Mikes-Photography / Pixabay

An executive dashboard is a simple one-page understanding between you and your executive team of marketing’s value and contribution.

All too often marketers tout traffic, page views, impressions, click-through rates, followers and retweets as indicators of marketing’s effectiveness. While keeping an eye on how these indicators are trending is useful, especially inside your marketing team, these are not the metrics your CEO is losing sleep over.

If you want to be a marketing superstar (and respected member of the C-suite) focus, instead, on business outcomes. Specifically, CEOs want growth. Their mandate is to increase the value of their company—its revenue, profits and share price.

As marketing leaders, you need to demonstrate that you are growing top-line sales, getting maximum return from your marketing investment, and positively affecting your company’s stock performance by creating a favorable perception.

In this article, we’ll cover the fourth of the core strategic marketing tools that every marketing leader needs in their management arsenal to maximize their team’s effectiveness: the Executive Dashboard.

I covered the communications brief, the messaging framework and the marketing playbook in previous articles. These five form the tried-and-true strategic tools marketing leaders need to save time, money, aggravation and rework.

  1. Communications Brief
  2. Messaging Framework
  3. Marketing Playbook
  4. Executive Dashboard
  5. Project Management Office (PMO)

The Executive Dashboard

All metrics are not created equal. Your web team needs to know the load time of your company’s website, while your social media team needs to track the number of likes, shares, and comments from your most recent social media post. But does your CEO? Probably not. Communicating the right metrics to the right audience is a critical role of marketing leadership.

Time-constrained executives won’t wade through mountains of data or suffer through presentations on marketing performance. An executive dashboard helps you communicate the most critical key performance indicators (KPIs) your execs care about in a concise, actionable, and visually appealing manner.

Executive Dashboard: What It Is

An executive dashboard is different than a marketing scorecard. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they serve different purposes and audiences. Used together, they are a hard-hitting combination for communicating and measuring marketing expectations and performance.

Like the dashboard in your car, an executive dashboard highlights the important things your executive team needs to be informed about—gas, oil, battery, speed, distance, and temperature. A marketing scorecard, on the other hand, displays performance information at a glance, like the scoreboard that keeps tally at sporting events—current score, inning, fouls, yards to go, and time remaining on the clock.

While the dashboard and the scorecard focus on performance information, the executive dashboard additionally focuses on the performance expectations of your CEO. That’s why it’s such an important management tool.

Executive Dashboard: Why It’s Important

The executive dashboard:

  • Reinforces the link between business objectives and marketing objectives
  • Provides an at-a-glance snapshot of marketing’s performance to senior management
  • Monitors the impact marketing is having on reputation, revenue, sales pipeline, and customer retention
  • Allows management to ask the right questions
  • Improves communication, confidence, and transparency between the executive ranks and marketing

Executive Dashboard: What It Contains

An executive dashboard is not a report on progress or status of current projects or upcoming events. Rather, it is a snapshot that addresses questions the C-suite is most concerned about—namely what’s working, what isn’t, and is our marketing investment paying off.

Keep these five tips in mind when developing your executive dashboard:

|1| LANGUAGE: You develop an executive dashboard for your executives. That means it needs to focus on business outcomes and include metrics that use the standard language of business … accounting.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania asserts “The story of any company, no matter the size, the industry, or the country of origin, is told through its financial records and reports. Income, debt, revenue versus expenses, compensation, and cost of retaining customers can all be found on financial statements.” Financial data is understood by any individual in the business world—from investors to employees.

Using existing financial data as the basis for your marketing metrics will ensure it is widely understood across the organization and respected for its accuracy.

|2| STRATEGY: Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate your strategic chops. Good marketing dashboards show a direct link between business goals and marketing outcomes. They tie into KPIs that your executive team tracks on an ongoing basis.

Executive dashboards should provide only information that’s useful, not what’s readily available. Through data, words, and visuals, dashboards can tell a story of how well marketing is advancing the business and financial objectives of your organization.

|3| METRICS: The metrics your executive dashboard includes will depend on the role marketing plays within your respective organization. Executive dashboard metrics can range from building reputation and brand to generating qualified leads, to attracting and retaining customers, to driving product adoption, and to enhancing the customer experience.

An executive dashboard is another great opportunity to have a dialogue with your C-suite and gain alignment on marketing’s role and greatest value to your company.

|4| OBJECTIVE: Use objective measures, rather than subjective measures, in your dashboard. Subjective measures are focused on outputs—counting how many things you’ve produced, be it events, collateral pieces, or campaigns. Subjective measures focus on efficiency—did you deliver on time, on budget? While these are good variables to keep on the radar, they are not the measures that matter most to your executive team.

Objective measures are stronger, focusing on outcomes (rather than outputs), return on investment (rather than completion), customer advocacy (rather than internal client satisfaction), and effectiveness (rather than efficiency).

|5| VISUALIZATION: The format of your executive dashboard can be as important as the information it contains. The best dashboards are communicated on one page or one screen.

Ensure your dashboard flows in a logical manner from left to right, from top to bottom. Dashboards that are visually appealing and uncluttered are also more inviting and can be easier to digest. Go easy on the footnotes and disclaimers—they will make your results appear shaky or unconfirmed.

Engaging a graphic designer to produce your final executive dashboard is time and money well spent. Studies have shown that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Use this to good advantage in visualizing your executive dashboard.

Dashboard Do Have Their Drawbacks

Despite their merits, executive dashboards do have their drawbacks. While they convey snapshots of important measures, they are poor at providing the nuance and context that effective data-driven decision making demands. They can even lead managers to incorrect conclusions.

For instance, one number on its own—such as the number of sales leads—without additional context doesn’t really tell your executives whether they should laugh or cry. This is where comparative or trending data is useful.

Dashboards also do a poor job of predicting future events based on past data or prescribing a course of action. Because of this, executive dashboards work best when used as a discussion starter, coupled with one-on-one meetings with your executive team.

Lastly, the marketing dashboard should be viewed as a living tool. Review and continually improve it on an ongoing basis.

Inspect What You Expect

The adage inspect what you expect is more than just a clever cliché. It is a management mantra. Make sure your marketing dashboard ties directly to your employee’s performance reviews. Just as a marketing dashboard communicates performance expectations, follow through on those expectations during your periodic performance reviews with your team.

As a marketing leader, you have an opportunity (and a fiduciary responsibility) to demonstrate to management why a dollar invested in marketing is better than a dollar invested in R&D, feet on the street, or product development. Marketers who can demonstrate impact on the company’s top and bottom line will be well positioned to make the business case for ongoing investment.

Enhancing your accountability and ability to adapt to change will be a key source of competitive advantage in the future. To help you on your journey I’ve developed some simple steps you can take, starting today, to increase your accountability and resiliency. I call these actions power moves and I’ve summarized the top nine in a marketing agility guide which is available as a free download.

This is the fourth in a five-part series on core strategic marketing tools every marketing leader needs in their management arsenal to maximize their team’s effectiveness.