A question many CMOs ask is, "How do I improve my weekly or monthly marketing reporting?"
Every marketer needs to show that the activities they're doing are generating results. The problem arises when marketing reporting becomes such a drag that it takes time away from what’s important - your daily marketing activity.
Let's explore some of these challenges and look into the solutions.
First, why's marketing reporting so critical?
Your boss wants to know that you're spending or investing your marketing budget wisely - and they want the data to prove it.
You won't get money if you can't prove what you're doing is paying off. That's why your boss and even the sales team want regular updates to ensure you're on track. A weekly marketing report is typical in this case.
While for you, you’ll need to know what you're doing is getting you closer to your goals. You need to know, is your marketing strategy even working?
You may have a broad to a more specific set of questions:
- How’s campaign performance, paid search, and content marketing doing?
- What are the conversion rates?
- Is the bounce rate down?
- How are our blog posts performing?
Every activity needs to be measured, and it needs to create business value. As everyone has heard this truism: You can't manage what you can't measure.
All marketing activities you do and measure generate data - and lots of it. And with a lot of data comes the questions:
- But how up-to-date is it?
- And are you extracting what's most relevant?
- Also, is that data indicating what you should optimize or fix?
Information is meaningless if you can't learn and act on it. Marketing metrics need to be relevant.
Suppose you can't see and analyze timely and relevant data.
That'll put you in a situation where you'll always be a step behind in optimizing or fixing what's broken. It'll be like playing catch up or, worse, driving blindfolded.
Nobody would drive blindfolded, so why would you do your marketing that way?
What do digital marketers ask?
Funnel asked a thousand digital marketers what they wanted to know about marketing reporting. Typical questions were, how do I:
- Get a unified view of my marketing performance?
- Create an investor or board-level report?
- Centralize my marketing data?
- Get real-time data?
- Automate the process of marketing reporting?
Luckily for us, we can answer. But before we do so, let's see how things are.
How are you doing marketing reporting?
Again, we asked the same group about how they’re reporting, and the results were surprising.
Based on our survey, nearly two out of ten marketers have no reporting in place or are just getting started. Some 35% are still working in Excel or Google Sheets, and 11% rely on a data team to pull insights.
These numbers are alarming, as close to 64% of marketers don't have a good foundation for their marketing reporting. We'll explain why.
The challenges marketers face
According to Megan Lozicki, who's worked as a customer success manager, most companies come to Funnel because they have data in too many places and cannot accurately compare their cross-channel marketing performance.
Megan explains further, "You get platforms claiming performance and revenue, and if you took each platform's word for it, you would probably end up with more conversions and more revenue than you have."
You need to bring all of your data into one place and map it together to get the complete picture. It'll enable you to find answers to critical questions like:
- Where are conversions coming from? Which social media or marketing channels?
- How much revenue does each channel contribute?
Many are still doing this work in Google sheets.
Some have dedicated teams that work with data helping the marketing organization out.
In comparison, others are working with a marketing data platform, like Funnel, or another method of collecting data.
It's important to realize that some processes of collecting data take much longer than others. Also, some systems don't allow you to do it regularly enough to keep up with how quickly your marketing efforts are changing.
"You need to be able to see which campaigns are tanking, and then you need to go in and figure out why," emphasized Megan.
"If you're waiting to do your marketing reporting and optimization weekly, you will find it hard to make changes before losing money. You just won't be able to optimize in near real-time."
What should the ambition of a digital marketer be?
Funnel spoke to Janus de Visser, Operations Director at Cloud Nine Digital, who helps businesses with their data requirements.
"As digital marketers, we have the ambition to optimize a moving situation. The company and marketing are in perpetual motion. You've got multiple campaigns running on numerous platforms. You want to know what's going on because you want to continuously improve, changing small bits and pieces to get the best result possible."
For that reason, digital marketers are looking for a clear overview with just the right amount of detail to answer day-to-day business questions. One of the requirements of such an overview is that it is available in a single, shareable and readable report.
