Numbers don’t mean a thing

I run the marketing and content teams at Big Sea.  We are currently servicing 22 total client accounts on ongoing monthly marketing retainers — which is a lot of clients.  And a lot of clients means a lot of reports — you know, roughly 22 of them.  

We have tried just about every reporting tool on the market and have yet to find anything that beats the highly customized reports we create on a monthly and quarterly basis for our clients, and I’m going to tell you why. 

Analytics is just part of the story

If you’ve ever logged in to your Google Analytics dashboard, you will see a huge variety of charts, tables and graphics that tell you just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know and more about your website visitors. And if you’ve ever worked with a Google Partner like Big Sea, you’ll also see a huge variety of custom reports, with even more charts and graphics — many of which may or may not make sense.

And that’s just your website.

When we talk about inbound marketing as a whole, we have a huge variety of metrics we’re tracking. We are watching your social media accounts, your likes and fans, followers and how many people are commenting and tracking what you’re doing. We’re watching your blog views and engagement, how many emails are opened and clicked, how many calls to action are clicked on. We’re watching and measuring everything.

Sure, I can sit down and make a list of those items, and then find tools that report them. But the way that Big Sea works with clients is a little different. We service a huge variety of verticals, across B2B, B2C, non-profit and education. For some of those clients, we focus on email almost exclusively. For others, we lean heavy on paid search and social.  And for others, content marketing is their most effective tool.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to reporting.

The point is: nothing works for everyone, or even for every campaign. While each report might show similar data, the takeaways vary based on the goals of the campaign, of the client, of the relationship.   Sometimes we find variances between different platforms recording the same metric and we have to dig in to find out why that might be and determine which one is correct.

It can get very tedious to know what metrics to look at — especially for clients who often really don’t know.  

So we spend that time.  In fact, our production manager just pulled numbers, and we spend a lot of time reporting. We send weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports to our clients. All of them include a custom mix of data and analysis, and none are automated. We have about 50% of the content standardized because everyone wants to see the basics, but even the basics get customized when we start talking about clients with multiple pages, campaigns, and locations. 

Is it worth it?  

Absolutely.  Good decisions can only be made with good data. Because we spend time looking at the data, and really digging in when we see something interesting or anomalous, we get to make really good, informed decisions about how to move forward, or pivot, or sometimes even stop what we’re doing all together.  

Even if the reports our clients end up seeing are a bit of a watered down version of all of the things we track, we spend the time explaining in the reports too — then we jump on the phone each month to review the reports, talk about the implications and plan for the future.

That’s what a bespoke marketing partnership looks like.  That’s the level of care we put into every engagement, and why we can’t find any worthwhile reporting dashboards to fill our specific needs. 

That’s not to say that our approach is necessarily the best approach, but it is to put the challenge out there to anyone who wants to build a better reporting tool that can do what we need it to do.

Ask to see some reports.

So if I have any advice to you, when you’re choosing a marketing agency, take a look at their client reports. Are they just pulled from a dashboard, and spit out cut-and-paste style every month without any thought or touchpoint from your team? Are they the same numbers you could find if you log in to your very own HubSpot or Google Analytics portals? 

If that’s the case, you need to ask for more — because those are the reports where important trends get overlooked, and can’t be accounted for in future plans. The reports should always be the paper trail of decision-making, and the agency’s chance to show their thinking.