10 Ways to Make Reports Not Suck

  |  August 14, 2014   |  Comments

Reports are necessary in the world of analytics-based marketing, but they can be extremely boring. Here are 10 ways to make your reports engaging, informative, and interesting to your audience.

I was at the Digital Analytics Hub in Berlin, paying close attention and taking lots of notes.

The discussion groups were fascinating, including "Scaling Your Analytics Team Successfully," "Analytics as a Window Into Customers," "Using Customer-to-Customer Engagement to Increase ROI," and more. Very engaging.

But as I looked through my notes, I came across some annotations that were not the core of any specific huddle, but a culmination of insights from many of them: random tips about reports.

Please note that these are not rules. Some apply to your situation more than others. So, to quote Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, "The pirate's code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." Consider that your grain of salt.

1. Start With Why

Why are you wasting my valuable time with this document/email/PowerPoint/conversation/meeting? What makes this report so important? Why is it important to me? Why is it important now?

2. Include a Narrative

Don't tell me what they numbers are and don't tell me how you slaved over a hot analytics engine to crunch the math.

What's the story? Tell me the business logic around how you how you came to choose to measure this particular phenomenon. Tell me how I can use this insight to improve the organization or our customers' experience. Go all out and start with, "Once upon a time..."

3. Make It About a Customer Segment

All customers are not alike. Averages are not useful. Reports about everybody are rarely actionable. Please, pick a customer cluster.

If you can tell me which of our customers we're discussing, I can look at it through the lens of my subject matter expertise. Are these high-value customers? Customers who buy often? Customers who we acquired through some special campaign or partnership? Customers who were unhappy and are now happy? Customers named Joe who wear red shoes?

make-reports-not-suck4. Include a Graphic

Take pity on me, I am a visual person. I absorb pictures much faster than words or letters.

Others take on info in other ways but for me, charts and graphs work wonders. Draw me a picture. Make me a map. Lists are nice, too.

5. Say the Same Thing Three Ways

For those others? The ones who do not relate to pretty pictures?

Give them text, give them numbers, give them interpretive dance if you must. Just make sure that everybody can get the message.

6. Include a Forecast

Rearview mirrors are great for scanning for the Highway Patrol behind you, but we all want to skate to where the puck is going to be. Give us a data-informed estimate. Where is it all going? What should we be planning?

7. Include a Question for Discussion

You spelled out the details and included your opinion. Now ask your insight consumers for their opinions.

Because they are subject matter experts, they know things about your customers that you don't. Reach out to them. Prod them. Involve them in the process.

8. Include an Invitation to Dig Deeper

Let your report readers know that there's a lot more where that came from. Get them to understand that this isn't a report card to take home for a signature from Mom; this is a serious opportunity for greater understanding. If you can get them hooked on the progression of discovery, you suddenly have a partner instead of just an internal report consumer.

9. Cite Sources

Remember footnotes? Use them. Let your report readers know this is more than your opinion based on running a few numbers and making stuff up. Show how you know what you know, but do it at the bottom of the page. Do not make them slog through it.

This is a trust-growing move. Once the most persnickety of your team has pawed through your citations, they'll back off the nit-picking.

10. Include an Appendix

This is where you can put all that geeky stuff that you're so proud of and everybody else pretends to understand. Similar to citations, an appendix shows how smart you are... by not making them read all of it.

Instead, those who really do get bit by the analytics bug will have something to chew on.

Bonus: Include a Feedback Mechanism

This report was:
[ ] Eye opening
[ ] The best part of my day
[ ] Life-altering
[ ] Critical to our success
[ ] Great, but could be even better if, for next time, you would please ___________________

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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