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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: When Not to Use Google Data Studio Dashboards

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss when dashboards like Google Data Studio are the best choice and especially when they’re not the best choice for getting insights out of data. What do dashboards do well, and what do they do poorly? Listen to this episode for a list of best practices around dashboards and data visualization.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
In this episode of in your insights, we have talked a ton about dashboards, Data Studio dashboards and the variety of other packages out there. And no surprise, a lot of vendors who offer dashboards as services say that they are the magic cure for all of your marketing reporting issues. But we know there is no such thing as magic. So today, we’re talking about what are the limitations of dashboards? What are the things that dashboards can’t do? And when is the dashboard the wrong tool to use? So Katie, let’s start with you, as the senior executive and the CEO of the company, dashboards are obviously very useful for you to be able to figure out like the general pulse check other company, but when for you, is the dashboard, not the best choice for getting information.

Katie Robbert
Um, you know, this morning actually is a really great example, I was looking at sort of the 360 of all of our data. And it was telling me what happened, it was telling me how the campaigns performed, it was telling me where traffic was coming from. But it stopped there, it didn’t tell me why that information happened. And so that’s my next step. And that’s not something I can glean from the dashboard, unless I was intimately involved in whatever the campaign was, and talking with the people, but even then, that’s not reflected on the dashboard. That would just be information that I had inside my head. So I think the biggest limitation of the dashboard is that it can tell you what happened. But very rarely does it tell you why it happened.

Christopher Penn
So where do you go for that information? Now, obviously, we’re small company. But, for example, when we both manage larger teams, how do you get that information in a way that’s scalable?

Katie Robbert
You know, that’s when you start to do a bit more of that qualitative structured market research, you could run a consumer survey, or a call tricks or a survey monkey. You know, whatever your survey provider of choices, you can start to do some audience analysis, you can just start asking your customers, you can start asking your prospects, but it’s really starting to ask those more open ended behavioral questions of why did you take this action? versus what actions did you take?

Christopher Penn
So it’s interesting, you mentioned that because we just ran our own quarterly survey, asking people so what their biggest pain point in marketing is, and we have a lot of that data, we have several hundred responses from our audience. How are you matching that up with what we see in the data? How, how do you connect the two because they’re, in a lot of cases, there’s the qualitative data is very rich, some people were very kind and providing, like paragraphs of information. And on the other hand, you pull up the dashboard, and you see, you know, this number, this number is down. How do you how do you merge the two together? Well, you

Katie Robbert
know, I think it all depends on what the question was that you were asking what your goal was. And so, you know, we asked literal one question. And that’s actually something that’s very scalable. You can ask one question a quarter or one question a week, whatever the timetable is that works for you. And so we asked that open ended, you know, what are the marketing analytics challenges you’re having right now, which does align with a lot of the services that we provide. And so that’s the way that I’m personally matching that up is so we have standard forms When People Download something or sign up for something that collect a lot of the same data consistently, in a very quantitative way. And so they literally check a box and say, this is the thing that I’m having those trouble with. So I have all of that data in terms of counts, the number of times people have reported this thing. Now we’ve have this open ended question. And what we can start to do is using machine learning software, start to categorize it and tag the qualitative data to understand Okay, what are the themes? What are the topics? Do they align with the services that we offer? Do they align with the problems that people have consistently been reporting? Or is there a big gap? Is there a mismatch? Is are are there things that we haven’t been thinking about? Are people talking about it in a way that we’re not talking about it? Are we sort of off track in terms of what we think would be the most helpful and valuable to people? So that’s how I’m using the data at this stage. Interesting?

Christopher Penn
Are we should we be looking at something like predictive analytics to match with that I was thinking, because as we were getting ready to do this episode, we were looking at the predictive data for what topics marketers will be caring about most in the next month or so and through most of the summer and fall Google’s Data Studio products, hence, the reason for the show, is going to be a popular one. What do we look down at the questions that we’re asking people about, you know, taking actionable insights from their data or proving marketing ROI? Should we be looking at time and charting these things out the number of responses per day or week or month on our forms? See if there’s a seasonality of what people say, Yeah, sometimes I care about ROI more like at the end of the quarter, for example.

Katie Robbert
Yeah, absolutely. I think that there, there is a seasonality to that. I mean, we’ve even noticed our own anecdotally seasonality with our sales cycle, where the first and for the first week and the fourth week of the month, behave differently than the second and the third week of the month. And so there is definitely, I guess the bottom line is there’s no shortage of the amount of data that you can collect and the amount of things that you can do with it. But this is when people start to get that analysis paralysis of well, I could collect this and I could collect this. And it you need to sort of pull yourself back, take a step back and understand like, well, is that helpful? Can I do something with that? Because I think Chris, you you’ve paraphrased something along the lines of, if you’re not going to change your behavior or try to lose the weight, then don’t get on the scale to look at the data, you know, something along those lines. I’m sure I totally just put your that. But basically, the point being is, well, yeah, we can look at the seasonality of when when people are reporting certain types of problems. But I guess even more basic than that, are we solving the problems that people in mass are even telling us that they have? And I think that’s the first step before you can start to get into that more advanced, sophisticated. So to your original question, you know, these are the types of things this deep dive that a dashboard cannot necessarily do a dashboard is literally, for the most part, it’s automated numbers on a page, it’s cumulative. It’s counts, it’s averages, which is really, really helpful. But it doesn’t dig into why did that happen? Or why did that person say that thing? Or what are they saying, you know, today versus tomorrow? Like, it’s, it’s missing that richness?

