AnalyticsConversion & ROIDo You Suck at Reporting?

Do You Suck at Reporting?

Columnist Zac Martin gives his tips for better reporting on return on investment (ROI).

As an industry we are really bad at digital reporting. Whether it’s a campaign, project, or ongoing program, we suck at analyzing the right data, assessing an actual return on investment (ROI), uncovering insights, and implementing learnings.

It comes down to the fact that we don’t place a lot of importance on reporting. It’s a bit like community management, where despite being the face of a brand with the ability to scale, it’s not usually high on the agenda. As a result, the community managers we hire are usually juniors.

Reporting is no different, where the responsibility tends to fall on the youngest team member. Without the experience to know what’s valuable and what’s not, they end up defaulting to the same template the person before them used. Filling in the blanks becomes nothing more than reporting for the sake of reporting, and this routine loses any critical analysis (and sometimes common sense).

But the real issue is with the senior people who let these useless reports be presented, disguised as value.

So whether you’re a junior or a senior, or a report writer or reader, here are a few ways we need to step up our game on digital reporting:

1. Report the Right Stuff to the Right People

We suck at reporting on things that matter. Instead we include everything we can get our hands on, which for a digital campaign, project, or program, is quite a lot. Yet not all this is relevant, and should be filtered to include only the data that matters. It should all be considered for analysis, but if a piece of data doesn’t tell us something interesting it probably doesn’t need to be in a report (despite the fact there’s a row in the template for it). We also suck at understanding the audience of the report, often assuming that a one-size-fits-all approach is the best way to do it.

A chief executive probably doesn’t need to know what the click-through-rate was on this month’s search engine marketing report. It’s the reporter’s responsibility to filter the data and present only the useful stuff to the person reading it.

2. Actionable Insights Not Observations

We also suck at being useful. A report is a waste of time and paper unless it contains insight the organization can action. Yet how often do we get caught up focusing on the fact that the bounce-rate on a specific channel has dropped half a percent? That’s not an insight, it’s an observation.

To make that valuable we need to understand why it happened and what it means, and ultimately what we should do about it. It’s something we talk about often but another thing we suck at is optimization.

We talk a lot about “test and learn,” yet how many things have you actually learned, documented, and implemented to improve performance across your campaigns, projects, and programs?

Instead of setting your team’s KPIs around how many learnings they gather, try setting them around how many they actually implement. This will challenge them to a) ensure reporting is useful and b) generate insights that can be prioritized and actioned.

3. Report a Real ROI

Finally, we suck at actually knowing when we’ve been successful and when we haven’t.

Many reports exist as an attempt to justify spend rather than assess its benefit to the business. We get caught up on metrics like impressions and clicks, occasionally assessing what they mean in terms of behavior and conversions. But rarely do we report an actual return on investment dollar value.

Grab the latest report you read (or wrote), from any campaign, project, or program – can you conclude if the outcome was good or bad? Measuring success should be simple to determine. “Did we generate a positive ROI?” has a yes or no answer.

Before starting any campaign, project, or program, we must define what success looks like. And don’t cop out with cheap metrics like “more visitors to the website” or “generate more revenue.” Objectives should be SMART.

Recently we worked on a website rebuild that had initially planned to measure our success based on the metrics like those above. This is despite their traffic and even their conversion rate being hugely skewed by macro events beyond their control.

If the year following the rebuild had a lot of those events, we’d look like the most effective agency in the world. On the other hand, if none occurred our rebuild would have been seen to have failed.

To create real objectives, we instead looked at conversion rates and the average spend per customer. Analyzing these over the course of a year we were able to identify outliers (which aligned to the macro events) and remove them from the data set. We could then recalculate the conversion rate, and determine what incremental lift we would need in order for the project to pay for itself in 12 months. That’s a smart SMART objective and allows us (and the client) to assess an actual, usable ROI.

Bringing Your Reports Up to Scratch

If any of the above sounds like something you or your organization might be guilty of, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Before we even get to reporting, how will we know if we’re successful? What metrics and techniques will we need to answer this question?
  • Does this report tell us if we achieved success? It should be a yes or no answer. Then, why or why not?
  • What are the interesting insights we learned from the campaign/project/program? Don’t confuse these with observations, interrogate these into insights by asking why.
  • What would we do differently next time and how can we apply these insights next time? Maybe then we’ll suck a little less at reporting.

*Image via Shutterstock

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