Marketing dashboards have become increasingly important to every kind of company, not just marketing and advertising firms. Like most dashboards, it starts with the right key performance indicators (KPIs). You can gain real insights into how well marketing is performing, why it is doing well, or not—in other words the real story about what’s working in your marketing efforts. There are many different types of marketing dashboards that measure everything from digital marketing campaigns to how your content is performing. They provide insight into where you can go in the future, not just a look back in the rear-view mirror.
What Is a Marketing Dashboard?
A marketing dashboard is a platform, or web app, that collects all of your marketing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and critical metrics into an intuitive display. It’s the best way to understand how you’re performing against your most important metrics in one step. The information that is visualized is pulled from one or multiple data sources, internal or external or both, and updated in real-time. You can also add web-based elements like news and further incorporate elements such as e-mail.
The beauty of marketing dashboards is that like all dashboards, they can be customized in myriad ways so they can be used in a manner that makes the most sense for internal or client use.
How Do Marketing Pros Use Dashboards?
To dig deeper into who, why, and how marketers use dashboards every day, we asked Fiona Remley, VP of PMO for Wunderman Seattle to give us the low down on the upside of using dashboards. Wunderman is a network of advertising, marketing and consulting companies with offices in 60 countries. Why does she use marketing dashboards? “A good dashboard is a decision-making tool,” said Fiona, “not just a report.”
It’s an essential tool to improve and prove what you’re doing right with your marketing strategy and tactics – and a way to ensure that senior management (or clients) will understand the positive contribution marketing is making to the overall organization. “We use marketing dashboards to track, share, and collaborate in house,” Fiona shared, “and to do the same with our clients. We started creating marketing dashboards for multi-channel campaign—for clients who wanted data results on their marketing, and using them around the same time for internal data reporting.”
The way she and other marketing pros use dashboards varies, but it is reflective of the ways dashboards can be used to:
- Get the real story. When it’s all on a dashboard, you can get to the heart of how well your marketing efforts are performing – or underperforming. You can also see the ‘why’ around how well your planning worked when put into action, from lead generation to social media to web performance, to get the complete story. Fiona said, “We need them because we are spending millions of our client’s dollars and they need to know the effectiveness of what we are doing on their behalf.”
- Get everyone on the same page. From top-executives to team members, visualizing up-to-the-minute marketing results means that everyone knows what your efforts have yielded. Helping internal and external customers understand where their money is going, effectiveness, and ROI. One of the benefits of everyone seeing results and underlying reasons for them Fiona said is, “It can be used to drive changes within the organization—wiser spending, time-management, and other practices that affect profitability.
- Get to truly informed decision making. Because you have up to the minute data, you can understand and then react quickly to do what’s best for business, whether it’s an email campaign’s effectiveness you’re measuring, looking at how well your SEO efforts are working to drive public relations, or website analytics. Information is power—and with a well-designed dashboard, you can be nimble, and rely not on your gut, but on the data.
As a lecturer on effective project management at the School of Visual Concepts, and Contributing Editor to Success by Design by David Sherwin, Fiona has strong ideas about what is one of the major benefits of marketing dashboards. “It’s about optimizing your learnings,” said Fiona. ”One of the real long-term benefits of marketing dashboards is how they support planning and the formation of strategies for future success.” The only way to keep up in the fast paced world of marketing, particularly online marketing, is to measure your efforts, be nimble, use your money well, and use that data to constantly improve.
The Importance of Dashboards in Data-Driven Marketing
Marketers love data—and are notorious for getting bogged down in the details. One of the biggest advantages of marketing dashboards is the way it’s easy to see the big picture and how you’re performing against marketing goals as an organization, for campaigns or anything else you may be working on, and then dig down into the details, rather than the other way around.
To truly connect with consumers, organizations need to make the most of their marketing strategies and campaigns, and the only way to do that is through the highest quality data, insights, and analytics available. For Fiona, whose company’s motto is ‘Creatively driven, data inspired, dashboards are a short-cut to understand data and make the story it tells work for her organization and her clients.
“First and foremost,” Fiona noted, “what you gain is knowledge-understanding the nature of the KPIs, where we hit, where we miss. For our internal dashboards it’s about knowing how and where we are too hot, too cold; where we need to invest in people; dashboards can help drive our decisions daily.”
Why Digital Marketers Use Dashboards
“Wunderman owns more than 8 petabytes of data which corresponds to more than 1.1 B consumer profiles globally,” said Remley.“To make sense of that much information and act on it effectively in our digital (and other) campaigns, we have to have the right tools—like dashboards.”
For digital marketers in particular, you need to be able to track multiple metrics around ROI like:
- Soft metrics: These initiatives drive engagement, conversations, interactions, awareness and brand.
- Hard metrics: Related to sales and revenue measurement, these are measurements like internal rate of return and net present value of current campaigns.
- Online marketing metrics: These include items like total visits, new sessions, channel specific traffic, bounce-rate, click-through rates, mentions-in-network and cost-per-lead.
