We marketers love our dashboards. Charts and graphs, Excel sheets full of KPIs. And when campaign metrics start trending up or down, depending on the objective, it feels good. That all the expenses and rounds of edits and meetings and countless emails and sheer time improved the bottom line or led to a positive human outcome.

But wait.

In his Harvard Business Review article 3 Ways Data Dashboards Can Mislead You, Joel Shapiro writes:

“Most dashboards, though, only cover the first —describing what has happened. Moving from description to prediction to action requires knowledge of how the underlying data was generated, a deep understanding of the business context, and exceptional critical thinking skills on the part of the user to understand what the data does (and doesn’t) mean. Dashboards don’t provide any of this. Worse, the allure of the dashboard, that feeling that all the answers are there in real time, can be harmful. The simplicity and elegance can tempt managers to forget about the all-important nuances of data-driven decision making.”

He goes on to write about the 3 Ways, with Way Number 3 — the misattribution of causality– resonating with quite a few of us at Vehr. It’s so easy to want to say Low Sales + Marketing/Social Media/Media Relations/Influencer Relations Campaign = Exceed Forecast. And in some cases, this absolutely could be cause and effect. However, as with all things, we should never take numbers at face value. There are a lot of things that positively affect sales, many of which do not involve marketing. For example:

  • Is the product seasonal?
  • Did the price change?
  • Did the distribution model change?
  • Was the salesforce trained? Or increased?
  • Did the packaging change?
  • Did Beyoncé reference it in a newly released single, unbeknownst to you?

Likewise, these same things can negatively affect sales, despite executing the most on-point campaign of your marketing career.

While marketing dashboard metrics are critical and should be reviewed regularly, we’d provide greater value to our organizations if we look at them in the context of the larger business environment and explore all the possible nuances that took us from A to B. That means we’ll need better access to data and collaboration with peers outside of the department. And it may mean additional expenses and rounds of edits and meetings and countless emails and sheer time. However, only then will we get the answers we need versus the answer we want.