Reporting Audits and Data Context

I was at a conference the other day talking to an internal marketing team about their reports when it emerged that they had some funny business going on – not the sort with clowns and balloons, but the sort that makes you genuinely stop and scratch your head. Every time an internal report got passed through the department someone would dutifully print it off, then pick up a pen and write a zero on the top of it before passing it across to management. This had apparently been going on for many years, and when I enquired curiously about the purpose of this I was met with a sea of blank faces.

“Well, we’ve just always done it.”

“It’s been done like that since before I joined the company.”

“I just learned to do that from the person who used to do this job.”

I was honestly intrigued enough to do a bit of digging, and finally managed to discover that the number written by hand on the top of each report was – of all things – the number of air raids that had occurred that week. The company had registered that this had an effect on the data they were reporting on so dutifully wrote it down, but they’d been doing it for so long without actually thinking about the reasons behind it that it had become nothing but an ingrained habit, and an extensive series of staff members had just made it an automated task.

Now in their defence, the number was indeed accurate, but I don’t want to talk about reporting accuracy today – instead I’d rather bring up the idea of auditing your reporting process to make sure that it is up to date, relevant and informed by your targets. There’s no point in checking your analytics setup unless you know what you want it to do, and someone (or a team of someone’s) in every business should really take ownership of matching your analytics and reporting to your business objectives so that everything is kept meaningful. Getting this right – and reviewing it regularly so that it stays that way – can actually impact everything from your tagging to the actual analytics platform you use to report on what you need to, so it is critical to include it in your reporting process.

I should point out at this stage that I’m not just talking about online marketing, or indeed just marketing of any sort. Making your analytics – and the reporting driven by it – holistic across your entire business allows you to bring departments together to make sure everyone is on the same page. Everyone who has a stake in business reporting needs to be involved – from digital marketing to offline, in store activity, IT departments, sales teams, content and PR and anyone else who is involved in any customer touchpoints.

Underpinning your analytics and reporting with your business objectives this way also helps immensely with the contextualisation of data – and you’d be amazed how few brands keep track of quite major events in their business lifecycle, which will have knock-on effects to customer interactions. Everything from a TV campaign to a change of hosting provider should be kept track of and integrated into your reporting cycle so that you always have a complete picture of what is happening – how else can any business possibly make informed decisions to help drive future growth targets?

In short, if a customer touches it, you should know about it and be able to report on it in a way that helps your business. If you don’t know where your customers are touching your brand, or you’re reporting on superfluous data that doesn’t seem to achieve anything besides padding out a page, it’s time to call a halt and do a review. Simple as, really.

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