“There, it’s finished. … But is it, though?”

These are the words you’re muttering to yourself as you’re about to click “Send”. You had zero sleep, worked your ass off. You created a magnificent data-driven Q4 report which might change the course of the company’s marketing efforts in the near future.

You’re proud of yourself. The report is as good as every tutorial and example out there. This thing might even give you a shot at replacing your manager, who is transferring to the NY headquarters soon.

Days pass, weeks even. But unfortunately, no reply, no feedback. Despite your efforts, the report has fallen on deaf ears. You failed to convert your data-driven insights into clear, actionable strategies. You did not manage to translate your findings into a new strategy for the future, after all. Where did it go wrong?

Well, we can’t tell you. But we can tell you that we’ve heard this story multiple times, and even encountered similar problems ourselves throughout the years.

But through trial, error, and extensive research, we perfected our craft. And because we think you’re all right, we’ve gathered our learnings on how to create awe-inspiring reports. Keep reading if you’re determined to nail your next one with confidence and discover how to report your insights to your boss, like a boss.

 

Avoid getting lost in translation

 

As a modern & data-driven marketer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the people you directly report to, usually aren’t as data-savvy as you are. Hence, your existence in the organization. So, while often not explicitly mentioned in the job description, translating your findings to the ones making business decisions is a crucial part of your role.

When it comes to reporting, you have to communicate towards your superiors like you would communicate towards a target demographic, let’s say. Speak the language they speak and present the content in a way they’ll find it interesting (if not fascinating).

“Understand your audience, whether it’s the one buying your product or the one financing it.”

Generally, decision-makers are low in data literacy but high in decision power. If your boss is in charge of coordinating marketing campaigns, he or she will want to hear insights that directly apply to their campaigns.

Do not ramble on about “conversion rates” per “source/medium” and how they differ when you compare “first” vs “last non-direct click” attribution. Why? You might as well talk to a brick wall. These metrics might be crucial for your job, but they are not to your superior’s.

Not all metrics are equally important to report. Keep the obscure ones to yourself and only elaborate when asked or if you feel it’s necessary. It’s not your job to report data; it’s your job to analyze data.

TIP = With every report that you’re putting together, figure out or remind yourself who your target audience is, what they would like to know, and how they would like to absorb the information. If you don’t know, ask.

 

Start at the end and focus

 

When you stop at the drive-in window at McDonald’s, do you want to hear how they assembled the burger, or do you want your order and drive off and enjoy your cheat meal? It’s the latter.

And guess what, your superior wants his Big Mac as fast as possible as well.

Always start with the essence. Get straight to the point. Whip out your best and most impactful insights right at the beginning. Remember why it’s called an ‘executive’ summary! Not only will this approach prevent you from putting too much time into potentially unnecessary work, but it will also shave some time off for the reader to fully digest it. The combination of these two advantages might just be good enough to earn you the nickname “the data prophet” or “the chart wizard” Or it might just come up as a big positive during your annual review. Either way …

 

Use your customers and competitors

 

The most tangible examples are usually the most effective. We’re talking about the kind of examples that don’t require a great deal of imagination or data-literacy. Instead of trying to get your point across by using data, try using your customers. How can your boss say no to your assumptions when they are a direct result of customer testing. If an AB test shows customers react better to version B, what’s to argue? Or like Avinash Kaushik said: “drag your customer’s voice to the table!”

Another way to convince decision-makers of your insights is by comparing your results with those of your competitors. If and where possible, of course. We guarantee that decision-makers will care much more about your report when you are doing worse on metric X compared to your direct competitor, for example. FYI, that doesn’t mean you have to try to benchmark everything against your competitors… Because if everyone would look at each other, the status quo would never change. Just use these comparisons from time to time to reassure people you’re on the right track.

TIP = Insights derived from customers & competitors leave less room for interpretation. They are great tools to get your point across.

 

It’s not an instruction manual nor an art competition

 

This is probably the most straightforward advice but quite often not applied well enough. I’m talking about the looks of your report.

A big part of being able to bring something concisely is to make sure every graph, chart, table, number, or other graphic has a purpose. If it does not bring significant value, it should not be in your reports. It’s that straightforward. If you’re not sure, create an appendix with all the non-essential but possibly interesting information, so you have it ‘at the ready’ when needed. This way, it does not take up any real estate during the main read-through.

Also, keep in mind that the recipients of your report might not enjoy the benefit of having you around 24/7 to explain everything. Make sure it’s a standalone, explanatory item.

Below are some quick pointers to keep your report clean and understandable.

  • Avoid big chunks of texts. Keep it visual.
  • Label the elements and axes of your chart clearly.
  • Highlight certain features if they are noteworthy, so people’s eyes get drawn to the most important parts.
  • But don’t overdo color as it can easily distract. Use it with clear intention.
  • Explain your graphs, charts, and tables, not only through presenting but summarize them in writing as well.
  • Make sure everything is readable, whether it’s on a screen of a mobile phone or a 27-inch monitor.

One small note to end on: Not every suggestion might apply to your business, nor is this an exhaustive summary of what to do. Let this guide inspire you to come up with a fitting plan to awe your boss with your reports. Good luck!