and its stakeholders) on the business impact their activities are happening. The power of the Dashboard comes from its ability to place multiple related metrics in the same display, so the team can immediately see correlations and gain insights.

Note the emphasized words: relevant, real time, feedback, business impact, correlations, insights. Without these characteristics, a marketing dashboard is little more than a pretty graphic.

And here’s the problem with dashboards: it’s easy to lose sight of these characteristics when building a metrics display. For example, many dashboard tools have standard connectors to social media channels, Google Analytics and web apps. With a little technical knowledge, a user can set up a dashboard that displays any number of digital metrics. It’s colorful. It looks cool. But does it provide insights and information to drive decisions? Probably not.

We need to understand that the marketing dashboard is only a means, not an end in itself. It’s just a tool to get us to the real objective: data-driven business decisions that align marketing activity with the objectives of the businesses we serve.

Creating a true business-aligned marketing dashboard is hard work. It requires us to answer tough “So what?” questions to provide business context for every metric we choose to display. Questions like:

What is the business issue that this metric addresses?
What is the performance indicator that the metric displays?
What stakeholders really care about this information?
What decisions will be made based on the metric? Who will make them?
What’s the data source for the metric? Is it reliable?
What are the most important segments of the data for purposes of the metric?
How will the metric be calculated?
What’s the best way to visualize the results?

Let’s take a simple example: website visits.

It’s easy enough to create a standard timeline chart showing number of visits and visitors – but who really cares about that?

When we ask the “so what?” questions, we find that the business has several active email campaigns in three product lines.

Therefore, we focus attention on the associated website pages. For each we look at campaign cost, traffic source, leads, conversions and other metrics that track visitors’ interaction. We create a single combined ROI/visitor metric that compares each of the three products and visualizes how the email campaigns are driving revenue for each.

Now we are cooking. Instead of tracking raw visitor numbers, we are visualizing insights that we can use to infer knowledge about our customers are responding to our campaigns – and make changes to the campaigns in response.

I look at it this way: we generally get one chance to make an impact. If we chose the easy path — building a dashboard that doesn’t inform decisions — we will only succeed in creating more data noise and leaving important stakeholders with a poor impression. On the other hand, if we do our homework, we will build a dashboard based on relevant metrics, designed to generate real insights – and we enhance our reputations and careers.

The second path is a lot more work – but it’s worth it!