Web Analytics Association head on the best uses—and users—of dashboards

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Jim Sterne is president of consultancy Target Marketing, in Santa Barbara, Calif., and founding president of the Web Analytics Association. BtoB recently asked Sterne about the use of marketing dashboards.

BtoB: We've had charts and graphs for years, and CRM/SFA packages often have graphical interfaces. What's different about marketing dashboards?

Sterne: The goal is to bring together disparate information from multiple systems, to get a feeling for overall marketing health at a glance, to see if anything is wrong and if there are problems to be aware of and actions needed to be taken.

BtoB: How do organizations determine what to measure most effectively with dashboards?

Sterne: First, determine which metrics are indicative of success. Next, provide the right information to the right people. When I'm driving my car, I only need to know if the oil is too hot. The exact temperature doesn't matter to me as much as it does to my mechanic. Similarly, the higher up in the organization you go, fewer data are needed.

BtoB: What advantages can marketing departments claim for this technique over, say, traditional reports that will convince management of its value?

Sterne: A dashboard is another way to display the information that's found in reports. Some people look at a spreadsheet full of numbers and can instantly comprehend their relationships. For others, charts and graphs deliver information faster. If I fall into the latter category, a dashboard showing red-yellow-green can instantly show if more research or action is required.

BtoB: When might the use of dashboards be inappropriate? Are some people better off with that old standby, the electronic spreadsheet?

Sterne: True, advertisers on the front line are better served by looking at a spreadsheet, to see the click-through ratios of all banner ads running that day, for example. But for their managers, they need only know that, say, two out of 20 advertisers are below par in click-throughs. In this case, a dashboard does the job quickly and admirably. And his director in turn may only need to know that the overall advertising program is hovering into the green part of the gauge. Should it dip into the yellow, the big boss can drill down to see which managers are having problems.

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