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Avoid these 10 data-telling errors that undermine your expertise

Avoid these 10 data-telling errors that undermine your expertise

The reality of how difficult it is to communicate both simple and complex ideas became clear to me very early in my career.

Data storytelling is both an art and a significant skill.

While this article focuses on optimizing communication regarding reporting of SEO and PPC results and initiatives to clients, the principles apply to all forms of communication.

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when communicating performance, insight and strategy in a business environment. You will also find suggestions that will improve your reporting to customers and internal stakeholders.

1. Do not use visual characters in Data Storytelling

Any decent reporting will have a visual element. After all, we are visual beings.

Good reporting visually shows what is important. A few examples include:

Simple, clean visualizations that leave little room for interpretation.

As depicted above, the goal is to report on engagement using wedge measurements between awareness and demand gene initiatives. The logic is clear and rational.

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Use formatting (eg font weight, color) to highlight important image explanations.

Highlighting table data.

A data table with many statistics is not ideal as it requires the reader to interpret what the image is.

However, there is time and place for that. In these situations, pay attention to the rows / columns / cells that are important.

2. To tell a story without context

As part of a new client’s integration process, I often receive a data dump with previous reporting. More often than not, the previous reporting left much to be desired.

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Often “why” (context) is missing.

Still, inclusion of context in data storytelling is one of the easiest ways to make your client reporting more effective.

Customers do not pay you / your agency to revive statistics. They pay for your ability to create results and provide insight.

If there is a meaningful change in performance, provide coherence beyond state. If you go one step further, the context you provide should vary depending on the situation.

I follow a general rule of thumb: Lead with state when results are good, and lead with context when results are weak.

If it was an off week, context leaders help clarify “why” before the reader has an initial negative reaction.

For example, instead of:

Lead volume decreased 70% week over week. This was because we took [whitepaper A] out of rotation.

Try this:

Takes [whitepaper a] out of rotation led to a 70% decrease in lead volume week over week.

It is a subtle but influential difference. In the case of delivering subpar results, starting with context helps reduce the negative emotions.

Even if performance suffers due to something beyond your control, pay attention to perception and prepare your reports to alleviate mixed feelings.

Pro Tip: Reporting should weigh the amount of information provided. Adding hyperlinks with additional context helps to find that balance.

Providing platform screens, screen sharing videos, data visualizations, and support articles helps provide additional information without the noise that adding all of this content inline would create.

My go-to tool is Snagit, with which you can take screenshots (or screen sharing + voiceover), select them, and upload them to a publicly accessible URL like Google Drive.

3. Shows a lack of trust

When communicating with customers, strengthen your expertise. Your deep knowledge must shine through.

For example, how does the following compare to the other option in your mind? What emotions are evoked?

“Google recommends that we add a call extension to our search ads. This allows users to click to call a specific phone number. Is that something we want to add? ”

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Compared with:

“We are committed to using Google Calls extensions for our search ads. This gives users another way to convert as well as increases the quality score. In the past, we have not had the call center to make such calls, but I would check if it has changed. ”

Each example has the same recommendation. However, the second example:

Provides a little more detail. Takes the credit. Indicates recommendation.

It does not wrap around the bush. It does not stop and asks questions.

Instead, it instills in the reader with confidence that you have a strong point of view and are not afraid to share it.

Here is another example:

The “search campaigns” widget a and b “are still declining in consumption, but we are working to increase our bids using Google’s campaign simulator.”

In this example, the emphasis is on the value of the tool – Google’s campaign simulator – rather than the value that your active management brings to the table.

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Compare it with this:

“We’re working to maximize the volume of ‘widget a and b’ search campaigns using tools like Google’s Campaign Simulator as well as monitoring and adjustments based on metrics like Search Impression Share, Click Share and Absolute at the top of the View Share page.”

Here the focus is shifted towards the actions that the individual performs with the help of a tool. It also expands the statement and shows the author’s expertise and authority.

4. Not to be authoritative

One of the feedbacks agencies often receive is that they are not strategic enough.