Digital marketing is all about being able to prove exactly how marketing is driving demand and using what you know to consistently move forward, and dashboards make it all possible. Using all three types of metrics, you can show, measure, and evaluate how each outcome you track feeds into the sales process. Ultimately, it makes it easier to answer upper management questions about downstream revenue results generated by marketing efforts.
Choosing the Right Marketing KPIs
Marketing metrics, like other KPIs, should be set up before you begin to think about creating a dashboard. There are best practices to identify overarching characteristics to identifying the marketing KPIs that make sense for your organization:
- Understandable, easy to use, and consistent. What you’re measuring needs to make sense to team members who are collecting the data – wherever they are sourced from – and decision makers should ‘get them’ easily as well. They should be consistent across teams and departments, too, or behavior may become erratic.
- Repeatable. This is also about consistency. In order to be able to track progress over time it is important to select metrics that you can measure again at a later date.
- Actionable. Seeing that one of your metrics has gone up or down by 2 or 3 points tells you something has changed. What’s even more important is seeing how that change is connected to specific actions and behaviors among employees and customers. For example, customers who are more highly engaged in an online forum or community are more likely to not just purchase a product, but also to evangelize it and to continue to engage with the company. This kind of background data on the customer is therefore a useful metric that directly impacts the business.
- Big picture. Using metrics that are too granular won’t give you enough relevant information to make strategic decisions. For example, tracking the session duration of new visitors to your website from LinkedIn won’t give you a sufficiently global view to make educated decisions about whether or not your marketing is having the desired effect (unless you really only care about attracting new visitors specifically via LinkedIn).
While the responsibility for developing effective marketing metrics belongs to the CMO and marketing team, it’s really up to senior management to challenge marketers on answers that don’t make sense, or worse, are tied to the wrong questions.
“Keep asking: Why they are important? Why does it need to be tracked? What else should we be looking at?,” said Remley. “The dashboards started as a "nicer way" of seeing data and now has become an essential component of our business. We are constantly improving them based on input. How they have changed is how we use them. They have taken on increasing relevance to clients. We spent three years creating a tool that allows us a single flow of accurate and actionable data. Dashboards are an integral part of that tool set and now we all rely on them.”
Creating Effective Marketing Dashboards—And a User Culture
What’s a good example of a marketing dashboard that really works? “We use them to determine where clients should be spending their money. For example, ‘You want to do digital banners but their click-through rate is low. We can advise that you move to using video…this tells us how to drive future creation of content,” said Remley. “A useful dashboard answers the most important question: “Is what we’re doing in marketing successful? And if not, a good dashboard will tell you why not!”
When asked about how they build marketing dashboards in her organization, Remley said. “We use data visualization designers, but some were created by our Ops/PMO team and they reflect the clients' focal points and interests. Our internal tool has a dashboard with an alert system on projects that may/have ‘overburnt.’ This is helpful in predicting behaviors and patterns (certain project types nearly always go over budget) and it allows us to get in front of that over spend and create mitigation plans.”
What about templates? “All of our software and dashboards are proprietary. We do use templates either created by the DVD or by the PMO/Ops combination,” said Remley. “The template is determined by the level of information required (meaning how many levels deep). On our external dashboards, the clients establish the KPIs so we report back to them on what they are looking for. Our internal dashboards are predominantly financial, so the KPIs are around finances: under/over spend on retainer, PO, by department, by project; money remaining, etc.”
There are other things to keep in mind to create a marketing dashboard that works:
- Begin with strong KPIs. We’ve covered most of this earlier in this article, but one of the ways to winnow down which metrics to use is that they are actionable and relate directly to company (or client) goals.
- Make them easy to understand. If you’re using best practices, focus on three to five KPIs. Graphics should be simple. Use as little visual clutter as you can. Use colors to separate data importance or time sensitivity. If it’s important and it is not an executive dashboard, you may want to layer information so you can data-dive for more details from the main interface. But be careful: “When dashboards are too multi-layered,” said Remley, “they tend to be a ‘rathole’ where we can get lost inside the data. We will do a drill down or drop down geared to audience. Some are very top line, like those for execs, but inside our business groups, we can drill as deep as seven layers, depending on the client.”
- ‘Pretty’ is not necessarily a best practice. Marketing dashboards don’t need to be pretty but they do need to be telegraphic. “We hired a data visualization designer because clients couldn’t use our original dashboards easily. They have to be simple to understand. Good data visualization is not a data dump.”
- Create a user culture. Making marketing dashboard use a team play can make all the difference in achieving goals. “You have to land dashboards correctly and establish the culture around using them,” noted Remley. “If not, they can be overwhelming and confusing and get rejected. It takes a few repeat meetings reviewing them together to land them. There is always a "story behind the data" that people may feel is not being shown. Once they see and understand the underlying causes and effects they realize how dashboards can benefit them and become believers.”
- Never stop adapting. “Being static is the death of dashboard utility,” said Remley. “Dashboards have to keep moving at the pace of marketing. That means: ‘Test, retest and then test some more to make sure that you’ve designed something that is working for every customer, internal and external, and is adapting as your company and the business environment changes.”
