Your team has finally done it.
After nearly five years of blood, sweat, and toil, your company has a content hub that people care about. Your team is regularly producing content without a hitch, organic traffic continues to roll into your site, and your team of highly creative content marketers finally feels appreciated within your normally sales-first brand. So naturally, when you’re called into a meeting with the CMO that afternoon, you’re only expecting praise.
The praise is there, but also with a request: Could your team pull together some marketing dashboards to keep everyone in the loop? Leadership wants to keep tabs on your team’s success. Oh, and there’s no room in the budget at the moment to hire that analytics specialist you’ve been requesting for three months, but they’ll review it again next quarter.
You ask a handful of more specific questions, don’t get many more specific answers back, and thank your boss as you leave. Outside the office door the frustration begins to settle in.
Between a marketing director, sales director, and a hodgepodge of executives in between, you haven’t the faintest clue where to start with marketing dashboards. For all of the KPIs you have to cover, you might as well just give them the login for your analytics back-end. On top of all of that, you still don’t have a technical expert on your team who can handle this for you. How do you begin to tackle this?
Between growing scrutiny from brand leadership and the increasingly accessible nature of marketing technology, content marketers are taking on reporting and analytical responsibilities that have previously fallen on agencies and marketing analytics specialists. While these resources remain vital for many marketing teams, the responsibility of synthesizing and communicating content marketing goals and successes has landed squarely on the shoulders of content creators.
In theory, reporting sounds like it should be an easy task, but implementation of marketing dashboards quickly reveals many of the cracks in that perception. In an ideal scenario, constant access to key metrics should improve communication, get leadership on board with your content practices, and help tout your team’s accomplishments on a regular basis. In practice, dashboards can lead to uninvited micromanagement from leadership, misinterpretation of outcomes without their proper context, and bulky analytics setups that harm data integrity.
Content marketers should expect that as time passes, they will become increasingly responsible for creating accessible reports of their work. With the regular release of new tools to make this sort of presentation simpler, marketers can guarantee success by understanding the framework behind a dashboard.
Image attribution: Olu Eletu
The effort to consolidate all of your team’s work into a one- or two-page quick sheet can be a significant challenge. For content professionals, there are a hundred and one metrics that we find interesting, that help paint a nuanced picture of the work we do and the obstacles we have to overcome, and it feels somewhat brutal to cut all of that down to just those indicators that affect the bottom line.
This is only an issue, however, if you approach dashboards as your primary tool for reporting—and they never should be.
Marketing dashboards aren’t meant to act as just a snapshot of your team’s work. A good dashboard can also be a tool to encourage consistent communication between your content team and the rest of your brand leadership.
With this mindset, it becomes much easier to approach building your dashboard: You don’t have to select metrics that describe the entirety of your work, just enough to properly guide conversations that lead to marketing decisions and answer frequently asked questions.
Don’t make the mistake of starting with your KPIs—you have too many to choose from, believe me. Instead, try to understand the specific goals that the content team is meant to drive. Then focus on the overall attributes that apply at every step of your marketing funnel, and are described by different metrics along the way.
In a good dashboard setup, you’ll map out your brand’s typical customer journey, then report KPIs that describe these four attributes at each step of the way. Done correctly, it should look something like this:
Funnel stages and relevant KPIs may vary from brand to brand, but these overall goals remain consistent. You can include other goals where you feel it’s appropriate (for instance, a brand that relies heavily on PR might want to measure reputation at every stage of the funnel) but these four goals should be enough to tie your marketing activity to eventual sales.
More importantly though, tying each of your metrics to an overall purpose can make it easier to contextualize your work for leadership, while also simplifying your team’s decisions regarding where to focus your efforts for monthly improvement.
Once you’ve outlined your customer journey and mapped metrics to your overall content marketing goals, all that’s left to do is actually drop your data into a dashboard and start using it in your workplace. With these key use principles in mind, you’ll find that this daunting step is actually the easiest part of your dashboard process.
Rather than building multiple reports within each of your data sources (which will quickly add up across all of your marketing technology), find a single tool that will allow you to bring all of your data into one place. Google Data Studio is a free and easy entry point for this type of software, as long as you can store your source data in spreadsheets. As you expand or integrate with other teams, try to keep everyone working in the same place for easy access and communication.
If you’re going to provide a dashboard to leadership, insist that it comes with regular conversations with your team. Monthly meetings to discuss movements, insights, and any lingering questions will ensure that data is never misinterpreted, and they give everyone an opportunity to lend expertise towards tackling new challenges.
On a quarterly basis, take the time to review your dashboard and remove any metrics that haven’t actually been useful, or to add metrics that you think may be descriptive into the future. You might not make a change with every review, but having some time built in to address your assumptions of what’s working and what could work better will ensure your dashboard is always as useful as possible.
Ultimately, understand that dashboards aren’t going to make or break your team’s ability to work. You’ll still need to rely on finer-grain analysis of your data to make good business decisions, while using your dashboard to facilitate communication between your team and the rest of your company leadership. By building a focus on your key marketing goals, you’ll not only be able to more easily identify those KPIs that most matter for your brand, you’ll fundamentally change how leadership thinks about the way your team contributes. This is the most powerful—and often underrated—value of a well-constructed marketing dashboard.
Featured image attribution: Alex Read