Christopher Penn
What are some of the things that you personally would when you look at a customer’s dashboards, particularly if it’s a dashboard that we didn’t assemble, you can look at and go, okay, that works? Well, that doesn’t work? Well, you really should not do that anymore. How do you? What do you look at, in a dashboard to evaluate its usefulness?

Katie Robbert
Um, I think we’ve talked about this in our data visualization episode. But one of the things that, that I often see is a misuse of charts and graphs. And so pie charts, for the most part are not helpful. bar charts are often used incorrectly. And I find that they’re really like, the dashboards themselves are really hard to read. Because, you know, there’s this notion of, if I can fit everything onto one page, then you know, people will figure out what the story is. But it’s usually overwhelming this too much information, and there is no story. And so we what I would really challenge marketers to do is to really think about what’s that narrative? And it really starts with the goal, the KPIs and the metrics sort of in that order of starting with, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the question you’re trying to answer? Okay, that’s your goal. What are the KPIs? Those are your basically your barometer of whether or not you’re on track, and the metrics roll up into the KPIs. They’re important, but they shouldn’t be the star of the show.

Christopher Penn
Yeah, the one that I have seen, most customers do wrong, is that that platonic belief of the one dashboard to rule them all? Like No, no, there’s, there isn’t one dashboard for the entire company. There’s not one anything for the tech company except me. You know, maybe you have like a standardized office chair you bought

Katie Robbert
that? Well, to that point, that’s generally uncomfortable, because it’s not a one size fits all either.

Christopher Penn
Exactly, exactly. Yeah. I know that our old job, my chairs are so high up and I couldn’t even touch the floor. So

Katie Robbert
well, and I often found them to be too low. And the my knees were hitting the desk. So I go, but again, it’s illustrates your point Really? Well.

Christopher Penn
Yeah, there is. So the rule of thumb that we often advocate for people is that if you look at your org chart, every row in an org chart every every station, Neil, executive, Matt is Director, manager, staff, whatever those those those horizontal are, you can draw across an organization that’s that you need a dashboard for at least each level in the company, because everyone’s and if you are on our webinar, our main webinar,

Unknown Speaker
about

Christopher Penn
analytics, every single row has its own metrics and KPIs. And one person’s metric is another person’s KPI, and so on, so forth. So you need those, those things. The dashboards themselves are getting more sophisticated Google Data Studio offers us the ability to do things like calculated fields and advanced filtering and things. But they still don’t do data processing, how, in your experience, especially you’re looking at customer dashboards, how much customers trying to do everything in one location, one stop shopping, instead of doing best of breed processing, wherever the data is,

Katie Robbert
all the time, all the time. I think that, you know, one of the things that we know, being marketers ourselves and having worked within a company, within different types of companies is that there’s not enough hours in the day. And there’s to your original point, like there’s no such thing as magic, which I will debate at a later time. It’s off topic for this podcast. You know, I think that people are really trying to find that one stop shop that one tool that does it all. And I think that vendors are keen to that. And they’re trying to position themselves as that. And unfortunately, you know, when you’re overwhelmed when you have 8 million things to do, and reporting is the last thing on your mind or even that you have time for. You’re like, Okay, great, that was looks like it’s good enough, it’s going to do the thing for me. And it’s not to your point, it’s not analyzing the data is not transposing the metrics. It’s literally just pulling it from one place and showing it and then in another place, and what you see is what you get. And so these beautiful, magical visual dashboards are really, you know, just numbers on a page they haven’t, they’re not doing anything sophisticated. You still have to do that yourself.

Christopher Penn
But thing I’ve seen too, is that a lot of vendors, I don’t know whether this is just because people have shorter attention spans than ever or because Hollywood special effects are getting better than ever, but they’re trying to make dashboards look like the movies, which looks cool. But it obscures the action even more as opposed to one of the best dashboards I’ve seen is so boring. It just has four numbers on it. And that’s it and they are there’s no sharks no graphs is for scorecards and a green our up read our down. You immediate know when you’re looking at it. Yeah, I know I know what’s going on. But boy, it is it has zero sexy to it.

Katie Robbert
That’s the type of dashboard that I am after. But I understand like the the glitz and the glamour and the sparkles. And the explosions can hide a multitude of sins, like it can hide bad acting, it can hide really poor cinematography, it can account for a low budget or bad lighting. Great. That’s the movies in real life on a dashboard. Like Yeah, you can try to hide those things with like, bright colors and Starburst, whatever. But ultimately, the numbers of the numbers you you can only hide them so well. Until your CFO steps in is like so how come revenue has been down for six months and nobody said anything. That’s what you know that all of the glitz and glamour of a really pretty Visual Dashboard. Can’t hide what the numbers are telling you.

