It shouldn’t take an MBA to understand that reporting and communicating are two different things. A report is a collection of facts and figures related to an issue or subject. Communication is a two-way process in which messages, intents, and actions are sent and received. And yet, many are the tales of frustrated marketers and stakeholders, both clamoring for insights in a world awash with data, all failing to create marketing performance reports that transmit any real story.
Communicating effectively with stakeholders about marketing performance is as much about the context in which you deliver the report as it is about the content of the report. Let’s talk briefly about what good marketing performance reporting entails, how it’s best communicated to stakeholders, and how you can use these tips to enhance your presentation skills.
What does effective marketing performance reporting look like?
Before marketers run performance reports up the flagpole, they must ensure that the data is clean, the insights are clear, and the presentation is crisp.
We’ve covered the basic building blocks of effective marketing performance reporting extensively, so for now I’ll simply summarize what effective reporting looks like, before diving into the best ways to communicate the key insights and intel from these reports.
Effective performance reporting is the process of assembling and analyzing data to guide actions and inform strategy. More importantly, performance reports frame and define a campaign to help stakeholders focus on the metrics that matter most.
So, exactly how do you start building a quality report? There are essentially four main questions to answer:
- What are the objectives?
- What data do you have access to?
- What type of story do you want to tell with that data?
- What is the ‘takeaway’ for the audience?
When you can state the goals of your intended report, have a clear idea of the story and easy access to data to help convey it all to stakeholders, you’re more likely to communicate a cohesive message and create a compelling presentation.
Have the end in mind, before you start
Another important tip is that it’s important to align your reporting with the intended communication channel early.
The data, effort, and insights required to build and maintain a dashboard for a mid-level marketer isn’t equal to the time it takes to stitch and present a high-level roll-up report to someone in the C-Suite.
While it’s tempting to have a report that is chock-full of data points, it can be easy to overwhelm the audience with information.
Marketers may want to include the kitchen sink in an executive summary, but when evaluating the health of an entire brand/label/agency, seeing too many campaign-level metrics might cause consternation and questions from the stakeholders.
Communicating Marketing Results to Stakeholders
Now that you’ve built a worthy marketing report, you can’t just throw it on the desk and be done with it. The way in which you present a marketing report to stakeholders may be just as important as what’s in the report. The context in which you communicate your report is just as important as the content.
A report is a thing. Communication is both a process and an activity.
To ensure the proper messages are being communicated to the stakeholders, it’s up to marketers to take a few considerations into account when conveying information regarding marketing campaigns.
In communication theory, the sender/receiver model of communication describes the chain of events, players, and actions involved in the effective transmission of a message.
In the sender/receiver model of communication, a message is encoded by a sender, sent through a medium, and decoded on receipt by the receiver. Here’s a diagram of the basic sender/receiver model of communication, from the Project Management Institute
In order for any information to be properly received, messages must be encoded in a way that’s easily understandable to the receiver. It should:
- Use the same language
- Have a clear purpose
- Be formatted to suit needs of receiver
For stakeholder reporting, this means every marketing metric in the deck has to mean something, each graph and annotation has to be purposefully placed, and the design and outlay of the data has to make sense, at-a-glance.
The Project Management Institute also provides insight on how the medium is integral to the successful transmission of information. According to their research, to effectively communicate a message:
- Match the medium to the message
- Minimize noise
- Apply active listening
In regards to marketing performance reporting, this means, first, that the presentation you provide stakeholders should match the medium of communication they’re most comfortable with, and have allotted time to analyze. Don’t expect a performance dashboard to provide the same level of insight or spark the same conversations as a highly-packaged and well-designed report, delivered in PDF or slide format.
Second, to reduce the distortion or interference of a message, only the most salient figures and facts should be included in a stakeholder report, and design considerations should optimize for clarity over clutter.
And third, and this may be the most important part of delivering an effective marketing performance report to stakeholders, is the application of active listening skills.
It may seem silly to include listening as an essential skill for effective presentation or public speaking, but just the slightest application of active listening and really engaging in feedback with stakeholders can make a huge difference in creating the next report.
Effective marketing performance reporting for stakeholders isn’t about making better reports, more informed marketing dashboards, or fancier presentations; it’s about better communication.
By applying insights in communication theory to their reporting process, specifically the “sender/receiver” model of communication, marketers can translate value more effectively, making higher-quality reports, with the right kind of data and the depth of insight and analysis that stakeholders can understand and appreciate.