How to ensure your marketing team’s BI dashboards are actually useful: A guide

Tiffany Ruder is a full-stack marketer who specializes in creating customer-centric messaging and digital experiences that span channels and touchpoints. All about optimizing the customer experience as the ultimate conversion booster, she’s based in Boulder, CO, but her clients are based all around the world.

No self-respecting marketing team would be without a business intelligence (BI) dashboard today. They’re immensely popular for good reason; a well-planned dashboard helps people to make sense of huge amounts of data in the blink of an eye, supports better business decision-making, and it looks good, too.

However, a poorly-designed dashboard can be worse than no dashboard at all. All too many companies are so eager to add dashboards to their business intelligence solutions that they rush at it too fast, producing confusing visualisations, poorly-ordered displays, and distracting visuals that are hard to understand.

Fortunately, creating a BI dashboard that your marketing team will actually find helpful and enjoy using isn’t too difficult a task. You just need some basic dashboard creation principles to guide you on the way.

Identify key metrics

Dashboards are extremely flexible, which is one of their strengths, but it can also be a weakness because over-customising them can make them confusing and unclear. You need to make sure that your dashboard answers the needs of your marketing team specifically, by choosing the right metrics and KPIs to display.

That, in turn, hinges on your understanding the goals and needs of the entire marketing team.

Talk to the decision-makers and stakeholders who’ll be using your dashboard to find out their technical skills and experience, any expectations they have from the dashboard, and what data they’ll find most valuable. For example, a marketing team in a B2B company is going to need to track micro-conversions, demos and content downloads, whereas the marketing team in a B2C ecommerce company will want to see click-through rates and sales per category.

Once you know what the dashboard users need and their level of technical understanding, you’ll be able to make it simple enough for them to navigate easily, and detailed enough to be meaningful.

Avoid distractions

Many BI dashboards fall into the trap of including too much information. Your dashboard should provide a high-level overview of your marketing KPIs so that your team can absorb everything in little more than a glance.

Follow the five-second rule, so that anyone consulting your dashboard can find the most important information in just a few seconds. Remove clutter from the screen and resist the temptation to add extra decoration or squeeze in another visualisation.

Too much data is distracting. If you include too many details or too much information, the user will feel overwhelmed, restricting their ability to draw useful conclusions that lead to informed decisions. Your first screen should be minimalist, showing only the most significant charts so the user can see all their key metrics in a single view. Users can click through to dig deeper into the details.

That said, don’t make your dashboard too simple by removing timeframes and context. If you rob data of its context by stripping it down too much, it becomes likewise unhelpful.

Tell a story

To help prevent you from overwhelming your team with information, think of your dashboard as a story-telling tool. The user should be able to move logically from one visualisation to the next as though they were reading a narrative.

That involves prioritising the placement of information, with the most important charts shown in the top-left corner.

Many studies have shown that when reading a screen, people always begin at the top left, and then progress down the screen in an F-shape, reading fewer lines as they move deeper down the page.

It’s best to begin with a high-level overview of your situation, and then move to more detailed marketing metrics. Group your charts by theme and topic, so that relevant metrics are side by side and users don’t have to move around the dashboard. For example, charts showing email open rates and email click-through rates should be next to each other.

Choose visualisations carefully

Visualisations are the most exciting part of any marketing BI dashboard, but they are also full of pitfalls. Your choice of colours, chart style, values, and labelling all make a difference to how easily the user can read the display.

Using too many different colours is distracting; it’s better to stick to just one colour scheme, or use gradations of intensity in a single colour instead of multiple colours. Make sure that you’re consistent about which colour or shade you use for dimension values, and try to avoid using red and green together. As well as proving difficult for people with red-green colour blindness, most people interpret red as “negative” and green as “positive,” so use different colours unless you deliberately want to convey that message.

It’s vital to make your visualisations as consistent as possible. Using the same chart style makes it easier for users to compare values between different visualisations; using the same colour schemes eases mental effort when scanning multiple charts; and you should never change your timeframes or the way you label axes and values from one chart to the next.

Some more basic visualisation best practices include:

  • Choosing the right chart style for each KPI. For example, line charts are good for displaying change over time, like leads per month, while bar graphs are best for comparing items, like the CTR for different content types posted to social media
  • Avoiding charts that look good but are difficult to read, like 3D charts or bubble charts
  • Making your labels simple and clear, and using them only when necessary. If you label the axes clearly, bar charts don’t usually need number tags as well

Carefully-planned BI dashboards add value to your marketing team

Choosing the right KPIs, avoiding distractions and clutter, crafting visualisations with care, and building your display in a way that creates a coherent narrative are the building blocks of a successful BI dashboard that adds value to your marketing team.

When you consider the needs and goals of your marketing department, you can produce a business intelligence dashboard that they’ll find useful and consult on a regular basis.

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