Chances are if you read enough marketing industry content, you’ve heard that marketing dashboards are both dead and more important than ever. Which means the truth about what it takes to create a perfect marketing dashboard is seemingly elusive – another White Whale in the analytic ocean.
The perfect dashboard is about more than just better looking widgets. The way to get closer to a dashboard that will help you improve your results, secure the quality of reporting, and better visualize the value of your programs is to start with better data management.
The Truth About Dashboards for Marketing
Data engineers have a saying, “It’s the data, stupid.” And on one hand, that’s mean. And on the other hand, the truth hurts sometimes.
The truth about marketing dashboards is that the integrity of the data sets, information architecture, and strategy which informs their creation is what actually determines a dashboard’s quality, value, and usefulness.
One of the technical barriers preventing marketers from building a sensible dashboard is the complexity, cost and effort required to unify and harmonize data across multiple platforms and sources.
The common martech analytics stack might require some updates to ensure you have all the components required to ingest, transform, store, pipe and visualize data. Teams often have to work with multiple tools for each step of the process, which only adds to the degradation of data over time.
Another issue with building a trustworthy dashboard for marketing is information architecture. Especially if you need to report on cross-platform results, like most marketers do, you must aggregate and normalize the data first and foremost.
Data cleanliness is next to… a holy mess if you skip the first step and just start placing widgets on a dashboard without thought to the inputs behind them.
And then there’s the question of attribution and reporting on performance metrics. In a fascinating post by Rand Fishkin, he provocatively questions marketing attribution and the need to over-squeeze the analytics orange, for what he considers to be too little juice. He says that, “...executives are so addicted to provable metrics that they’d rather lose money to get more certainty.”
In his semi-dismissal of analytics for gut measurements, Fishkin admits that you need some performance data and analytical savvy. A gut-only marketer would still require a method in which to collect data, an ability to interpret and strategize off that information, and mastery of how to utilize all of this collected intelligence to forecast a loose approximation of their place and trajectory within the market.
The perfect dashboard doesn’t exist, it has to be built. And if you’re saying, ‘out of what?’ at this point in the article, maybe get up, stretch your legs, and start back at the top. Everyone else; let’s keep going.
Marketing Dashboard Do’s & Don’ts
Do the “back-end” data work, up front - Clean datasets are the lifeblood of reporting. Implement proper data management protocols and standardized nomenclatures across clients, campaigns, metrics and dimension before piping performance data into an intended reporting interface or visualization tool.
Don’t leave it open to interpretation - An impactful dashboard opens up a platform for conversation and provides data to inform decision-making. You must provide context, annotations and training in some cases to educate the dashboard consumer about what they are seeing.
Do set up reliable connectors - Data warehouses promote their speed and accessibility because ingesting data from a myriad of destinations into a single dashboard requires a reliable infrastructure. With every widget on a marketing dashboard, there should be a consideration for connection integrity and load times.
Don’t overload the dashboard - Remember, it’s a dashboard, not a loaded baked potato. More widgets don’t mean more wisdom. Highlight a few of the most important metrics that best illustrate the progress towards your end goal. Display trends and comparisons for context.
The list of do’s and don’ts could go on for pages but the most important part of building an impactful dashboard is to start with understanding the business goals of the program or campaign. Work backwards to show the data points that demonstrate progress towards those goals.
Building the “Perfect” Dashboard for Marketing
The best chance for perfection in a marketing dashboard has to start with your data strategy.
Data coming into a dashboard for marketing needs to be clear, consistent, and error-free, which is very challenging with cross-channel marketing. Make sure you know where you are storing, managing and analyzing your data. Setting up a marketing data warehouse is a standard practice for most analyst teams today.
But just having connection to endless data is not enough. Someone needs to provide insights and context for the data.
In a dream world, your perfect dashboard is populated with widgets that represent the final stage of a thoughtful and robust data strategy that accounts for data aggregation, transformation, storage, exploration, and automation.
Dashboards for marketing aren’t dead, but they are on life-support without proper data strategy and infrastructure.
For inspiration on your next dashboard build, check out our Five Marketing Dashboard Examples.