dash·board

n. A panel under the windshield of a vehicle, containing indicator dials, compartments, and sometimes control instruments.

If your marketing department has invested in any technology since the early 1960s, chances are you probably have something called a "dashboard" running on a PC near you, maybe even on yours. The idea is that your various technology systems -- tracking things like digital ad performance, conversational media results, and online sales -- can feed into a spot wherefrom you can "drive" your marketing.

No you can't.

There are four broad reasons why a marketing dashboard isn't really a dashboard:

  1. It's representative, not controlling. You can't make things happen on or with it, per se, because it's a glorified report. Some dashboard have modeling tools built into them but it's not common. It can't actualize decisions, just show you stuff.
  2. It only represents a fraction of what happens. It's an indicator of performance based on the VU meters you've got built into it. There's no reporting on how people got to the various points blinking on your screen (beyond the "came from" track).
  3. Your metrics aren't the same as the rest of the business. Much of the digital behavior you're able to track on a dashboard isn't causally related to the sales figures watched by the rest of the organization. There's additional conversation required, and it's not always seamless. The info is about your marketing, not the brand.
  4. Most of your marketing and branding doesn't even appear on your dashboard anyway; all of the contextual events and behaviors that are integral to purchase of your product or service don't feed neatly into a lever on your screen. 

Can something matter if it's not on your dashboard? Is something important because it does appear? I'm suspicious of what these tools tell us because they're so utterly dependent on what their designers tell them. I think a real marketing dashboard would acknowledge that it can't presume to drive the function, but could be a useful management tool if it included:

  • Unspent funds. This is probably the biggest and most compelling variable available to any marketer, and its the lever that enables action on opportunities and the avoidance of emerging disasters. Knowing this number in real-time empowers any decision you'd hope to make because of whatever else is on the your dashboard.
  • More correlations. Deciding if a search term is driving site traffic is an important datapoint, but it's not strategic. Neither is a listing of terms from conversational media. It's more important that you figure out how these numbers correlate with activities outside and beyond the functions...for instance, do you want to track social volume with sales? How about order volume with customer service reporting? One of my favorites is the weather (seriously).
  • Operational data. To achieve better and more strategically useful correlations, I think your marketing dashboard should tell you a helluva lot more about the business itself vs. all the glorious marketing tactics you're pursuing. You need to know if a finance policy has changed, or if there's a new charge for some activity or another. What are the latest datapoints from customer service? Has the legal department done something, or plans something that might impact PR? You want this info to keep you better linked to the real business and not your imagined benefits of brand.
  • Automatic decisions. Think technical trading of stocks; shouldn't there be smart decisions hardwired (literally) into your management processes, so certain things happen no matter how squishy your vision becomes when the time comes to act?
  • Offline marketing. This is the biggie and probably the hardest data to collect, primarily because it isn't data that's easily funneled into your dashboard. But most of the behaviors that result in your sales (or lack thereof) happen off the media that your digital dashboard is configured to track. More business operational data (what finance has changed, service calls, legal papers filed; report on those actions and plans).

Even then, your marketing wouldn't be controlled by a dashboard. It wouldn't see your marketing in its entirety. But it might enable you to make decisions that could influence business results, which is the whole purpose for turning on your computer in the first place, isn't it?

Image source: jiazi 

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/03/marketing-isnt-controlled-by-a-dashboard.html

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