Thinking About Marketing
Marketing is inherently intangible. Its core value is based in potential outcomes rather than intrinsic qualities. Not only that, its success is dependent on something that is unpredictable by nature – human response. The challenge is to create order, structure, and predictability in a space that defies easy quantification. In an economic environment where our successes and failures can be shrouded in mystery, , we must determine the undercurrent of causality. How do we do this? To answer this question, we must first identify the decisions we want to make using our marketing data.
The decisions we make using our marketing data are the ‘why’ that informs the ‘how.’ Without that guiding light of marketing data insights, attempts to structure this nebulous space run the risk of being excessively diffuse and uncoordinated. Once we identify our ‘why,’ we can then generate the specific questions and reports that will enable us to make effective decisions. While the exact questions you should ask will vary according to your specific business context, some general questions include the following: What are our overarching business goals, which marketing supports? How do we define success? What questions do we need to ask to determine the efficacy of our marketing? How do we communicate the status of our marketing (particularly to executives)? How do we reconcile what executives want to see with the marketing decisions/questions we have?
The Biggest Problem Today
There are a number of challenges to navigate as we strive to answer these questions. How do we determine the most effective way to generate a cohesive and comprehensive marketing reporting lens through which to effect purposeful and incisive change? One of the most prominent (and widely impactful) challenges with measuring our marketing results involves the high number of data sources we typically access as part of our marketing strategy. For example, you might need to look in a marketing automation platform like Marketo, Hubspot, or DotDigital. You most certainly want to pull data from Google Analytics. But you also might have sources like Facebook, LinkedIn, and other similar platforms. Across these, you might care about data on ad performance, general followings and likes, email performance, and website engagement. Further, you probably also want to know how marketing impacts sales, so you need to tie to opportunities and sales, which may be in yet another system, like Salesforce. Here’s a glimpse of a typical marketing and sales ecosystem (see Fig. 1.1 below for a sample ecosystem map). Fun tip: this is a product management model that you probably should create for your organization to understand your data sources and how they connect.
Our experience is that most marketing experts create the same sets of reports over and over, for every project or client. They are also used to going to 6 different systems to see the data. They often need to be in the weeds of the data and are comfortable with that. However, this same approach can be extremely frustrating to your stakeholders – business stakeholders, COOs, Marketing executives, and CEOs. They are busy doing their day jobs and need a rolled up view of what’s working in marketing.
We have helped solve this for ourselves and clients by applying product management methodologies to structure any investigation into the big picture questions associated with marketing reporting. Before we can design our marketing dashboards, we have to understand the underlying business needs. This article discusses the role of product management in defining solutions for any data and analytics problem, while outlining some specific steps and techniques you can utilize in your own journey. The downside to not using an approach like this is you are using past experience or intuition about what to measure about your marketing. That may be good enough, but you also may not be measuring the things that actually matter to grow the business.
How Do We Tackle the Unknown?
We should begin by identifying today’s problems – what is impeding our ability to obtain a unified marketing view? A business objectives model is particularly useful for this endeavor. There are other posts specifically detailing the merits of business objectives models, but I’ll provide some brief context here. A business objectives model involves four elements: business problems, business objectives, success metrics, and a product concept.
A business problem is exactly that – a problem that impedes the business’s ability to meet their goals. A business objective is a little different than it might initially appear; instead of being driven purely by the business goals, it actually consists of the way we know a business problem has been solved. As such, business objectives should be measurable in terms of success metrics. Success metrics are quantifiable targets (typically attached to, or consisting of, the model’s business objectives). Finally, a product concept outlines the end state solution that will satisfy the business objectives.
In the context of marketing reporting, an example business problem might be as follows: “Vast quantities of marketing data require prohibitive amounts of time and analysis, resulting in missed opportunities.” The subsequent objective could be: “Reduce the time spent viewing, analyzing, and updating the marketing data by xx%.” Another key business problem is “We can’t tell if marketing is paying for itself.” And the corresponding objective might be “Marketing must pay for itself in sales.”
Creating a business objectives model is an excellent opportunity to conduct a deep analysis of your marketing challenges, needs, and goals – all of which will inform the decisions you want to make and the questions you want to answer using your marketing reporting. As discussed, identifying these questions and answers is critical to determining what you want/need out of a unified marketing view (and even further, determining a unified marketing view is the correct solution for you).
Once you’ve identified your problems and objectives, the logical next step is to turn that information into a set of generic, non-reporting specific requirements. This enables us to turn our driving decisions/questions into something actionable.
Gathering Preliminary Requirements
Before you start thinking about the specific reports, spend some time understanding how the reports will be used. Also elicit requirements from your stakeholders about what they care about when they look at this information. For example, we had a set of general requirements that apply to all of our reports:
- Provide one place to go to get answers to how well marketing is working. (In our case, our executive had a single dashboard in Salesforce that showed how sales was doing and she wanted the same thing for marketing.)
- Dashboard includes a top-level view with ability to drill into the data for more details.
- Be able to filter date ranges – by week, month, year.
Marketing Reporting Use Cases
When thinking about marketing reporting, it’s beneficial to maintain awareness of how you plan to use it. Exploring this is necessary for generating a functional marketing reporting solution. Preliminary use cases are a great tool for fleshing out the ambiguous hypotheticals into something more concrete and real. We recommend using reporting cadence as a central point from which to begin developing your use cases. Daily reports can function as a health check, weekly readouts can ensure the marketing is staying on track, monthly reports are good for strategy/tactical planning, and annual reports are good for business planning.
We identified these use cases for when our own marketing reports would be used:
- Annual strategy planning
- Monthly strategy review and planning
- Monthly review at high-level with the whole company
- Weekly management readout on marketing results
- Weekly prioritization for the team to decide what to do
- Daily wake up and what to work on first
- Daily tweaking things we are tactically doing
The Rest of the Process
Once you know how you want to use your reports, you can start to think about the reports themselves. Check back for our next post where we’ll share how we think about the decisions we want to make from the data to inform what data we need to report on to answer them.
The Process Summarized
Using product management strategies to outline your needs for marketing reporting enables you to keep focused as you begin searching for a solution to siloed data sources and limited visibility into the big picture. The first steps are to identify your business problems and objectives – what is keeping you from reaching your goals today, and what does success look like? This will connect to the decisions you want to make based off of the marketing reporting you’re moving towards. From there, use the information you’ve gathered to start defining some preliminary, high level requirements. Keeping the process going, set up some use cases – these will start to refine your vision. Finally, begin developing the specific requirements for your solution (a process I’ll discuss in a future post!).