PART 3: Turning Data into Actionable Insights – Fundamentals of a Digital Marketing Report

Katie Holmes
12th May 2020

In part two of the fundamentals of a digital marketing report, we provided you with some powerful practices to help identify your most valuable marketing KPIs. In our third instalment, we shed light on how you can turn data into actionable insights to help drive strategic initiatives.

Data is not information.

You can have all the data in the world, but it’s useless if you’re unable to make decisions that can have a measurable impact on your business.

With the exponential growth of data, there’s a demand for marketers who possess the ability to transform data into valuable insight.

In the first part of our series, 24% of our respondents revealed they struggle when it comes to applying insight to data in analytics.

Data into Actionable Insights - Data into Information -

So, for our third instalment, we’ve put together a list of tips to help you connect to the missing link between data and valuable insight, and more importantly, make well-informed decisions about your marketing initiatives.

Let’s not waste any more time, and start by taking a look at the definition of an “actionable insight”. Then, we’ll discuss ways on how you can apply context to your analytics data.

Before we jump in, don’t forget to download the Secrets of a Digital Marketing Report to get even more tips from our industry-leading experts.

Fundamentals of a Digital Marketing Report - PDF Download -

P.S. As per usual, I have added a table of contents so that you can jump to the topic that is most relevant to you.

Let’s go!

Measure What Matters

You need to make sure your data is ‘actionable’ before you apply any insight.

What I mean is:

The data you want to translate, will it help improve your performance in the long-run?

Chris Rowett, Biddable Director at Journey Further, believes that “a report that can’t be used to optimise performance is effectively a dashboard. Offering only an update, without answering any questions.”

Data into Actionable Insights - Chris Rowett -

“You shouldn’t add any metrics or dimensions to your report that are not important to the objective of you or the clients. We come across a lot of impressive-sounding metrics that add no actual value to the context and can pull you away from the real objective,” says Chris.

So, how can you define an actionable insight?

Typically, actionable insights have one main characteristic:

They drive action, which leads to results.

It’s important to remember that not all insights are “actionable”.

Brent Dykes, Chief Data Storyteller at Analytics Hero, recommends the following six attributes to consider when examining your data insights.

Data into Insight - Brent Dykes -
Source: Actionable Insights – The Missing Link Between Data and Business Value

Alignment: Insights that are closely tied with growth objectives are more likely to drive action. It’s easier to convert strategically-aligned insights into action when they’re directly related to your organisational growth objectives.

Context: Without context, your insight can spark confusion and lead to more questions than answers. Having the right context in places helps ensure that your insights result in action and not an unwarranted scepticism (make sure you stick around and I’ll show you how to use the “5 Ws of Reporting” to apply context to your data).

Relevance: Insights are subjective depending on your audience. To be relevant, insights need to be delivered to the right audience, at the right time, in the right setting. If insights are presented to the wrong audience, then they won’t receive the attention they deserve.

Specificity: The more specific the insight is, the more likely it can be responded to. Typically, insights based on KPIs can reveal interesting anomalies but lack sufficient detail to drive immediate action. So, if an insight doesn’t instantly explain why something occurred, then it’s not deemed actionable. That said, with time and further investigation, it may well qualify as an actionable insight eventually.

Novelty: Novel insights have more of an impact than familiar insights. When you spot a unique pattern, it will be significantly more interesting the first time you view it than the tenth time. Novelty encourages people to test unusual findings in the hope that it unlocks a new opportunity. As humans, we become desensitized to insights that don’t challenge or evolve our current beliefs.

Clarity: If you don’t fully understand the importance of insight, then it can become overlooked and forgotten. Data visualizations can help interpret data in a digestible way (we’ll get to this soon). Clearly communicated insights develop a solid signal, and more importantly, prepare a pathway for an action to occur.

By following the six attributes above, Brent Dykes believes that you can weigh how “actionable” your insights are from your analytics tools.

Never Report Data Without Insight

“We don’t like to present clients with pages of numbers and no insight. We take the time to explain the data, what this means for their business and how we will adapt our strategy accordingly,” says Jo Seward, Digital Marketing Manager at Run2 Digital.

