Long time ago, we, at ContentForces discovered during our co-operation with marketing managers, that is is very hard to move web analytics data into action. Tools like Google Analytics seems to be very help full but it is very hard for the right brain marketer who is emotional and creative oriented to “translate” data into actions like improving content (text, pictures, video etc) and extend campaigns.

On the other side, the left brain marketer, who is focused on facts and logic, often makes the analysis the target and not a way to create actions to reach a target (like more engagement, more leads, more deals etc).

For us, at ContentForces, we saw the problem of missing actions (no actionable metrics) and created a solution. With this solution we are providing our clients with advice’s based on data. Actionable advice’s based on data analysis in the structure:

  1. Analyze & advice
  2. Improve (so the concrete actions to take)
  3. Test
  4. Learn

Now my data visualization hero, Avinash Kaushik wrote his vision about dashboards in his blog post Digital Dashboards: Strategic & Tactical: Best Practices, Tips, Examples. His vision is exactly the way we are working already doing for years

In stead of process with Analyze & advice, Improve, Test and Learn, Avinash uses following terms:

  1. Insights
  2. Recommendations for action
  3. Business impact

In his post, Avinash calls most dashboards “data pukes” and I am fully agree with him.

Some quotes from the post:

Dashboards are no longer thoughtfully processed analysis of data relevant to business goals with an included summary of recommended actions. They are data pukes. And data pukes are not dashboards. They are data pukes.

The Core Problem: The Failure of Just Summarizing Performance.

Avinash humbly believe the challenge is that in a world of too much data, with lots more on the way, there is a deep desire amongst executives to get “summarize data,” to get “just a snapshot,” or to get the “top-line view.” This is understandable of course.

Dashboards should be enriched with text with explanations, actions to take and the business impact. Dashboards can be made on tactical- and on strategic level. The higher the level the more summarized the data. Tactical dashboards are for VP level managers, strategic dashboard are for the CxO’s.

According to Avinash a good dashboard should contain Insights, Recommendation for action and (Business) impact:

1. Insights.
Not a repetition of what the data already says. (As you can see graph one shows that visits in Sept. are down by 4%. They can see it, the graph is right there!!) Rather, what caused graph one to be up or down – the reasons for the performance identified by your analysis and causal factors.

2. Recommendations for Action.
What action should the CXO take? These will sound like: Metric x is down because of our inability to take advantage of trend y and hence I recommend we do z. Or: We missed our target for customer satisfaction because our desktop website performs horribly on mobile platforms hence we should create a mobile friendly website. Or: While revenue is up by 48% profits have plunged by 80% because of our aggressive shift from to Cost Per Click as the God metric, this has brought increased sales of our loss leading products. The problem is further compounded by our reliance on last-click conversion tracking. I recommend a shift to Profit Per Click and Avinash Kaushik’s custom attribution model. English. Your insights. The so what based on data you’ve summarized and snapshotted.

3. Business Impact.
What will be the impact on the business if the CXO accepts your recommendation and the business takes action? I almost never see this. A small part of the problem is that Analysts often don’t have the skills to compute impact of the recommended actions. A bigger part is that it is actually quite a bit of effort to compute impact. But, what better way to create a sense of urgency than tell the CXO what the expected outcome will be if they do based on your insights and recommended actions?

The data-pukes are left for the data-analysts. According to Avinash the marketing owner will get the customized data-pukes with drill downs. In this case I disagree with Avinash. At least as we compare it with our practice where the marketing owner (or manager) also would like to get recommendation for actions and the (business impact) of the actions.

Below a diagram visualized the dashboards on the different levels:



Some quotes from the post from Avinash concerning the tactical- and strategic dashboards:

CxO’s don’t have an ability to analyze the data, should anything pique their interest, and neither will they ever want access to the contextual data to do a… oh, wait, why did x happen, or I wonder if z is the reason Average Order Value is $356.

The cool part is that you have the ability to do that. Hence your CXOs should definitely not get a data puke like the one above. They should get a handful of numbers/charts (ideally identified upfront by theDigital Marketing and Measurement Model – DMMM) and they should get your brain in a box. I mean, they should get lots of words in English from you and not numbers. The words in English should ideally cover three things.

CxO’s don’t have time to go get all the data, but they have the desire to analyze a bit, drill-down a bit, poke and prod. Our customized data pukes, CDPs, can come directly from our digital analytics tools (this will be important because our actual dashboards won’t).

Below an example how a dashboard could be according Avinash:


Closing Thoughts from Avinash: Rules for Revolutionaries.

Five specific rules for revolutionaries looking to create magnificent dashboards:

  1. Dashboards are not reports. Don’t data puke. Include insights. Include recommendations for actions. Include business impact.
  2. NEVER leave data interpretation to the executives (let them opine on your recommendations for actions with benefit of their wisdom and awareness of business strategy).
  3. When it comes to key performance indicators,segments and your recommendations make sure you cover the end-to-end acquisition, behavior and outcomes.
  4. Context is everything. Great dashboards leverage targets, benchmarks and competitive intelligence to deliver context. (You’ll see that in above examples.)
  5. This will be controversial but let me say it anyway. The primary purpose of a dashboard is not to inform, and it is not to educate. The primary purpose is to drive action!

Hence: List the next steps. Assign responsibility for action items to people. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Never forget to compute business impact.

And my last words, In my vision Avinash is right, the dashboard with recommended improvements (in text but maybe also pictures and video) and business impact will be the future of the dashboard.

We, at ContentForces are working on it already for more 4 years, who follows?

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