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Five crucial questions that will shape your marketing dashboard design

4th Apr 2017
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Good data visualisation is an increasingly important facet of marketing: it helps to explain and justify your marketing plans and to turn these plans into actions that the wider business can help you to execute.

Ultimately good data visualisation is about understanding - understanding your data, the implications, the actions and the audience. 

Context is king and there are five steps that will help you to deliver the right data at the right time to the right peope to optimise your marketing performance.

Data isn't a thing

As Andy Kirk says: "Data isn't a thing, it's about a thing."

Data is about understanding in its entirety - about understanding customers, performance, opportunities, risks, returns and effectiveness.

With an explosion in the volume of data available to marketers, it has become an emerging requirement for marketers to rapidly synthesise data from a number of sources and to accurately communicate the impact (the 'so what'). This communication could be in the form of reviewing marketing effectiveness, building a business case or building a marketing dashboard to continuously monitor performance.

Setting effective and meaningful KPIs is really where the rubber hits the road.

Good data visualisation is about understanding and how you communicate this understanding.

Science, not art

"Getting [data] visualisation right is much more a science than an art, which we can only achieve by studying human perception." Stephen Few 

Human perception is influenced by many variables including patterns, colours and sizes.

In a marketing environment where you want to communicate a particular outcome, limit ambiguity and focus on actions, the implications for dashboard design are clear: you need to reduce the reliance on instinct.

And you can do this by:

  • Being data-driven. Your marketing dashboard or KPI reporting is not the place for gut feel; it should be fact-based and focussed on the minimum number of facts (metrics). The inter-relationship between each fact should be understood - think of them as levers.
  • Being user-centric. Focus of the roles of your audience, what is meaningful to them and the actions that you want them to take.
  • Eliminating options. Too many drill-downs or pivoting options will dilute your message and also you control over the options. Don't add complexity unless it's really justified. 

Context is king

So here are five key considerations for your dashboard design:

1. Who is your audience?

A question that should be familiar to all marketers.

But in this instance your focus should be internal rather than on customers.

You need to define who your audience is, their level of understanding and engagement and what level of information they will require to meet your intentions (see point 2).

It may be that your have different audience groups. Where this is the case, your dashboard design should have the same start point (almost a homepage) but intuitive navigation.

Remember: dashboards should be action-oriented. Your aim should be to deliver to the right information at the right time to the right person so that they can make a decision or optimise a process.

2. What is your intent?

Carefully consider what you are trying to accomplish by presenting data. Broadly this will fall into two categories:

  • You want support for your marketing objectives or for your marketing plan. Perhaps you want to build confidence in your plan and how you are delivering it.
  • You want specific actions to be taken. These actions could be tactical and implementation focussed or they could be more strategic and involve the support or allocation of budget.

3. How involved is your audience?

You may have a varying audience - some may be immersed in the detail of what you are doing while others may be unaware or not particularly engaged.

Does your audience want a snapshot or something more involved?

Typically, marketing reports and the KPIs that they deliver fall into three categories:

  • Strategic. This is acts like the homepage for your dashboard. What are the key information that will quickly establish whether you are performing in line with your strategy? This will help to define the metrics that you present and also the granularity (time periods, product areas etc). The focus should be on macro-performance with clear navigation to get into more detail if required. 
  • Tactical. You have shown the strategic performance and now you must demonstrate how the individual tactics that you are implementing are performing.
  • Operational. Finally, you need to equip those responsible for specific operations with the information that they need.

And your dashboards should cater for the differing needs of each category.

4. What is the setting?

How will your information be consumed? Your design and visualisation should be customised for the medium as much as for the audience.

Designing for an iPad visualisation (touchscreen, 9.7 inch display) will be very different to designing for a desktop or a report that needs to be printed and distributed at a Board meeting.

5. Vanity or sanity?

And indeed lead or lag.

Your metrics should be 'sanity' metrics - the ones that have a direct link to business performance and that help make your marketing accountable.

The decision on whether they are indicators of what your performance will be (lead) or has been (lag) will very much depend on the nature of your marketing activity and the  level of understanding that you are trying to convey. 

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