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For many organizations, even those with sophisticated tools and practices, getting the right data, and more importantly, the insights – to the right people at the right time is difficult.  With multiple stakeholders, various data sources, and the ever increasing pressure to ensure that the data and insights are actionable, one thing is clear: marketers feel challenged when it comes to delivering on the promise of dashboards.

To help frame up the topic of dashboard execution, it helps to understand why dashboards fail. We undertook a dashboard inventory at Cardinal Path this year, where we polled everyone who works here across both our US and Canadian offices. We asked “have you completed a dashboard project for a client”, “is that dashboard still in use?” “and if not, why?”.

The following represents some of the most common reasons we saw why dashboards were no longer in use.

  • The website was updated but the dashboard was not. The problem here ties back to the need for a consistent taxonomy. Just because your site changes doesn’t mean your metrics have to; with a site change you should still largely be able to keep the same metrics and dimensions mapped to the same place. And maintaining a dashboard becomes much easier if those metrics don’t change just because the site has.
  • The analytics platform was not advanced enough.
  • The dashboard platform was not user friendly. The second and third point here both map to the same underlying concern: a mismatch between the needs of the business and the capabilities of the technology. This really speaks to the necessity to carefully evaluate the technology to make sure you’re getting the correct solution in place.
  • The dashboard takes more work to update than value it provides. I see this all.the.time. I would much rather put an extra effort into the dashboard creation process just to make sure that a dashboard has an efficient design. If a dashboard is easy to update you have more time available for analysis and insights.

So with that being said, here are  some best practices to help you get started with your own dashboards.

Best Practices

1. Take Action

For many organizations, this represents the first step in actually using all their data rather than simply collecting and then drowning in it. Dashboards can help improve both performance and the decision-making process, and can make complex data inviting and accessible with low barriers to entry. But the first step is deciding to make them a part of your plan.

2. Define the metrics to track

Spend time agreeing on the metrics that matter, and build reports for those metrics that can feed dashboards. A KPI is only as valuable as the action it inspires. Too often, organizations blindly adopt industry-recognized KPIs and wonder why that KPI doesn’t reflect their own business and fails to affect any positive change. This can take time, but don’t underestimate the value it adds. This is where you are building buy-in for your entire project.

3. Match dashboards to requirements

Ask yourself as you build your dashboard are stakeholder questions getting answered? Are the KPI’s appropriate and in line with your stakeholders needs? The CMO will have very different metrics than the channel managers. When looking at specific tools, you should also be asking whether the dashboarding tool is appropriate- is it too advanced? Does it provide enough interactivity? Too much interactivity?

That being said, it is still common that even with the best laid plans, the purpose of your dashboard will get lost. This often happens because the data that is being presented is for the wrong people, or presented in the wrong format.

Organizations with data analysis programs that don’t plan for delivering their insights in easy-to-access-and-evaluate formats fall into several common traps:

  • Paying for the wrong tools and analysis driving up costs, reducing flexibility, increasing turnaround times and too often yielding only partial results
  • Lack of knowledge transfer and capacity-building radically minimizes ROI from hard-won marketing technology investments;
  • Loss of productivity, as internal and external stakeholders find it difficult to collaborate with each other to gain a collective perspective via a single source of truth

4. Share

A dashboard is only meaningful if people use it. Be sure to promote and disseminate to everyone who could potentially benefit from the data. Dashboards can make you look good, and put you in a position to help other departments. When you share dashboards, be sure to include information on where the data has been gathered from and who they need to contact if they have questions – it helps users understand the data and know who they can go to for more information.

5. Iterate

It’s not always going to be perfect in its first incarnation. Once implemented, start gathering feedback from the people using it, and seek to make improvements over and over again. Your dashboard should be a dynamic platform that is continually changing and adapting to meet the needs of its users.

6. Hone in on what matters

Dashboards need to be live and real-time view of your data, you should be able to drill down to underlying reports, data and customer segments. If you find irregularities, you should be able to click through to discover the source. This ensures that the data is actionable- which, if you’ve ever read any of our other materials, you will know, is the foundation of what we do at Cardinal Path.

7. Make it pretty

This is the place to start thinking about tools. We’ve all been there. Staring blankly at a mind numbing spreadsheet which tells the untrained eye, basically, a whole lot of nothing. An aesthetically pleasing and well-designed tool is actually more functional, and more effective. It gets used more often, and provides users with more delight.

If you’d like to take the first step by visualizing your own Google Analytics data, try this free trial from Klipfolio! Also, check out these great resources on common pitfalls of dashboard design and on visual communication.