Data into Actionable Insights - Jo Seward -

Just because your numbers appear impressive in isolation, doesn’t mean they can go on and inform future strategies.

Isolated numbers in a report can spark confusion amongst your readers and can pull you away from your real objectives.

Kier Humphreys, Head of Customer Experience at Sagittarius, advises that you shouldn’t report ”metrics on their own.”

“Don’t leave wiggle room. Explain what the numbers mean. That’s where you earn your money, not just in providing the numbers,” says Kier.

Context is Key

Data only becomes valuable when it’s paired with context.

If your report isn’t formed by context, then you’re essentially presenting arbitrary numbers.

And, we’ve already discussed how presenting data in isolation can spark confusion and lead you down the wrong path.

Context adds meaning to data and can help tell a story about your performance.

For Chris Rowett, he believes that “the analysis that accompanies a report should never just state the results.”

“The report already does this, so you are simply turning numbers into words and duplicating the work. The idea is to connect the numbers in the report with contextual bridges,” says Chris.

So, what’s the best way to apply context to your data?

A technique I like to use is the 5Ws of Reporting.

Yep, that’s right.

The same 5Ws you learned in school.

Who, What, Where, When, Why?

This simple, yet effective formula, is a great way to structure your data and can create an interesting story about your performance.

Actionable Insights - The 5Ws of Reporting -

The 5Ws of Reporting:

Below are a few examples on how to use the 5 Ws so that you can apply context to your data.

P.S. I must point out. The W’s you decide to use, depend purely on your objectives. You shouldn’t need to implement all these examples below. In most cases, less is more. Although, hopefully, this list of examples is enough to help you get started.


For example, Mindy Gofton, Head of Marketing Strategy & Innovation at I-COM, said “if we’ve been focusing on improving the content on a client’s website, we would highlight changes in traffic or conversions on the pages we’ve changed. If we’ve been running a PR campaign, we would explain what campaign has impacted brand searches or traffic to the services being promoted in the campaign.”

“Based on the results, we would then explain what the next steps would be. What the client can expect in the next strategy cycle, which can help them understand why we’re recommending the next stage in the strategy to be delivered in a certain way. We have found that reporting in this way, rather than by sending reams of statistics and ranking positions, really helps clients understand the impact of their digital marketing campaigns because they need the interpretation of the numbers far more than they need the numbers,” says Mindy.


For Kherrin Wade, Strategy Director at Adido, “the main point of reporting is not so much delivering KPIs and how performance has faired, but rather “why” things have developed the way that they have and how to make the most of learnings moving forward.”

“Our reporting takes shape to include WoW data and yearly trends to provide that context along with a detailed analysis of the search and competitor landscape,” says Kherrin.

Consider Wider Factors

As well as using the “5 Ws of Reporting” to apply context to data, you can also shift your focus to consider wider factors.

Colin Harrison, Director at Nivo Digital, told me that they provide “valuable insights into wider factors.”

“In addition to reporting on the general metrics such as website traffic and top-level conversions like phone calls and contact form completions, we provide valuable insights into some wider factors that can influence results in our reports,” says Colin.

Colin shared some examples, which I have listed below:

Over the years, Nick Craig, Managing Director at Mackerel Media Ltd, has moved to a position of adding value through reporting and achieves this by providing intelligent analysis and insight in underlying performance data.

Nick told me that this “helps the client see the trends and changes that are not immediately apparent”.

“Anyone can easily report on percentage uplifts or downturns in organic traffic, but how many people examine that to understand the underlying factors and pressures that have resulted in that outcome? We try to look at every aspect that could be influencing that change, explore whether it’s part of a trend, and educate the client on the true reason for it happening, and how they might turn that to their advantage,” says Nick.

Data into Actionable Insights - Nick Craig -

He explained, “the best way to summarise this would be that we tell the client what they don’t know, not what they do know. There’s no value in telling a client something they can easily get from the Analytics, but there is value in helping them understand that the in-store activity they ran in France last month correlated with an uplift in average ecomm basket values from male customers over the age of 45. Or, that if they shifted their delivery cut-off windows by 48 hours, they could capture +27% incremental revenue in the south-east of England for a time-limited campaign.”

