The Long Road to ROI is Paved with KPIs and Storytelling

The road to ROI is paved with metrics but metrics don’t always resonate with management or the business’s goals and objectives.  The metrics often fall short on telling management where they stand with regard to goals versus actuals, what progress has been made, and how the number can help to guide the business.   In my opinion, mapping out the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and storytelling through data visualization is one of the best ways to compel management to act. The long road toward data visualization starts farther upstream than most people think so I’ve got a few high-level recommendations to get you started! 

Acquiring the Data

The most critical step to killer KPI visualization is capturing the metrics for your chosen KPIs. In some case, metrics and formulas are needed to calculate KPIs and it’s important to acquire the necessary data. The best way to start the process of acquiring the data is to use an effective measurement plan.

As part of the measurement plan, you need to consider the configuration of the analytical solution which is capturing the data. Let’s be clear, this is not the first step in the process but still a major part of the process to killer KPI dashboards or data visualization. In addition, you must consider the segments associated with the KPIs and filters. The segments are key to identifying insights from the data. For example, a segment might be residential properties for a real estate company (and commercial). In this case, you may need to filter out the internal IP addresses of the residential realtors otherwise the data may be skewed.

Align KPIs with Data Quality for Credibility

Aligning KPIs to your organization’s goals and objectives are also important to meaningful data collection and reports that matter to management. But for visualization purposes, you’ll need benchmarks and targets to put the KPIs into context as it relates to the goals and objectives. This will help to get buy-in from management on the KPIs as well. This information should not be limited to only online information, but actual internal sales information. Let’s be realistic. No analytics solution is 100% accurate, and there are numerous factors that could impact that collection of data, so why not go to the source? The last thing that you want is an executive manager saying that the numbers on his report don’t match with yours. Close that loop with actual lead and sales features from your internal systems for consistency sake as well as acknowledge the difference (in fine print).

Represent in Relation to Goals and Objectives

Most analysts are familiar with the ABCs (Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions) of analysis, but in today’s digital marketing environment you might need to consider a little more. For example, a social media campaign might need information on the reach of the campaign which is not always as simple as the ABCs. You will need to consider the outcome that you want to achieve, progress metrics, and KPIs in relations to the goals and objectives because of the cumulative nature of social. An outcome might be exposure, progress metrics would be media mentions or reach, and the KPI would be cost per exposure for the campaign. In this case, think about how you want to present the social media campaign data in connection with purpose of campaign for the business. I would recommend that you limit the amount of data shown in the KPI visualizations (2 or 3 categories max) to avoid confusion.

Gauge Example

This is an example of the possible visualization that’s associated with Household growth or attribution

Put it into Context

So, what’s the story? What are we trying to tell management, and what actions should they be taking? The KPIs are not just metrics but they are an important part of the story and should lead to actions. The story itself should pass the “so, what?” test. Throughout reporting, put yourself in your boss’s (or client’s) shoes. Ask, “What’s the story?”, “what’s the importance?”, and “what’s the value to your company?”

The visuals are telling the story of the business so you still have to “set the stage”. The sequence of the visuals are just as important to the entire message that you are communications. If you have more than one visual, the first visual should lead into the next and so on.

Line Graphs Example

The legend and titles of the visual can help to add context to the information that you are showing.

Confirm That the Story Aligns With the Audience

Remember that the point is to inform management or the client with a compelling story. The KPIs are just a means to an end, but it must make sense to your audience for it to be worth your time and effort. In general, you can achieve this by comparing the KPIs to industry benchmarks or by directly comparing the data to a competitor as well as to your top three competitors. That usually gets our clients’ attention! In addition, you must consider the value of the information that’s being delivered to the audience. Sometimes you can configure the data visualization to speak to different business units or departments.

Let’s use the social media campaign, it could be tailored to marketing, PR, and customer services because it’s connected to all these groups and accompanied by customer feedback. I would highly recommend that you test your KPIs visualization report with one of the real audience members. It should include the delivery method of the final report as well (PDF, PPT, etc.). I learned the hard way that interactive dashboards are great but clients don’t always use solutions in the manner that they were intended and management don’t have the time for training to see the possibilities.

So, why’s this stuff important? What’s the Point?

Acquiring the data seems like common sense but we have a tendency to neglect “traditional marketing” or digital marketing data based on our individual expertise which means we are telling a limited part of the story and you are limited the possibility of identifying insights. At the same time, the data that we do have is not always accurate and we are generally hesitant to acknowledge that fact to management which can create credibility issues.

Why, when you can account for this deviation with trending and identify abnormalities between internal sales data and online data? By putting it into context, it would help to identify possible issues with internal sales data or online sales data which could make you a superhero! It never hurts to share with your audience because it reinforces that fact that it’s about them.


  1. says

    I love the core thesis here (Avinash just posted yesterday on a similar idea, although coming at it from a slightly different angle), but I’d push harder on each of the main points. Up front, I often find myself sketching (and then formalizing) a diagram/pictured of how the business has envisioned the overall flow of activity (theirs or their target audience). This is an exercise to crisply and clearly capture what, often, marketers know as their strategy but that no one has ever really documented graphically. That visualization often then carries through — explicitly or in a derivative form — to the actual presentation of the KPIs. It takes some real diligence to make sure “the context” doesn’t overshadow “the KPIs,” but, when done well, it is incredibly powerful.

    And…gauges? Egad!

    • admin says

      Hi Tim:

      I agree that there is an opportunity to push farther into the main points of the blog post but that would most likely require a lengthier discussion. In general, the posting was meant to get less experienced analysts moving in the direction towards KPIs and storytelling. I appreciate the feedback


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