Every executive demands it.
Every marketer produces it.
Almost no one loves it.
In this series, we’ll tackle the basics of marketing reporting, from what good reporting is to how to construct a simple report with the time-honored 6W framework in mind.
Part 5: Choosing Reporting Technologies
When we discuss reporting, we often focus so much on the individual tools that we neglect the purpose of those tools. We hear about a new tool or vendor and rush to try it, but we abandon a contextual understanding of what the tool is intended to shine at. This leads to us buying an awful lot of tools, trying them out, and inevitably disappointing ourselves and our stakeholders.
Let’s return for a moment to the SAINT framework to clarify our use of reporting tools:
What can reporting tools do?
- Summary: Various reporting tools can make indicators like red/green arrows, etc. that can help summarize KPIs.
- Analysis: Tools with statistical capabilities can provide some level of analysis, but human judgement is still required to provide most analysis, most explanation of what happened. Dumping charts onto a page - Avinash Kaushik’s data puking - is still rampant.
- Insight: No tool or technology on the market can provide insights. None. Insights are why things happened and require qualitative as well as quantitative data. The best any given tool can provide is space for us to input our insights.
- Next Steps: Based on analysis, some tools can provide very tactical next steps, but most tools cannot. Human judgement is still required here, especially for organizational recommendations.
- Timeline: Timeline is dependent on next steps, so no tool can provide help here, either.
Based on our framework, reporting technologies will fit into one of two categories: summary tools and analysis tools.
The two most common summary reporting tools are dashboards and slides. Dashboards are useful for quickly summarizing KPIs and providing surface-level depth reporting of diagnostic metrics which lead to KPIs. Hundreds of dashboard companies exist; I would strongly suggest trying out a few to see which fits your company’s workflow and needs. For example, some companies may require significant amounts of access control; other companies may want connections to specific data sources.
Slides are the other major summary tool. Companies, agencies, and everyone in between use slides to report. I would strongly encourage you to format your reporting slide decks in the SAINT structure.
Analysis tools fall into two broad categories as well: do it for me, and do-it-yourself.
Do It For Me
Tools such as Alteryx (client of my employer), TIBCO Spotfire, SAP, Salesforce Analytics Cloud, IBM Watson Analytics, etc. try to simplify analysis by doing as much for us as possible. These tools vary wildly in cost and capabilities; as with summary tools, find tools that fit your organization’s needs, budget, and resources. Every reputable vendor offers a limited free trial, and thousands of YouTube videos exist which give a representative view of how people are using individual products or services.
Do It Yourself
Tools such as The R Project, Python, Tableau, etc. provide world-class statistical analysis and data visualization. They have a steeper learning curve than the Do It For Me tools, but often, they can deliver highly-customized analysis and be more flexible. Some tools like R and Python are free of financial cost as open-source projects, so for budget-constrained organizations, they may be the best choice.
Some organizations prefer reporting in a long-form text format, so those reports, often accompanied by extensive analysis and insight derivation, also fall under the Do It Yourself category.
Limitations of Analysis Software
Whichever you choose - Do It Yourself or Do It For Me - you will likely need to provide additional human analysis and interpretation beyond what the software can provide. No software is aware of organizational restrictions, internal politics, or other qualitative constraints on our data. We still have a strong role to play as we build our reports.
In the final post in this series, we’ll wrap up with pro tips and ideas to help your reporting improve.
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