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Marketing Reporting Software: Myths vs Reality

August 10, 2021
April 5, 2023

Marketing reporting software has always adapted with the changing modalities of online business, from measuring the impact of the first banner ad, to full-funnel digital metrics on today’s complex martech and adtech ecosystems.

As media buying options increase for brands and agencies, the amount of performance data and reporting required to track campaign effectiveness also increases. Which makes marketing reporting software less of a nice-to-have, and more of a need-to-have. 

Let’s take a look at some common myths about marketing reporting software and separate the fact from the fiction. 

Common Marketing Reporting Software Myths

The Myth: Marketing reporting software will solve all my marketing problems 

While the problems marketers face are unique to specific verticals and industries, the struggles with measuring marketing performance tend to be the same, chiefly being, “how can we tell if this stuff works?” 

And so, the siren song of software as a solution comes along, whispering full visibility, sweet efficiency, and frictionless integrations. We know a thing about that.

The idea that software makes things easier is simple to agree with. But applying a single software solution to address complex marketing challenges is where the difficulties begin.  

The Reality: Marketing reporting is less all-in-one, and more a la carte

When it comes to slaying the beasts of marketing reporting, there is no silver bullet, there is no One Ring, no Excalibur.  

Mythologies about heroic saviors drive the idea into our consciousness that there is a single solution for problems, when in fact, most challenges are solved through a patchwork of interlocking processes and platforms.

While there is marketing performance software that can function as an all-in-one solution, marketers and advertisers tend to have a toolbox of technology that's customized.

The marketing technology landscape works in dynamic and symbiotic ways, with vendors and clients iterating on new ways to execute and measure campaigns that drive the industry forward. 

The Myth: Marketing reporting software will provide strategy

Another mythical expectation is that dashboards and metrics alone will become a crystal ball for how to implement marketing strategy.

It’s hard to disagree with the idea that once you start measuring something, you can begin to improve upon it. 

However, if you optimize and base your strategy off the wrong measurement, then improvements will be difficult– if not impossible–to come by. When it comes to measuring and hitting targets in marketing, it’s important to understand which data to gather and test, and to be wary of perverse incentives.

A perverse incentive is an incentive within a system that has unintended consequences. The cobra effect is a vivid example of perverse incentive.

Based on an anecdote of an occurrence in India during British rule, the cobra effect recounts a time when British colonialists were concerned about the large number of venomous cobras in Deli, and offered a bounty for every dead cobra. 

Initially this was a successful strategy, until enterprising people began to breed cobras for the bounty.

Once the government became aware of this, they stopped offering the bounty, so the cobra breeders released their now worthless snake supply back into the wild, making the original problem much worse.

The Reality: Effective marketing strategy comes before metrics

The metrics marketers use to judge the effectiveness of their marketing efforts have to be dictated by strategic goals. 

It can be easy to get caught up reporting on platform-specific KPIs while the much more critical top line business results are bypassed.

For example, if a campaign’s success was solely based on impressions or clicks, marketers might see 100% ROI on an ad platform, while the correlation between ad spend and bottom line impact goes unmeasured and unreported. That’s why it is so critical for the marketer producing the performance report to stay focused on telling a data story that aligns with the overarching marketing strategy (see also: how to report marketing performance results to stakeholders). 

That’s the secret to effective marketing reporting. In order to leverage marketing performance reporting software for strategic benefit, a well-rounded marketer goes further. 

The Myth: Marketing reporting software will establish processes, fix behaviors

There is a good reason why the metaphor of “putting out fires” is used often in a business setting. Intractable problems seem to spontaneously combust, engulfing any strategic momentum in flames. 

There’s also the common phrase, “good help is hard to find,” which may help illuminate the business firefighter metaphor even further. It can feel lonely at the management level: listening to staff, seeking out common ground, searching for solutions to reach goals. 

And so, once again, the idea that marketing performance software or any suite of tools will establish processes and fix inflammatory behaviors is enticing, but faulty.

If businesses or brands have a goal to achieve consistent results, there has to be a consistent process in place to reach that goal before any software solution is implemented.

The Reality: Process → People → Platforms

Software doesn’t work the staff, the staff work the software.

Tools aren’t inherently valuable. The worthiness of a tool or software solution is the value and benefits organizations gain from putting the tool to proper use. 

According to this prescient article from Harvard Business Review, written in 1985, when it comes to implementing any new technology into an organization, the main barriers managers must overcome are: “identifying the internal markets to be served, overcoming resistance to change, generating the right degree of promotion, choosing the proper implementation site, and assigning staff to take responsibility for the platform.”

If any organization is looking for a turn-key solution from software, there has to be turn-key processes already in place in order for there to be any hope for a successful digital transformation. 

However, businesses are running leaner than ever, so it’s more realistic to think incrementally and leverage internal marketing software champions to ensure new technology delivers results. 

During the initial stages of marketing reporting software implementation, your team will probably need help. Make sure that the product you choose comes with expert support and without expensive additional consulting fees.  

You probably took more than one lesson when you were learning to drive a car, right? The car is a turnkey operation, but you really can go farther, safer, and faster, with quality training and an experienced co-pilot.

The Myth: Marketing reporting software makes analytics self-explanatory

Managing and reporting on digital marketing effectiveness and performance can be achieved with a spreadsheet, but rarely does a spreadsheet alone tell an effective story.

However, according to our own survey of 190+ marketers, researching the marketplace of marketing performance reporting, we discovered that well over 75% of respondents were issuing standard spreadsheets as reports.

It certainly is faster to hand over spreadsheets full of numbers and calculations showing  “the results” of a digital marketing campaign. However, translating that data into a compelling story is so much more effective. 

Marketing performance reporting software should not only house all of your data, but also allow you organize the data into compelling and digestible presentations. Interpret, frame and package the data to guide business stakeholders into understanding the correct conclusions. 

The Reality: Data always requires interpretation

Clicking through a slide deck filled with graphs and charts vs. communicating the contents of a slide deck are two different things. 

Effective communication through marketing reports is about using language familiar to the stakeholders, having a clear purpose for each metric, and formatting the report to suit the needs of the recipient.

The differences between the format and metrics on a marketing report meant for a campaign-level marketer, versus the executive level marketing report that shareholders need to see are vast. 

Consistency is the secret sauce to having a report that is easy to digest. Keeping your layout and formatting similar or the same from page to page helps the reader stay focused on the information you are delivering to them. - Loren Jemison, Software Trainer 

Marketing performance reporting software can easily help marketers maintain consistency in layout, formatting, and delivery of their reports. But it’s important to consistently apply strategic thinking when relying on any process or platform. 

With great software comes great responsibility...

While we all may be waiting for a heroic piece of marketing performance reporting software to come along and fix our problems, perhaps, if we’re looking for inspiration to really create effective change, we should look in the mirror, at our pain points, and at our fellow marketers.

There are masterful marketers making brilliant moves without expensive suites of software, and there are mediocre marketers asleep at the wheel of giant martech monoliths that may or may not be working but it’s “too big to tell.”

At NinjaCat we believe that great marketing departments aren’t built by extraordinary people, but ordinary people doing extraordinary things with the right tools.

Marketing performance reporting software is not the end of all your mythical prayers, but can be the beginning of a functional change in the way you realistically approach marketing.

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