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Marketing reports are par-for-the-course for any marketing professional or business owner, yet month after month we are all faced with the temptation (whether we realize it or not) to produce reports that don’t actually mean anything.
This temptation is two-fold:
First, we are tempted to inflate the importance of our positive results. Of course, “400% increase” looks great, but reporting is meant to focus on what isn’t working as much as what is working. It should be a vital document that helps your leadership change course intelligently and allocate smart budgets. Serious business decisions will be made based on these reports, and if your report is nothing but fluff, those decisions will be weak as well.
Second, we are tempted to stop short of deep, meaningful metrics. This temptation is made more apparent when you consider how difficult it is to build and track metrics that are truly meaningful for your business. Organic traffic metrics come pre-packaged in every reporting tool ever created, but the metrics that truly help you to see the effectiveness of your activities take effort and thoughtfulness.
Worthless vs. Meaningful Marketing Reports: What’s the Difference?
Everyone has different goals for their businesses, but with very few exceptions those goals are going to be based in revenue.
A meaningful marketing report shows how your marketing is contributing to those goals. A worthless marketing report puts the marketer’s reputation above the company’s stated revenue goals.
If your marketing report showcases all positive results, but does not inform your boss about important revenue and conversion metrics, then it’s a worthless report. No colorful graph can make it better.
Toss it in the trash, open a blank document, and let’s write a meaningful marketing report.
How to Write a Meaningful Marketing Report
Before you start a new report, we can’t stress enough how important it is that marketing and sales teams understand the company’s goals and how they are expected to contribute. Marketing and sales misalignment is often the foundational problem that leads to worthless reporting. The marketing team doesn’t fully understand what’s expected of them.
If you find yourself out of alignment, it’s time to put marketing and sales in a conference room with senior management and put everyone back on the same page.
Now we can write a meaningful marketing report:
1. Identify and eliminate vanity metrics.
Vanity metrics are those positive results that look good, feel good, but don’t speak directly to your growth or revenue goals. They create an illusion of success and a false sense of growth. In fact, even a dying company can have a report full of vanity successes.
Common vanity metrics to watch out for include:
- Social likes or reposts
- Website traffic metrics
- Organic keyword rankings
These aren’t bad metrics, but on their own they lack context. Most importantly, you can’t do anything with a report full of these numbers — no matter how good they are.
2. Design actionable metrics around your growth and revenue goals.
Actionable metrics are the exact opposite of vanity metrics. These are indicators that show how specific marketing activities are affecting your revenue.
Actionable metrics require careful consideration. As an example, if your business is trying to grow into a new market, a set of actionable metrics might seek to measure the effectiveness of your existing marketing strategy on that new audience:
- How does that audience engage with different types of content (like video) compared to your established market?
- How are you faring against an unfamiliar group of competitors?
- Which of your established channels is generating new customers from that market?
3. Incorporate tools to help you measure these more complex metrics.
If you’re using analytics and marketing automation tools like HubSpot, Google Analytics, or SEMRush, you probably have all the data you need. However, pulling that data together in meaningful ways won’t happen automatically.
Here are some tools that we depend on for meaningful reports:
- Google Analytics — An extremely powerful tool, but sometimes it takes a highly-skilled analyst to use this tool well.
- Databox — Ideal for tracking metrics that pull data from multiple channels.
- Wistia — For incorporating some of the best video analytics we’ve ever worked with.
- CallRail — Tie revenue to digital marketing activities by track phone calls from your website.
Whatever tool you use, it’s important that you find ways to combine those boilerplate top-level metrics from all of your marketing channels into insightful, multi-level metrics that speak specifically to your goals.
4. Add insight to the numbers.
All this sounds doable, doesn’t it? But apart from simply stating the numbers, you should also be able to explain them. Try to answer the following three questions in your reports:
- What were the main factors contributing to these results?
- Can you replicate the process?
- What can be done to increase the impact?
Here is where the value of a professional marketing strategist comes into play. The correct answers to these questions aren’t always easy, and in many cases it’s easy to make false assumptions.
Insight can only come from experience, so whether or not you have a professional strategist on your team it’s important to validate any insight by testing it over and over again.
Before you say goodbye forever to those deceptive vanity metrics, keep in mind that they can actually be helpful in the right situations. Sometimes vanity metrics can help you take the upper hand in a public relations battle. They can help you put pressure on your competition without exposing real data about your business. And sometimes they do earn their spot on your marketing report, but it should always be for a reason.
To summarize, a meaningful marketing report will accomplish the following goals:
- Highlight successes and failures in meeting your company’s growth goals.
- Show how specific marketing activities contributed to those results.
- Offer insights and actionable next-steps to either repeat or improve those results.
If you can’t decide on whether you should include a metric or not, ask yourself:
- Would it make sense to use the result in an important business decision?
- Do you understand exactly how you accomplished the result?
- Could you replicate or improve the result next time (Do you have control over the result)?
If the answer is no, you’ve identified a vanity metric.
A good marketer will reject the temptation to put his own reputation above the goals of his company, and a great marketer will always dig deeper to find the best answer instead of the first answer.