5 Lessons for Agencies to Become Data-Powered Partners

Guest blogger: Rob Getsy has over a decade of experience leading B2B and B2C marketing strategies and operations for companies in the Education, Telecom, and Tech industries. 

Client and Agency relationships are not unlike many personal relationships. Some are good-natured, trusting and fruitful, while others are more difficult with each party blaming the other when things go wrong. I spent more than a decade on the client-side of the table, managing multi-million dollar budgets, working with media and creative agencies. Here are few things I’ve learned that can make or break these relationships:

Weekly status reports are difficult.

No matter the business, weekly reporting calls are considered table stakes. Every Tuesday morning the agency is supposed to readout the previous week’s activities to tell the client what worked, what didn’t, and what changes they want to make. Oftentimes, the data jockeys on the agency struggle to aggregate the data in time for the call. The haste in which these reports are cobbled together is often quite obvious to the client. We don’t want to move the call every other week to give you more time, and we certainly don’t want to read a report with errors. 

Agencies need to bring insights, not raw data.

Reading raw data tables and trying to decipher patterns is an acquired skill. Most clients don’t have the time or data fluency to look at large Excel spreadsheets with their agency and figure out the implications. There is too much data to try to present it all in a way that we can comprehend. You should be telling us a coherent story with the most pertinent aspects of the data. Bring interesting trends and relationships in the data up for conversation. Tell us what you think it means and what you recommend.  Then, if I still want to dive down further, let me play in the Excel PivotTables after we’ve covered the key points. In some ways, the services of agencies are becoming a commodity. On more than one occasion, I’ve been swayed to sign with an agency that had unique reporting capabilities and a demonstrated ability to turn data into smarter actions.

I’m looking for partners, not vendors

Over the past 15 years in my marketing career, I’ve worked with many vendors but only a few partners. What’s the difference? Partners go above and beyond your expectations and become an extension of your business. They know your customers, your sales cycles, the quirks of every business line, the hours of your call center, and sometimes even news about your company that you hadn’t heard yet. They even help you strategize and plan media spend across tactics they aren’t responsible for.  Vendors are outsiders that never get to know your company acronyms, do only what they are asked to do, and make errors in their reporting that demonstrate they don’t understand the business. The worst part about those errors is that, as the client, we can see them immediately and you can’t. I’m selling cupcakes… I wish the average revenue per sale was $150.00, but it’s not. It’s $15.00. You fat-fingered a decimal point, didn’t catch it and now I’m skeptical about the rest of the report. 

Talk to me about the future too.

The past is great, that’s what we’re reporting on every week.  But I want you to take the next step and start using that data to plan and predict the future. That’s one of the main reasons we’re looking at past performance -- it’s not just to pat ourselves on the back.  I want a partner to look at a broad set of my historical data and build predictive trends based on variables like media efficiency, attribution, and seasonality.    

Excel is amazing, but not for socializing learnings within your team.

I’m an Excel power user. In fact, I use it for just about everything (including things I shouldn’t). But I only had to be yelled at once for sending an exciting piece of data to my CMO in an Excel file.  Executives don’t have time to dig through an Excel file.  In today’s social world, reports should be sharable with a click of a button. Find a technology that summarizes the data for you and makes your life more efficient. 

Who will step up and bring it all together? That’s the question that those of us on the marketing client side are always asking ourselves. Who will be our partner, not vendor? Who will bring us the next level reporting solution so we can have discussions worth having and share those insights easily? And who will help use all that ‘big data’ to optimize for the future? 

Contact us to find out more about how you can partner with us to share insights and create valuable discussions. And for more information on how we create dashboards and insights people love to use, check out our white paper, "A Guide to Creating Dashboards People Love to Use".

Make reports better, not just prettier

We hear from people contacting us as well as from other designers that often the design role in the dashboard project is to “just make it look pretty.”    

Well, pretty only gets you so far. Users may pause and stay longer than the typical 15 seconds on the page if pretty, but did they walk away with or accomplish what they wanted?  Do you want users or customers to say it was pretty or useful?

When delivering an information experience™ there are more important goals that outweigh pretty every time.  Here are just a few to consider when designing an information experience.

1. Be purposeful with design choices

Be really intentional on how you incorporate visual elements into your design.  When used with intent it tells the user to take notice of what you’re sharing.  

Use Color Intentionally - Color has meaning. It can communicate emotion, feeling. It can also draw your attention to certain things. To make sure you draw attention to the right things, it’s important to limit the amount of color you use. For example, see the example below.  While mostly grayscale, your eyes are drawn to the red.

                                             Image source: Information Dashboard Design, by Stephen Few

                                             Image source: Information Dashboard Design, by Stephen Few

Avoid information overload - Gradual reveal can be used to guide people through information, while still allowing them to explore.

Simple is best - Use the simplest appropriate visualization for the data you are presenting. Consider what question you are trying to answer and communicate that as quickly as you can with a simple visual that’s easy to understand.

2. Design for Action

Ideo in their September 2015 HBR article, Design for Action, highlight many examples of designing for action.  Much of what they cite is relevant to information displays as well. Some other things to keep in mind:

Integration with workflow - People need to work quickly and efficiently and if it takes too long to get to the information they need, they will move on. Think through your user or customers workflow and how your design can best integrate.

Provide next steps - Keep your users end goal in mind and help them get there. Give them meaningful next steps at appropriate times. In the example below, LinkedIn helps you with setting up your profile by letting you know how much has been completed and which items are still left to complete so you know what’s next.

There is certainly a place for beauty in your dashboard design.  As Chris G. notes in our frequently downloaded “Guide to Creating Dashboards People Love to Use”, “Modern web design has moved on to seek a union of utility, usability and beauty. We must find a similar union when displaying data in business.”  Note how beauty is equally partnered with utility and usability.  There should be a balance.

When designing reports or dashboards, strive for useful, helpful and understandable.  “Pretty” simply isn’t enough.