Monthly Reports that Matter

I’ve been recovering from a broken arm, and the recovery process is full of measurement. Each time I visit the therapist, she takes multiple measurements of my arm’s range of motion. Some days, I go in to our session thinking that I haven’t made any progress, and other times I go in sure that I’m almost back to 100% – all based on how my arm “feels” or how faithful I have been in doing my assigned exercises. My senses are often wrong: the measurements tell the real story. They provide the feedback I need to know where I need to focus my efforts.

I mention this because this experience has encouraged me to make more time to prepare regular reports for the brand teams I support. I’ve been really busy with strategic thinking, budgeting and project management, and I have lately put the anything more than a cursory reporting of results on the back burner. I have a “sense” of how things are going, how consumers are engaging with our content and responding to our efforts. But those senses can be influenced by my emotions, hunches, personal opinions, and the best efforts don’t always yield results. The reporting of actual measurable results provides the necessary reality check.

Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” With digital marketing, there is no lack of measurement and data. I want to make sure we are paying attention to the measurements that matter. The challenge is in choosing what to include and how to organize it.

And I want the time I take to develop reports to be time well spent: generating something that is worth both my time and the time of the reader. A monthly reporting cycle is fairly standard in our copany, so that’s the cycle I will use too. So with that long preamble, here is how I’m thinking about the reports I am creating.

1. Begin with the end in mind. What am I seeking to accomplish by providing the report? Are there changes that I think the reader should make as a result of the results? For the report to be useful to the reader (which is the only way it is going to get read each month), it needs to provide more than a long list of visits, fans, click throughs and downloads, and it needs to show more than pretty pictures of the ads and promotions we executed. It has to help the reader understand how the results made a difference to the brand, and what we should do differently going forward.

A terrific post from Tim Wilson outlines the different dimensions involved in measuring results, and provides some ideas on how to trace the results back to the strategic versus tactical elements.

2. Keep it simple. The audience, my reader, has limited time, and needs to quickly grasp what I want them to know. It is my responsibility to help them understand why they should read it and care about what I have written. I need to organize the report in a way that provides for quick scanning, with hot links to more detail of they are interested.

3. Draw conclusions, make recommendations. I need to consider what the reader needs to know to do their job better. The purpose of the report is not to show how hard I am working or how brilliant I am; the purpose is to help them understand how the work is impacting their brand objectives. If they are focused on building brand awareness, my report should focus on how I am accomplishing that objective, and what would make our digital efforts even more effective.

4. One master, many reports. I have multiple audiences with different objectives, so I develop a “master” report from which I prepare a custom executive summary for each. In my case, I am writing for a global team, several regional teams, plus individual  countries and markets within those countries. Each team is focused on different things, so I need to highlight what they need to know for their own work. But they all want to be aware of what the others are doing, so the master report provides that detail when they are seeking inspiration from others.

5. Make it better. As I develop each report, I’m asking myself: What is missing that needs to be measured? What questions do I have that I’m not able to answer? How can I get at those answers, and would the additional knowledge be worth the investment? (As Seth Godin pointed out in a recent blog post, there are times when all the facts in the world won’t change a decision.) Chances are my readers will have the same questions I’m asking sooner or later; it makes sense for me to let them know I’m thinking about how to address them.

4 thoughts on “Monthly Reports that Matter

  1. Great list! I love the concept in point 4 — a master report that is largely a large “appendix” or intermediate step to the report (a one-pager?) that each team gets delivered that is tailored to their needs. For point 5, I’d just add that the evaluation process should also consider, “What information is being included that is no longer useful?” It’s really, really easy to just “add one more thing” to a report each month and, next thing you know, you have a bloated compendium. The kicker is that, if you simply ask, “Should I remove this measure?” you’ll often get the answer: “No. I [might] need it [at some point].” That leads to bloated data dumps. I’ve occasionally simply started removing metrics and waiting to see if anyone asks where they went because they need it. To date, I’ve always understood the end users true needs well enough that I haven’t removed anything that was subsequently missed!

    • I appreciate your comments, and I agree. I really like the idea of asking what can be removed – it is very easy to end up with an report that looks daunting to the reader. I will try that tactic of taking things away to see if anyone misses them.

  2. I like #3 a lot. It’s very easy to turn out pages of statistics, but I think often by the time the reader gets to the end, their eyes glaze over and they are wanting to get back to find out if Gilligan ever got off of that island. By providing conclusions and recommendations, it turns the information from a static element into a dynamic action plan.

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