Marketing dashboards have created a buzz in the direct marketing arena, but what exactly can they do and what are the benefits of using them? A marketing dashboard is a specially designed widget, configured to show vital company statistics, updated on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on who the stats are for (executives, managers, statisticians, etc.). Dashboards can help marketers get a better grasp on one of their most important, and often overlooked, direct marketing tools: data. According to Devyani Sadh, CEO of Stamford, Conn.-based Data Square, a business-intelligence solutions provider, “businesses only use 7 percent of their data to make strategic marketing decisions.”
Much of a company’s time is spent collecting that valuable data, rather than analyzing it for business purposes, Sadh says. “The problem today is not lack of data,” she relates. “It’s lack of visibility of the key pieces of data. A good dashboard will allow us to do that. A good dashboard is not about the best technology in the world; it’s really about the best representation and the best culling out of data and the conversion into insights.” In this light, marketing dashboards are a way for companies to organize and highlight significant sales, marketing and enterprise data amid the myriad statistics floating around on office memos.
Marketing dashboards vary widely in terms of their structure and capabilities. Sadh explains that there are five marketing dashboard models, each more complex than the other and requiring more advanced skill sets. These approaches are:
Level one: This dashboard is basically a business-intelligence application, used for simple reports and viewing trends.
Level two: A performance-management system that allows you to look not just at what happened, but to ask: Are we on target with our goals? This model enables you to see benchmarks, scorecards and other performance-tracking metrics.
Level three: A marketing-intelligence dashboard that allows you to see not only what happened, but also to discern why it happened. “You require a lot of research and analysis to produce this type of dashboard,” says Sadh. “In this third level, you require a skill set that would be referred to an analytic practitioner, the analyst or the statistician that has the ability to take data, to analyze results. It is no longer just a reporting tool.”
Level four: This more advanced dashboard allows you to forecast sales and marketing performance based on “what-if” scenarios. “You can actually develop scenarios/simulations and allow executives to engage in decisions that are forward-thinking, that can actually foresee the future and avert unpleasant outcomes,” explains Sadh.
Level five: This is the most sophisticated level of dashboards. It “utilizes event-based intelligence to change what is predicted to happen in the future,” Sadh says. Basically, the level-five dashboard takes the level-four dashboard a step further by using event-based intelligence to futher improve sales and marketing forecasts.
However, marketers must keep in mind that the dashboard simply is a visualization of the stats, a presentation layer. “What you see is actually simple, but the mechanics behind it are anything but,” Sadh asserts.
Choosing the metrics to include in the dashboard is a time-consuming, but worthwhile data-mapping exercise, says Ram Krishnamurthy, director, Quaero Corp., a marketing and technology services provider based in Charlotte, N.C. “You have to have executive, senior-level leadership backing to understand what it is that [you’re] trying to see or measure and then get that data or that metric to start to float, or bubble up, to the surface. And then you start building all the things that you need to [for the dashboard] around it.”
There are many benefits to implementing a dashboard, say Krishnamurthy and Sadh. The aspect of visualization is “the thing that really, absolutely makes the value proposition from a return investment on a marketing dashboard,” says Krishnamurthy. “The ability for people, executives especially, to look at their dashboard and say, ‘What marketing campaigns are doing well? What’s our brand recognition today?’”
This visualization proves useful across departments, says Sadh. “Whatever our marketing objective is, we can see the direct translation of that objective into either financial or business objectives.” Along these lines, dashboards help create organizational symmetry. “With the dashboard, everybody is looking at the same thing, so you have organizational alignment, a single view of the customer,” says Sadh. “It allows you to have conversation, to set goals, set objectives.”
Krishnamurthy notes that the soft and underrated benefit of a dashboard is that “it streamlines your process and definitely makes your marketing program more efficient from an execution standpoint of view.”