What does that mean?
- Single - you don't want to look into many systems.
Shareable - you want everyone to be looking at the same data.
- Readable - you want just the right amount of information that’s not overwhelming to make decisions.
Those are the three fundamental principles of good marketing reporting.
Another requirement is it needs to be easy to do.
You want a solution that enables you to see results quickly and make changes fast. Ideally, you want your marketing reporting setup that is automated, fast, and flexible.
Your marketing efforts will not be standing still. You'll be trying out new platforms, types of campaigns, and you'll add product lines or markets. That'll result in more data on multiple platforms, and you'll want to add that data to your report without having to rebuild the entire foundation.
"I see marketing teams where a marketer spends a full day or week building a marketing report, and that's a ridiculous loss of time. We want to work with this report and not for it," says Janus emphatically.
"If you spend too much time on reporting, you'll lose a full day of optimizing your marketing campaigns and finding the right answers to what you should do."
What should digital marketers aim for?
Most digital marketers today are still working in Excel or Google Sheets. They make quite a large table with all the information and data one could want in a single place.
That's not going to provide you with the insights you need, though. Whether you look left or right, the only thing that counts is money spent versus money earned for every commercial endeavor.
"Everything else provides context, or in the worse case, is distracting information," stresses Janus.
"It's easy to add insights, but it is challenging to add 'only' what's truly insightful. I'd challenge anyone building reports to question any additions to it. Is it information that helps you decide things? Is it information that's actionable?"
Another big tip Janus gives to clients is to pick a truth and stick with it.
There are many ways of looking at numbers, and all those perspectives are a version of the truth. Many marketers are skillful and very creative in thinking of showing the same insights in many forms. However, constantly changing your report means everyone needs to translate it every time it's changed.
So whether you want to report on the cost to revenue, cost per conversion, or you want a running total, it doesn't matter. Pick one marketing metric, stick with it, and allow it to grow on you.
Changing a report too often doesn't mean simplification. So, for everyone questioning where to start, check out our marketing KPI cheat sheet.
Who's your audience?
If you are responsible for creating marketing reports, you need to know who will receive them.
There is a big difference in how detailed you go if you address the board, middle management, or a marketing specialist.
For example, at a board level, they're responsible for the entire company, so they want absolute totals; they want insights on digital marketing performance as a whole.
In comparison to middle management, you're going a bit deeper into the organization. There'll naturally be a divide in responsibilities, and you'll want your report to reflect that. You might want to add segmentation on a channel, product, or market level, for instance.
The specialist, however, is hands-on and will need a high level of detailed information daily because they are in the nitty-gritty of adapting and changing campaigns. They'll want to see the data segmented by campaign or asset level.
So depending on who the report is for, the level of detail and KPIs you report on will differ tremendously.
How to build a solid foundation for your marketing report
The question you need to ask is, where does the data come from?
As Janus points out, we're dealing with multiple truths. You're using many channels and platforms, and you're going after many audiences in many places. The data of your campaigns and success is fragmented across them.
We know that marketers spend entire days getting the data from these various marketing platforms with manual effort. They log in, see what's happening, copy-paste it into a sheet and move on. That’s not a good solution.
Also, every platform claims its success.
You've probably implemented the Facebook pixel on your domain, as you did with your Twitter, Bing Ads, Google Ads, and LinkedIn. That pixel provides data for those marketing platforms to use and for you to get insights.
Although it's great to get the data from the tracking pixels, it also results in many one-sided views. To explain, Facebook can attribute all its success to itself without deduplicating achievements they might have to share with LinkedIn, Bing, or Google Ads.
In short, if you look only at the success within each platform, you'll be looking at skewed data.
Janus gave an excellent example from one of his clients. When they looked at the percentage of return on ad spend, the number in Google Analytics and the sum of channel revenue reported by the ad channels didn't match. Both covered the exact costs but interestingly reported very different revenue figures.
