1. Have Clear Measurable Objectives
Objectives are what you are trying to achieve. They are what you aspire to. They usually take time to realize. They should be spoken in plain language. Things like “Build our reputation as an industry leader in..” or “Increase market share with…”. Objectives should show measurable improvement. They include words like grow, increase, more, reduce, and improve. Objectives are not requirements that can be checked off. Many times I’ve heard objectives such as “Make our website our brand hub.” This is a requirement, not an objective. Once you build all your brand assets and messaging into your website, it effectively becomes your brand hub. Check that one off. Then you need to use your website to increase your brand exposure. That requires a trend. That is the measurable objective.
2. Get Stakeholders to Agree on KPIs
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the metrics that will be used to indicate progress toward your objectives. Not every metric is a KPI. “Key” is the important word. What are the KEY performance indicators. How can you tell if something is key? Simple–if it goes south, do you freak out? Sometimes you won’t really know which are the true KPIs until things start going south. That’s when things get real and the Key Performance Indicators will become obvious. It’s better to identify the KPIs in advance so you can stay on top of the trends. This helps you be proactive and avoid downturns. Make sure all stakeholders agree on what KPIs to track. Disagreement can lead to frustration and a lot of tail chasing and decision making gridlock–all of which will have the net effect of undermining the value of analytics overall. This also prevents cherry-picking.
3. Get Execution Teams Aligned on KPIs
Once you have your definitive KPIs, make sure your marketing teams are building their programs to support the KPIs. This has many benefits. Not only does it provide a clear vision of success for each team, but it also helps with marketing operations in general. People start asking what they need to do to make sure their efforts are aligned. They start looking into how to be sure their results are measurable in the right ways. They gravitate to standardized reporting. Everything begins to work together better when KPIs are clear and concise.
4. Decide Which Data Sources are Authoritative
Not only does the KPI need to be established, but where the data will come from needs to be established. Which specific number is the one people decide to trust the most. You can have 4 different systems tracking the same thing, and you’ll almost always end up with 4 different numbers. At some point, you it is in everyone’s interest to decide which number is the one you trust the most. Everyone’s life will be better for it.
5. Plan to Review on a Regular Basis.
Regular reviews are important for tracking progress. They are almost more important for keeping stakeholders educated. Many times, senior management simply does not have the time (or the interest) to stay involved in the details of tracking and measurement. Because of this, they have a tendency to forget basic details that are important for understanding what you show them. Let’s be honest, this happens all the time. But there is a cure. As a former manager of mine loved to say, “Repetition builds Retention”. Create a schedule and stick to it. Eventually, the audience will stop asking basic questions and they will begin to soak into the data in a more meaningful way.
6. Only Include Helpful Information
What is “helpful”? It is information that helps someone make a decision. Sometimes it helps them prove that their decision was right. In any case, it is information that is related to a decision that either needs to be made or has been made. Decisions are action points. We want actionable data. This means you also have to have a good understanding of who the audience is. What is on his/her plate that the information you are presenting can help with? What information should you present in order to help them with a decision they need to make? Of course, the KPI trends are a part of this, but often times there are other metrics that can help flesh out a subject for the audience. Finding these salient other things makes analytics more meaningful and engaging. It also helps to understand the ladder of abstraction (which is super interesting if you are interested in storytelling with data).
7. Information not Data
Present as few numbers as necessary. Present as much insight as possible.
8. Include the Context
Context is the story. It is the environment in which the trend happened. It is the annotations that mark where one campaign ended and another began. It is the effort each person put into the creative which made it measurably great. Context is human. It is historical. It is absolutely critical to understanding what makes a number real. It is really difficult for most people.
9. Verify the Findings
This one is simple. Double check your numbers before you present them. Ask other people to look at them and see that they are right. This is especially true when dealing with multiple data providers. Suck in their data. Recast it however you need to. Then go back to them and ask “Does this look right to you?” This is the best way to not only catch errors, but also to get consensus on performance.
10. Get as Close as Possible to Showing True Business Value
Sometimes easy. Sometimes hard. Sometimes impossible. But at least try to get as close as you can. Ask questions. How does “Improve customer engagement on the website” result in repeat customers in the store? How does Facebook improve loyalty? Do you have the right tools to even get close to finding an answer? Some companies yes; others no. Do what you can. Never stop looking for the business impact beyond just the tactical metrics.
11. Have Theories about Why–both in planning and in analysis.
Many times planning and creative development lacks a good “why”. Why does the art director think the style change will improve performance? Why does the marketing manager think a site refresh will improve conversion rates? This can seem like a challenge, and I guess to some extent it is. But it’s not meant to be a combative challenge. Rather, let’s really think about what will make a measureable difference and have reasons for what we do. Aesthetics are important, but marketing is an investment and your website is not an art project. Likewise, it’s not enough to just say that a particular metric has gone up or down. Say why it happened, as well as you can. If you don’t have ideas about “why”, then you are not ready to present your findings.
12. Don’t Create Report Cards
Many people get defensive when it comes to reporting. This is especially true with agencies. They live in a state of insecurity and are always looking for a way to show what a good job they are doing. But, the truth is, that not everything is a smashing success. Let’s be honest about it. Let’s gather around and work together to make things better. We don’t need to hold hands and sing songs, but we do need to have some measure of trust that reporting is not a stab in the back waiting to happen. Having others verify the reporting before it is presented helps with this. But also, having a really open and inviting conversation at the beginning of a project can help to. Let people know that they will have a strong voice. This isn’t about creating report cards. It’s about showcasing progress. They are emotionally very different even though the KPIs remain the same.
13. Be Consistent and Repeatable
Consistent helps educate the audience. Repeatable helps the person who is building the report be efficient. It also reduces confusion if the data needs to be revisited at a later date. Noting where numbers come from and what calculations were used to generate the report is very useful.
14. Get As Close as Possible to Apple-to-Apples Comparisons
Don’t compare things that should not be compared. That is a very ambiguous thing to say, but it is important. Otherwise you open the door to criticism and people will second guess your analysis. This is the best way to undermine your credibility and, when done on a regular basis, the value of analytics in general.
15. Analytics is a Process
Here’s my definition:
“Analytics is a service that includes a wide range of tasks and deliverables related to defining, determining, identifying, verifying, tracking and (especially) communicating performance. The depth and duration of this work depends on the nature of the project, but the outcomes are all similar in that they help us and the client reliably understand the impact of the work we do.”
It’s not just charts and slide decks. There’s much more to it. Working out data quality issues plays a big role in analytics. Learning how to communicate results is absolutely critical.
16. Analytics is not Accounting
Don't expect it to be.