Marketers everywhere can agree that while it’s a necessary function of the job, client reporting can sometimes be a drag. The mere hint that any part of the marketing reporting process can be automated is a tantalizing prospect. However, a holistic approach and understanding of reporting is necessary for agencies to efficiently and cost-effectively transform their marketing reporting workflows through automation.
Is marketing reporting automation “digital transformation?”
Digital transformation is having its moment basking in the buzzword sun. Not to throw any shade on this term, let’s shed some light on how automation relates to digital transformation.
More than just digitization or automation of your existing processes, digital transformation is a fundamental shift in the way a business approaches tasks and appropriates resources. Analyst Dion Hinchcliffe believes “successful digital transformation rethinks and re-imagines the business using the digital ‘art-of-the-possible,’ as well as what will become possible in the future.”
If you think about choosing marketing reporting automation as an act of digital transformation, it widens the impact of the change from just selecting a reporting vendor to fully examining the people, process, and platforms that comprise your reporting supply chain. You want to ensure any automation or technological enhancements to your workflows become force multipliers, rather than fancy bottlenecks.
With a reliable marketing data warehouse, reporting automation expands your ability to access larger databases, helps them organize, normalize, and clean data sets, which separates noise from signal, providing you with clearer visibility into performance.
Redefining what automation means in marketing reporting
Automation is often perceived as a “set it and forget it” magic wand; and in many ways that is the ultimate goal. Once you have your parameters and protocols established, automating laborious processes can be liberating. But it might also amplify unforeseen problems that will replicate at scale through automation–which you want to avoid.
To prevent potential tech-adjacent headaches, it’s important to draw the distinction between automation and “decision-free” processes. The goal of automation shouldn’t be to remove decisions, but to ensure decision-making is informed, easier and faster.
The role of templates in marketing reporting automation
The secret to effectively automating marketing reporting is the quality and integrity of the templates used to batch-process the individual instances of the desired reports. Speeding up processes through automation is about scaling one-to-many relationships, not one-to-one relationships.
While agencies, media companies, and brands may be running hundreds to thousands of distinct reports, thanks to automation they are able to scale the process based on one-to-many frameworks, rather than a massive run of one-to-one iterations. This is why templates are an essential component to marketing report automation.
In NinjaCat's template-to-report structure, for example, we want our clients to create a universal template that powers as many of their reports as possible. This allows changes to be made once to a template, which will then be reflected in all the reports generated by that template.
Another benefit of reporting automation is that templates can be used to streamline the look and feel of dashboards and decks across multiple accounts, something franchise marketers might apply to their rollup reporting, for instance.
The importance of annotation in automated marketing reports
Data is so abundant these days marketers happily welcome metaphors to help them comprehend how lakes, streams, and pipelines connect it all together, proving that data usually requires interpretation. This is why annotations and analysis are often the most important parts in a report.
When it comes to communicating the success of marketing campaigns, annotations provide crucial context. How is a manual process like this automated? Well, it’s not. True marketing reporting automation means performance data is piped into preformatted, scalable templates, with necessary annotations and insights added by hand.
Within NinjaCat, reports that require annotations are held in a quality control cue before being emailed, allowing marketers time to add action items, highlight points of interest, and outline next steps.
Automated marketing reports are for insights, not just information
When implemented properly, marketing reporting automation can improve marketing strategy, streamline formatting across multiple accounts, and reduce data inaccuracies. There is also another intangible benefit from automating reporting, which is freeing up time to ask deeper questions.
One question marketers and agencies might pose if they’re looking to automate their marketing reporting process is “What is the intended function of the data you gather and report on?” Is it solely to produce consistent data sets? Brandon Shockley, VP Research at 160over90, said it best on a recent episode of our podcast: “The whole measurement process should be making the people smarter, not the data better.”