As Janus explains, "We see a difference fourfold higher on the return-on-ad-spend reported by the ad channels. It's just not deduplicated as it is in Google Analytics. So you might want to get your revenue data from Google Analytics and your cost from the actual ad channels."
Why should you consider skipping Google Sheets or Excel?
Most still work in Excel and Google Sheets. But although Excel and Google Sheet are excellent, they have limitations.
When you are scaling and adding channels, countries, products, and campaigns, you'll quickly hit the absolute limit.
Janus explained that he had a client who had 28 Google Sheets to get their report working.
"It was a horrible, nonflexible situation that resulted in a lot of work to keep it running."
Select your marketing data points
Every digital marketer should be able to select and define their data points.
You'll divide the data that the marketing tools can provide (third-party data) and the data you own (first-party data).
Marketing tools give you views, clicks, engagement, and cost. They can also offer transactions and revenue data, but as mentioned above, it'll be one-sided as they attribute all success to their platform.
As for your business systems, you'll get gross revenue, net revenue, transactions, and other first-party data.
By mapping third-party with first-party data, you'll be able to attribute transactions or revenue more correctly to the marketing platform you think is responsible for achieving that success.
That's key - select the truth from the right source.
Consolidate your data into one place
You've got all your sources but now want the data in one centralized place. How do you get there?
"There's no silver bullet. A good setup is a good combination of solutions," advises Janus.
Cloud Nine Digital recommends marketers use Funnel to extract data and bring it into their ecosystem, making it accessible to everyone in their business.
Funnel also allows you to process and aggregate that data on the fly - you don't need to do it in your ecosystem as Funnel does it for you before it gets there.
“Funnel is really fast, easy, and highly valuable. For example, LinkedIn mentions spend instead of cost. So if you look into how much money you've put into your marketing efforts, you can either look at two columns or one, using Funnel to name it to cost. That aggregation and simplification of data is unbelievably valuable,” explains Janus.
Another thing Cloud Nine Digital loves with Funnel is the short time to market. Consultants can activate and use Funnel for their clients exceptionally quickly. It's easy to add additional channels, campaigns, insights - all just a few clicks away for their reporting needs.
Why do you want to process, aggregate, and be flexible?
As Janus points out, you've got that hip marketing organization trying out Tiktok, and the board wants a complete overview of all channels, including Tiktok. So when the hip marketers are experimenting with new media, you'll need to keep up and move with them.
Set up your marketing ecosystem
As the diagram below illustrates, this will be your blueprint.
You have all the sources that harbor the truth of the metrics and dimensions you'll get insights from on the left side.
Then, you'll need a tool like Funnel to collect and preprocess the data into something useful.
Next, you either store the data in Funnel or a location of your choosing.
After you've got your storage in place, you'll connect it with a reporting or data visualization tool.
Funnel allows you to share the same data to multiple storage locations at the exact time, depending on requirements and who will be the end-user, whether it's IT, BI, marketing.
You get incredible flexibility on the reporting side too. If your BI team uses Tableau or the marketing department prefers Data Studio, you're still using the same source.
All the numbers and insights your company uses to make decisions will come from the same source.
"That will scale back those endless discussions that my data is correct, yours is wrong, and I do not trust your data," concludes Janus.
Cloud Nine Digital's recommendations on how to create the right baseline for your marketing reporting. See the 6-point list below.
- Source selection: Create an overview of the channels, platforms, and accounts you wish to report.
- Data selection: Select the metrics and dimensions in each source that provides the truth for your KPIs.
- Storage selection: Select the place to store the data. Tip, don't overthink this - all major cloud solutions are equal.
- Fire up Funnel: Select a tool that connects all sources with your storage.
- Visualization or reporting tool selection: Select or review your reporting and visualization tool.
- Start building reports: Everything is in place for you to start building excellent and valuable reports - so, start building!
Need a marketing reporting template?
Check out our gallery to get some inspiration.