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 6: Wrapping Up
As we wrap up this series, I’d like to share a few additional lessons I’ve learned in building thousands of reports over years of practice.
First, stakeholder attention is the most valuable asset we have. It’s the most scarce resource we compete for, especially in dealing with Deciders. We may only have 5 minutes of their time to obtain a decision we need to move forward in our work. Thus, our reports cannot waste a minute of time or attention.
To accomplish this, treat reports like we’re building software. No developer in their right mind just dumps every piece of code they know into a piece of software. Instead, they gather requirements and produce prototypes, test, QA vigorously, and only after many iterations do they have a viable product. Products are iterative, with many versions rolling out in quick succession, from error patches and hot fixes to major feature releases.
Contrast this with how we typically produce reports. We tend to back up the truck and pour everything we have into the report, treating it like a digital dumping ground. We mistake activity and quantity for impact – and this undermines us. Instead of being seen as trusted advisors asking for decisions, we create a perception that we have no idea what we’re doing and use massive amounts of unhelpful data to cover our butts.
What if we changed our reports to function like software, where we make lots of little iterations, many changes, many small improvements over time? Instead of assuming we can create the One True Report, we create and improve with every report we send.
Second, we must use our skills of observation to create reports that best fit the needs of our audience. If our Deciders, Collaborators, or Executors read long-form text more effectively than slides, it would be the height of folly to produce reports in Powerpoint format. If our report audience consumes video voraciously, consider a summary report in video format. If our report consumers have a lengthy commute, we might even consider producing an audio version of our report that they can listen to like a podcast.
Third, we need to re-evaluate reports frequently to prune back data, analysis, and insight that doesn’t advance the goal of the report. We need to be even more rigorous about removing features than we are about adding them. We can always follow up with supplementary detail, but we must avoid overloading with information. By tuning reports to what is needed now, we keep ourselves and our stakeholders focused on the things they’ve asked for or the things that are most important.
Fourth, we should always assume our report will travel to places we didn’t intend it to go. A report sent to an Executor might be handed up a different chain of command in our organization, or perhaps even to outsiders such as agencies. With this assumption in mind, we want to keep our reports lean and hyper-focused so that audiences the report isn’t intended for understand that immediately.
By keeping reports focused only on the intended role and audience, we reduce the chances of data misinterpretation. A Decider who picks up an Executor report is unlikely to glean anything helpful or useful, as the report will be focused heavily on what the Executor should be doing. However, if our report is well-constructed, it should motivate the Decider to ask for a report of their own.
The End of Reporting 101
This concludes our reporting 101 series. As implied by the name, we’ve only covered the basics in this series, but mastering the basics is what will lead us to great successes in the future. Focus on learning and mastering the basics of reporting, and you’ll deliver far more value to your organization. In turn, your organization and the market will place a premium on your value as a marketer who creates real, impactful change.
Thank you for joining me on this journey!
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This series has been a boon to our business. The very concept of reporting in marketing is so misunderstood so if, like us, you sell a reporting automation product and customers (agencies) are still using words like “dashboard” then series like this go a long way to educate them. Thank you.