Mun Yin Liu
Aug 30, 2016

Reporting metrics: Getting from interesting to useful

Everyone wants 'actionable insights', but most reports don’t go beyond vanity metrics that lead to a 'so what?' moment. Mun Yin Liu of Text100 outlines how marketers can take the next step.

Mun Yin Liu
Mun Yin Liu

Reporting is almost always an afterthought, and often it is delivered simply to tick a box. Everyone wants 'actionable insights', but most reports don’t go beyond vanity metrics, and this leads to a 'so what?' moment.  As a result, reporting has gained something of a negative reputation, and the opportunities it can reveal to business are being missed

The root of this problem is that the purpose of reporting is limited to seeing what has just transpired. Pressure is on to supply a wrapup to the client’s boss. So the report gets churned out with very little thought on how it could be used. 

The term insights has become a buzzword, and its value has deteriorated as a result. It’s a shame because digital campaigns thrive on the application of insights, with the performance being improved after analysis provides action points. It’s not the results themselves that provide the insights, but the interpretation of them that leads to actions.

We know that digital marketing has a huge advantage because of its trackable nature, and that everything you could wish to discover about a campaign can be found. The advantage disappears as soon as you stop there, because the real advantage comes from being able to interpret the data and articulate it into some form of action. That combination of interpretation and articulation makes the insight.

I encourage anybody who has to carry out reporting to adjust their mindset. The value that good reporting carries far outweighs the negatives related to compiling the report. Done properly, you can positively impact a campaign with the report’s results. Alongside this, we need to be careful about what we’re reporting on.

As soon as you begin to understand the relationships between different metrics and how they can be combined, you’ll be able to logically put together arguments and actions for next steps. 

Vanity metrics are so called because they don’t say much. Part of why they don’t say much is due to the fact that they’re often taken in isolation. Stop doing this, because metrics work a lot better when they’re combined. If you think about it, many metrics are calculated from other metrics anyway, so there’s very good reason for looking at them in pairs or more. It boils down to being able to understand the relationship between multiple metrics. If you’re able to look at data in the form of combined metrics, you’ll get much more value out of it which allows you to pivot your campaign for further success.

For example, a client website may receive the majority of its traffic from social-media channels, with a smaller percentage coming through from organic search-engine results. On face value, we might declare that social media is their strongest channel. But if we investigate further, and look at how each channel behaves on site in the form of bounce rate, we may see a different picture. If the social-media traffic has a bounce rate of 90 percent but organic search has 50 percent, what would you conclude? Conflicting observations are common and to an extent expected, and so you would need to investigate a lot further to really determine which channel is the best for the client. In this example I’d look at how they convert and the budgets invested into both areas too before declaring a winner.

Avoiding vanity metrics can be difficult, but it can be worked around by thinking carefully about what you want to find out. Standard metrics may just be the wrong ones to measure the right outcome. Don’t be afraid of going beyond the default options like bounce rate and dwell time. Try investigating exit rates, frequency and return rates to help measure your website engagement.

As soon as you begin to understand the relationships between different metrics and how they can be combined, you’ll be able to logically put together arguments and actions for next steps. The purpose of reporting should be more aligned to being able to suggest ways in which things can be altered to improve the performance of the next campaign, instead of purely looking back at the one that’s just wrapped up. As soon as that’s done, you automatically move reporting on from ticking a box, towards gaining some actual insights that can make a difference to your campaign.

Another step to take is to force yourself to align your observations with actions. With respect to a lot of good work on covering campaign activity, much of the commentary simply translates tables and graphs into words. Being able to interpret data in this way is a necessity, but by leaving it to that, the report has an awful feeling of incompleteness that leads to the aforementioned 'so what?' moment. To avoid this, we provide a reporting framework that highlights the observations, recommends and action, and then explains the expected outcome. By doing so, it means that we’re trying to spend our time on actions that matters.

To summarise, I’d suggest three steps to moving your reporting from interesting to useful:

  • Change your mentality toward reporting by placing greater importance on the outcomes instead of getting dragged down by the process.
  • Look at your metrics in a more holistic view and understand the relationships that they have with each other.
  • Provide actions for each of your observations, and back your recommendations up by explaining the reaction you expect to see.

Mun Yin Liu is digital media director at Text100 Hong Kong 

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