No matter how strategic an agency is, if communication is not final and authoritative, this “non-strategic” feedback is likely to be received.

Example:

Here the text does a good job of providing a summary of performance, context and a course of action.

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However, there are a few subtle adjustments that can increase authority during storytelling of data:

Even subtle tweaks aimed at being more authoritative lead to significant differences in perception.

5. Tone setting late

The first statement you make is incredibly strong. It sets the tone for what is to come.

By thinking through what key message and emotion you want to leave people with and lead with language that supports this goal, you maximize the chances of your desired outcome.

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If you are doing a weekly report and the result was strong during that reporting period, do not bury lead. If you have a report mixed with both good and bad news, you may want to consider leading with the good.

Example (original):

Lead volume fell 25% last week as we shifted our focus to lower value and lower cost conversion points. This led to a 20% improvement in CPL.

Example (revised):

CPL improved 20% last week as we shifted our focus towards higher efficiency and lower value conversion points. As expected, this led to a 25% decrease in lead volume

In the second example, we start with the good news and make it clear that we were aware of the possible outcomes.

6. Prerequisites

I have repeatedly learned throughout my career that assumptions about what people know are wildly inaccurate.

What is crystal clear to you may not be the same for everyone. This also applies to reporting.

In the example from # 5, the statement “As expected” clarifies something that I often see people just assume a client knows. Try to avoid it.

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7. Speaks without purpose

Words mean something.

Words are powerful.

While many words share similar definitions, the intent behind these words often has different weights.

A word can change the feeling that the reader evokes. For example, which of the following statements gives you the most positive emotions when communicating via data storytelling?

Option 1: Performance was stagnant week over week. Option 2: Performance was flat week over week. Option 3: Performance kept constant week over week.

The third option leaves you with the most positive emotions when using “stable” as a descriptor. “Steady” has a positive meaning with implications of assured posture, balance and stability compared to “stationary” and “flat”, which often negatively indicate lack of growth or movement.

Standard whenever possible, as long as it is truthful.

8. Not knowing your audience

A report intended for a marketing manager will differ significantly from a report intended for management.

Reporting to subject matter experts should differ from non-specialists. Create and tailor your report based on what is most important to your audience.

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For managers, you need to keep things high and incorporate big image trends. For leaders, go into more of the tactics.

Pro-tip: Preparing for important management reporting calls like quarterly business reviews can be daunting. Finding the sweet spot with high-level views and details can be a challenge.

To work around this in your slides, add an add-on section that you can quickly refer to if the conversation deserves an on-the-fly turn.

9. To be shy about your victories

Humility is a great trait to have. However, in business and with customers, there must be a balance between humility and self-confidence.

Do not be afraid to own your winnings.

E.g:

“[Keyword] Google search conversions have increased by 184% MoM with CPL decreased by 36%. This is thanks to the long-term terms that are on a tCPA bidding strategy, as well as the fact that more budget is being pushed towards these assets and keywords. ”

Compared with:

In addition to adding more assets to the mix and increasing the budget, we segmented long-tail KWs into groups so we could enable tCPA for our top performers, leading to 184% MoM widget conversions on Google search with CPL down 36%. ”

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Always take credit when turning has a positive impact on performance.

10. Dilution of your main pickup

Digital marketing is becoming no less complicated, nor is data storytelling. The amount of data available to the average marketer has increased significantly in the last decade.

An internal marketing manager or the agency’s primary responsibility is the distillation of complex information and panning for gold. Strong marketers analyze massive datasets and call the blocks of wisdom in their reporting.

One of the easiest ways to cut down on noise and be concise is to use moldings and bullets.

Conclusion

So there you have it – 10 ways to refuel your storytelling. By avoiding these fundamental mistakes and implementing the principles I have shared, you will:

Simplify the information transferred. Improve understanding and perception. Make sure credit is given where it is due. Build authority and credibility. Restore that you are the person for the job.

More resources:

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Image credits

Screenshots taken by the author, June 2021

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