Apply Revenue Insights Where Possible

So, we touched upon this in part two of our series, but it’s important that we iterate this.

For Michael Ferrari, Owner at Pen Cap Online Marketing, “one of the most important parts of reporting is getting granular enough to show how specific strategies and tactics have improved the bottom line.”

Data into Actionable Insights - Michael Ferrari -

Michael told me that he recently performed a fairly big content pruning project for a client.

“When we implemented the changes, I made sure to note in our reports the date we made the changes, the pages/parts of the site it would impact, and then show the difference in traffic, conversions and revenue from the date of implementation moving forward. In this case, we saw a major boost in impressions and sessions for our targeted pages (thanks to less cannibalization), which lead to those pages driving in more revenue through additional conversions,” Michael explained.

Marketers that embrace a revenue focused model have a more significant impact on their organisations.

Although, 18% of our respondents admitted that they struggle to attribute revenue data to their most successful marketing initiatives.

Data into Actionable Insights - Revenue Insights -

Mainly because out-of-the-box attribution models in tools such as Google Analytics don’t provide a full picture of the activities you’re delivering.

“You’d be surprised at how many digital marketing reports neglect to mention ‘the A-word’,” says Ash Winder, Lead Digital Marketing Executive at SQ Digital.

He added, “Scarily, this means decisions are being made that could negatively impact future performance, due to the budget being weighted more heavily towards channels that on the surface appear to generate conversions. Attribution can seem a daunting or overly technical model to understand, particularly if your audience consists of board members and senior personnel who don’t quite understand marketing but need to know they are getting a return on investment.”

To help generate revenue insights, Ash told me that they “put attribution modelling into layman’s terms by segmenting last-click attributed conversions alongside other attribution models to visually represent the overall impact of each channel”.

Data into Actionable Insights - Ash Winder -

“This allows us to discuss budgeting with a customer to ensure we are aggressively pushing channels that drive conversions, not just those that are credited with them, to help grow businesses. Despite the advancements in algorithms and ‘machine learning’, consumer’s online behaviour has never been less predictable than now. However, by analysing and reporting on varying attribution models, you will be able to both reapportion budgets and gain a better insight into how your audience interacts with your website and brand. This allows you to better optimise your ad copy, ad delivery and landing pages,” says Ash.

Important Note: SQ Digital uses Ruler Analytics’ call tracking software, Google’s Store Visits data alongside customer’s internal CRM data to build a big picture of the impact marketing has on their sales. Book a live demo, and learn how to connect the dots between sales and marketing.

Use Visuals to Show your Findings

“Drop data-centric tables for graphs and charts where applicable, this makes important information easy to digest for key stakeholders and can be a more effective method of communicating your point,” says Ash Winder.

As the famous saying goes:

A picture is worth a thousand words.

It is estimated that 65% of the population are visual learners.

Data into Actionable Insights - Visual Insight -

Using charts and graphics are a great way to help your readers follow and understand your data research.

Just remember not to report numbers on their own as it can lead to confusion among your readers.

Here are a few benefits of using visuals throughout your report:

Define a Solid Plan

Ash Winder believes one most important section of any report is “the recommendations and insights you provide”

“Your expertise is incredibly valuable and that’s what turns a report from simply being numbers on a screen to an insightful document that has actionable outcomes and ultimately provides the platform for growth,” says Ash.

He added, “you should be working on a model that regularly reports > reviews > hypotheses > acts. This will ensure all data generated is meaningful. And, will identify key strengths and weaknesses in your current strategy that can be leveraged/solved to improve future performance.”

Key Takeaways

So, what have we learned in part three?

I hope you enjoyed this third instalment of our digital marketing series. I’ll see you in Part 4 – The Fundamentals Of A Digital Marketing Report – Producing a Campaign Analysis.

Don’t forget to download the secrets to creating a powerful digital marketing report for even more valuable insight.

Fundamentals of a Digital Marketing Report - PDF Download -