Christopher Penn
But it looks expensive.

Katie Robbert
It look Well, sure. And then the CFO will say, why did you spend so much money on this dashboard?

Unknown Speaker
So you really need to think about the choices that you’re making in your life.

Christopher Penn
That is that is painfully true. Yes. I remember we had somebody once who told us that our visualizations need to just look more expensive. In a consultant capacity, and we’re like, Yeah, but that’s the opposite of communicating information clearly.

Katie Robbert
Well, and and i think that that’s a really good point. And that might be a topic for another time. But just in a nutshell, you know, I think that there’s this emphasis on slick and sleek, and, you know, modern and innovative looking, when really, you know, that dashboard that you were describing with the four numbers, the red and green arrows up and down. That’s all really people should care about within a dashboard. That is literally what a dashboard is meant to do. And so it’s that storytelling, it’s that creativity that really extends beyond it, but you need the data, plain and simple in the dashboard to do all of those other really slick things.

Christopher Penn
Well, like you said it in equivalent to the movies, if you have no character development and no plot it blow everything up. Exactly. At that point, you just Michael Bay. But the special effects can’t hide the fact that there’s no character development, no plot or that. Yeah, you know, as as some some Game of Thrones fans will, will remark, you know, the last season of Game of Thrones really changed the substance underneath the style. And the same is true of the day of your dashboards if you if there’s no substance to them, if you’ve got every piece of information, no matter how carefully laid out to it, or cool, it looks, it still isn’t giving. At the end of the day, you’re like, you’re not satisfied in the same way that it you know, a lot of fans of that franchise were not satisfied with the substance of the story.

Katie Robbert
I think ultimately what it comes down to is to not be afraid of the data. So I think that this is something that we often encourage marketers to embrace is bad data is okay, bad data in the sense that it’s telling you things aren’t working is actually a good thing. Because the sooner that you see that the sooner you can do something about that. So I think the moral of the story is stop trying to make the dashboards be this magical Michael Bay world and really let it be this like documentary style PBS thing that, you know, no budget, no glitz, no glamour, but you know what you’re signing up for you fully understand what the data is telling you. And you can then do something about it. And automated dashboards like Google Data Studio is a really great thing for that. Because once you set it up, it should just pull the data and updated in near real time, so that you can then quickly be alerted. Okay, things aren’t working. Let me go ahead and fix it before it even gets up to the C suite. And then when you report up on a monthly basis, you can say, hey, on Tuesday, on the first Tuesday of the month, this thing wasn’t working. But don’t worry, we fixed it. Here’s the solution. And look, the numbers are going up again. And they’ll be like, Okay, cool. What else? What’s next? And it won’t even be a thing. And I think that that’s the other thing that people do wrong with dashboards is so they overproduce them. They try to mask the data, they try to make them do too many things, when really just give me the numbers just tell me what’s happening. Plain and simple.

Christopher Penn
Yep, one of the exercises that we recommend people do is that if you have a Data Studio dashboard already, make a copy of it. And then look at each number. And ask yourself, what should I do about this information, if you don’t know what any number or chart or widget is, hit the delete button on it. And by the end of the minute, or hour or whatever, whatever you’re left with should be the data you can actually take action on. And that is, that is your new dashboard. If you haven’t tried that exercise, go and do that it right after you finish up this episode, go and do that make a copy, see what your dashboard looks like when you take away everything that you can’t take action on.

Katie Robbert
I think that’s a really valuable exercise. I think another version of that, if you feel like you’re too close to it, is to make a copy, print it out and hand it to someone who’s not familiar with what you’re doing at all. And see if they can walk you through what this dashboard is telling you. Because Ideally, you should be able to hand the dashboard to anybody at any level, any industry, it doesn’t matter. And they should be able to say, Okay, I understand what this number here means. And I understand what this means. That’s also a really good gut check. And we actually do that with each other within Trusted Sites and within our trusted network of folk of friends a lot because sometimes you’re just too close to it. So give it to somebody who’s not familiar at all, I actually really like to do that with my husband, who’s not a technical guy at all. But he’s really smart and really insightful. And he gives me the most honest feedback on the stuff that I produce. And he’ll be like, well, this could work, but this doesn’t make sense. And so it’s a really good gut check. So use obviously talk with someone you trust. But I think Chris’s advice of can you take action on the data? And then also can someone who isn’t you read the data?

Christopher Penn
Exactly. So that’s a great place to wrap up. If you’d like to join our network, you can if you go to trust insights.ai slash analytics for marketers, our free slack group where folks just like you are talking about data and analytics in the in a closed community where people behave themselves appropriately. As always, please subscribe to the YouTube channel and to the trust insights newsletter and we’ll talk to you soon take care


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