Reporting Up: How to Prove Your Marketing Success to Stakeholders

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With so much data around buyer touch points, your “Marketer’s Intuition” isn’t as persuasive as it once was. To build consensus and executive buy-in, you need the right data on your side.

Across the board, however, many marketers lapse into two common reporting pitfalls: activity-based reporting, and “data-in-a-vacuum” reporting. Here are the warning signs to look for in your reporting cadence, and recommendations to course-correct your marketing reporting and prove your impact.

Activity-based marketing reporting

Activity-based reporting is probably the easiest trap marketers can fall into. Program ADD is a necessary evil in our profession: you might launch registration for four webinars and two hosted events, push budget behind a new round of CPC ads, and announce a new product line, all in the same week. But rattling off this list to your CEO or CMO is the quickest way to deflate executive confidence.

Why? Because more isn’t always better. If left unchecked, excessive activity can be a recipe for inefficiency.

Common activity metrics include:

  • Number of blog posts, webinars, or social media posts.
  • Usage numbers for hashtags and promo codes.
  • Downloads of gated resources, such as ebooks, on-demand webinars, or reports.

With activity metrics, you’re saying, “Here is how I’m spending my time and budget.” But you’re missing two critical elements:

  1. The “why” behind your actions: What is the data-backed rationale for your activities?
  2. Next steps: What were the results? How did this result compare to your plan? What are the follow-up steps?

An activity marketer might say, “Good news! Our new Snapchat ebook has been downloaded 100 times!” One hundred is certainly an impressive figure if you’re talking about push-ups or test scores. But when it comes to marketing results, context is necessary to bolster such numbers with meaning.

Remedies for activity-based marketing reporting

Try making your marketing plan public. Your editorial calendar, email cadence, and campaign planning all exist as your system of record for your team. Make those systems transparent and accessible throughout your organization, so that others are informed of your team’s plan. This will reduce the impulse to report on activity, and hold your team accountable for execution.

Secondly, tie activities to impact and budgetary spend. What were the KPIs for each activity, and what was the overall impact? Did increasing your team’s output drive more inbound leads?

Finally, explain next steps. If your result was better than expected, explain why and lay out steps to replicate this above-average result. If your result was lower than expected, absolutely explain why. Document the activity, impact, and next steps so that your team can learn from these results going forward.

A “stoplight grid” is a simple reporting framework you can use to track progress toward your goals. Use metrics to grade your progress as red, yellow, or green. Make time to address underlying factors leading to performance. Document the steps to be taken to improve upon that performance.

“Data-in-a-vacuum” marketing reporting

As a marketing analytics company, we love that more marketers are getting data-hungry. However, some marketers take it a step too far. The most pernicious repercussion of data-in-a-vacuum reporting? The wrong data — or the the right data across the wrong timeframe — can obfuscate big picture trends.

Let’s say, for example, that you had a piece of content “go viral” last week. That’s exciting to report — congratulations! But unless you know how to replicate that success, reporting on a few week-over-week spikes could distract from distressing overall trends.

Take the share of interaction graph from the aerospace and defense industry below:

Northrop Grumman has had a few very strong weeks of social engagement, namely near the end of the month in January, February, and April of 2016. But despite these surges, Northrop Grumman’s share of social interaction across the industry has fallen dramatically across the year. In fact, where Northrop Grumman once dominated a majority of social engagement in the aerospace and defense industry, the brand’s slice of engagement now hovers just below 10 percent. When taken in both historical and competitive context, those few spikes in engagement are far less impressive.

Remedies for “data-in-a-vacuum” marketing reporting

Benchmarking is the easiest way to avoid data delusion. Identify your baseline KPIs, like marketing-sourced leads and other bottom-of-the funnel conversions. Put those results in historical context. Notice any trends?

Then identify the top-of-funnel metrics that contribute to your baseline KPIs. Where can you optimize? Which pieces of content improve campaign performance and have an impact on conversions?

From a content marketing perspective, defining “engaging content” varies by network. The easiest way to identify your most engaging content is to benchmark your overall engagement rate, or average interactions per post.

To compare content performance across networks or versus competitors, measure the average interactions per post per 1,000 followers. This engagement rate normalizes for differences in posting frequency and audience size.

And if you’re going to identify your most engaging content, make sure you learn something from it. Tagging your most engaging content by topics is a great way to help top-of-funnel engagement metrics inform your editorial calendar.

Conclusion

We know that content has a measurable impact on leads throughout the sales funnel. To prove it, marketers have to stop reporting on activities and start reporting on business outcomes. When in doubt, use the checklist below to spot the difference between “data-aware” marketing and “data-driven” marketing:

For more best practices on marketing leadership, pair this piece with How to Lead a Data-Driven Marketing Team. Or download your free Competitive Analysis Powerpoint Template to showcase your performance versus key competitors.