Types of Different Marketing Dashboards to Use for Your Company
Most dashboards, one way or another, are about ROI. There are so many different types of marketing dashboards, but here are some to consider as a possible fit for your organization’s needs (in alphabetical order):
- AdWords Marketing Campaign Dashboard: Closely tracking ROI to ensure that the cost to acquire leads is appropriate compared to the time and money invested is what these dashboards are all about. For example, leading indicators such as landing page bounce rates, time on page, and on-page goal completion rates help you to optimize your site’s conversion process. You can also use ad metrics like click-through rates and ad placement allow you to understand the effectiveness of ad text and bidding strategies. AdWords data can be directed to feed into your search engine optimization strategies. By monitoring keyword performance, and analyzing impressions and buyer intent, you will be rewarded with get a deep understanding of which keywords and topics your SEO team should hone in on.
- CMO Marketing Dashboard: Pulling together metrics from multiple sources—from social media and email to web performance and lead generation—paints a complete picture of your marketing performance. Sharing this information on a CMO dashboard also gives executives the ability to check into daily performance and influence campaigns as they are executed, instead of providing a summary when it's too late to influence the outcome.
- Content Performance Marketing Dashboard: Creating quality content can make or break any campaign. You can track quality by how much it is being shared, inbound links, and organic traffic on non-branded terms. But what’s most important? Uncovering whether or not content marketing is helping to generate more business.
- Digital Marketing Dashboard: Dashboards can span multiple channels, so this is a spot to aggregate all of your digital marketing activities and survey of the services and marketing metrics you should be tracking like AdWords, Salesforce, and Social Media Platforms.
- Email Marketing Dashboard: These dashboards display key metrics to demonstrate the performance and ROI of your email campaigns. They can include metrics such as open and click rates, and the number of leads generated.Email marketing blasts are falling out of favor, and the focus is on sharing engaging, relevant, and meaningful content.This requires a data-centric approach to email marketing by tracking metrics associated with each campaign to determine what content resonates with their audience, and what content needs to be rethought to reach key business objectives—like revenue.
- Lead Generation Dashboard: Success is usually assessed by the number of leads generated. This type of dashboard opens up a clear view into lead targets and current performance, and by provides insight into the performance of lead generation programs.
- Marketing Channel Analysis Dashboard: Almost every business employs multiple channels of inbound marketing such as SEO, Content and Social Media Marketing. Marketing Executives need to see how efforts are paying off, which channels make more sense than others, and which campaigns are producing the results you want. Being able to monitor and compare performance across various marketing channels and campaigns from a single page allows you to quickly see the correlation between marketing efforts and ultimate profitability.
- Marketing KPI Dashboard: Understanding what’s working and what’s not working in marketing—otherwise known as your marketing’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI)—is essential to your business’ growth strategy. All your marketing should be measurable against goals, and you should be able to immediately see which efforts are soaring and which are falling short.
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) Dashboard: MQLs are individuals who have indicated they’re more interested, but not quite ready to fully commit. Ideally, you should only allow specific forms to trigger the promotion of a lead to the MQL stage, like demo requests or downloads.
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) Dashboard: SQLs are individuals that your sales team has accepted as ready for a direct sales follow up. These dashboards will help your sales and marketing teams stay in sync about lead volume and quality being fed to the sales team.
- SEO Marketing Dashboard: The aim is to monitor important facets of SEO for easier management. It’s especially useful if you’re working on multiple websites, because it can help you to easily monitor your overall organic search reach, top landing pages, and which keywords are the most valuable.
- Social Media Monitoring Dashboard: Monitoring takes a ‘scrape and dump’ approach, which can be helpful for collecting any and all mentions of your product, service or company.
- Social Listening Dashboard: Tracking online conversations about a specific phrase, word, or brand, a social listening platform gives you the basic capability of systematically collecting online conversations and is a great way to inform analysis of those conversations, and then use the information to inform strategy and tactics. While social listening is not a metric, it is a valuable way to refine messaging.
- Web Analytics Metrics: Organizations often use Web analytics software to measure how many people visited their site, how many of those visitors were unique visitors, how they came to the site (i.e., if they followed a link to get to the site or came there directly), what keywords they searched with on the site's search engine, how long they stayed on a given page or on the entire site and what links they clicked on and when they left the site. This is an important activity as too often social marketers focus on their success on a particular platform instead of seeing their performance within the larger context.
The Future of Marketing Dashboards
Predictive analytics, looking forward instead of in the rear-view mirror, is where marketing dashboards are headed. Building analytic models works by looking for predictable behaviors, propensities, and business rules (as can be expressed by an analytic or mathematical formula) and will be used to predict the likelihood of certain behaviors and actions.
When Remley was asked about the future of marketing dashboards, she said, “Data that doesn’t help an organization adapt for the future has limited meaning or lifespan. And while you can learn from the past, there is nothing you can do to change it. So to answer the question, ‘Which marketing dashboard is best for your company?’ I would say that one that is really effective should act as a springboard into the next conversation, or why use them? As I like to say “ So what, now what?”
Make Better Decisions, Faster with Marketing Dashboards in Smartsheet
Finding the right dashboarding tool that connects all of your marketing data, in real-time, is essential for marketing leaders to identify risk and make data-driven decisions.
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