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Ready to Automate Your Marketing Reports? Start Here.

Kerrie Davis (Wuenschel), Director of Analytics

In this article, Kerrie Davis, Director of Analytics of R2i discusses how to do better things than do copy and paste data into a spreadsheet and tweak charts, so automating routine marketing reports is a no-brainer.

Do you spend hours every month ctrl+c and v’ing data into spreadsheets and color-coding Excel charts to prove your marketing ROI? Stop what you’re doing, drop the eyedropper tool and roll your office chair over here because it’s time to start automating your reports.

Report automation can streamline data integration and visualization tasks, which lets you focus on things like analysis and campaign creation instead. Done right, an automated reporting approach can eliminate manual errors that occur during data entry and provide current data on demand without requiring you to update a spreadsheet.  

But before you automate your reports, it pays to carefully think it through and consider all the decisions you’ll have to make. It’s also important to know that planning and gathering data will take up about 80% of the project timeline, with the actual report building consuming approximately 20%. Here’s a step-by-step process:

Step 1 - Choose Your Tactics: 
Start by defining what your automated report will track and how the information in it aligns with your business goals. How does your team improve its business decisions? What do you intend to learn from the report? Also, identify stakeholders. Who reads your report and why? What specific information are they looking for? When you understand these basics, you can decide how simple or complex your report has to be to do its job, and that will define the scope of your automation project.Step 2 Choose Your Metrics:

Next, identify which key performance indicators (KPIs) are relevant to the task you defined in step 1. If you’re looking at leads generated, for example, define the metrics you’ll need specifically. Are you tracking regional performance? Nationwide? Global? All of the above? Define that, and then sort out your data sources and whether they can be captured automatically. If not, define what it would take to automate data capture. More often than not, a stakeholder may be presented with a challenge on a larger scale that will alter what information is included in the report. An example is if your company has changed media vendors and the marketing manager wants to check the ROI of the new vendor compared to the previous one. The goal for whoever is making the report may be to analyze site visits and conversions for the last two weeks of paid media, while the goal for the marketing manager would be to determine which vendor has the better ROI.

Step 2 - Choose your metrics:

Next, identify which key performance indicators (KPIs) are relevant to the task you defined in step 1. If you’re looking at leads generated, for example, define the metrics you’ll need specifically. Are you tracking regional performance? Nationwide? Global? All of the above? Define that, and then sort out your data sources and whether they can be captured automatically. If not, define what it would take to automate data capture. More often than not, a stakeholder may be presented with a challenge on a larger scale that will alter what information is included in the report. An example is if your company has changed media vendors and the marketing manager wants to check the ROI of the new vendor compared to the previous one. The goal for whoever is making the report may be to analyze site visits and conversions for the last two weeks of paid media, while the goal for the marketing manager would be to determine which vendor has the better ROI.

Step 3 - Choose Your Schedule:
The next factor to consider is how often you want to produce a report. Should it be weekly? Biweekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Once you figure that out, make sure your data sources refresh often enough to support your report cadence. Also keep in mind that while it makes sense to automate reports you need frequently, ad hoc reports for purposes like tracking metrics in a finite campaign may not be suitable for automation.

Step 4 - Choose Your Technology:
Once the basic elements of your report are defined, it’s a good idea to consider whether to incorporate AI and machine learning applications that can make your report smarter by providing insights to drive decision-making. If you’re working with very large datasets, for instance, AI and machine learning can analyze the numbers behind the scenes and surface insights that analysts would likely overlook.

Step 5 - Choose Your Delivery Method and Visuals:
How will you deliver your report? The medium you use will affect decisions you make about design elements like graphics, fonts and images so now is a good time to decide if the report will be consumed by users online, in an email or as a printed document. Keep in mind, a lot of automated dashboard platforms account for mobile viewing so it’s important to keep in mind when determining the best way to share this information with your stakeholders.

Step 6 - Choose Your Visuals:

Once you’ve selected a medium, you can focus on visual representation of the data. Automated reports can produce compelling graphics that convey information quickly. At this point, you can decide which graphs to use, the proper amount of white space and make decisions about serif or sans serif font. When choosing colors, keep in mind that some people have trouble seeing color contrasts like green and red or shades of blue.

Step 7 - Set Your Notifications:
At this stage, you can think about setting up automated alerts to provide notice when data changes. If the information in your report is important enough to report on a routine basis, it’s a good idea to carefully set thresholds for triggering alerts related to changes in the data, e.g., setting rules like “if sales go up (or down) by X percent, send an automated alert.” Too many alerts can overwhelm users, but you need to know when something important happens. Also define which stakeholders should receive alerts.

Step 8 - Determine If You’re Building or Buying:
Automated reports can be developed with outside help (like a freelancer or vendor) or created in-house. Before deciding which route you’d like to take, take a look at your organization’s capabilities. Ask yourself: Can my company navigate the complexity and compliance challenges involved with the data I’m using, the story we’re telling and provide access to an in-house expert and the tools needed? If not, you may want to consider seeking outside help.

Step 9 - Maintain Quality Assurance and Update Frequently:
Arguably one of the most crucial elements to building an automated report is quality assurance. It’s imperative to ensure your KPIs accurately map back to your original data. Be sure to check it, check it again and check it one more time for good measure.

Also, revisiting the report with stakeholders on a regular basis will help make sure the report achieves the goals that were created during the first few phases. Customer journeys are constantly shifting and reports must shift with them to keep up with everchanging trends.

Step 10 - Determine If Your Data Is Telling a Story:
Be sure to remember that stakeholders have different learning styles, information needs and abilities in connecting the dots. Any automated dashboard should be outlined in a clear and concise manner that shows the story of the data. Complement your visuals with text insights by explaining what the data and visuals mean by including recommendations for action. On a basic level, automated insight tools can assist in text on what the data is telling the stakeholder. On a more advanced level, AI directs narrative insights.

People like to look at graphics, analyze what’s currently happening and review recommendations for improvement. While technology helps maximize efficiency and aggregate data, it’s on humans to interpret the data and show value for the stakeholders.

So, there it is: 10 steps toward an automated marketing report that can save you a lot of time that you can spend on tasks that are more strategic than copying and pasting data into a spreadsheet. As you can see, there are a lot of decisions to make and stakeholders to consult, but if you routinely produce reports, automation will ultimately simplify your life and make you more productive.

But that’s not even the most compelling argument in favor of report automation. Reports tell a story about your team’s success at a core business task, be it lead generation, customer outreach or something else. An automated report not only showcases your team’s efforts in a compelling way, it gives you more time to refine and improve marketing’s performance — and that’s the best news of all.

About the author: Kerrie Davis (Wuenschel)

Kerrie Davis (Wuenschel) is the Director of Analytics for R2i. With 10 years experience in digital marketing, she's passionate about helping clients apply best practices to their analytics programs through audits, analysis, configuration, implementation, optimization, measuring, and reporting on success based on business goals and KPIs. Kerrie holds extensive experience with Adobe Analytics, Dynamic Tag Management, Google Analytics, and Google Tag Manager. Prior to joining R2i, Kerrie was a digital marketer in both the staffing and technology industry and received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from McDaniel College.

 

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