How to Tell Insights-Driven Stories That Prove Marketing Impact to Your C-Suite

Today’s marketers face many challenges communicating with the C-suite. But according to The CMO Survey, published by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, none are more vexing than proving marketing’s impact on financial outcomes.

The race isn’t even close. Nearly two-thirds of marketing leaders surveyed said that demonstrating impact to the C-suite is their top marketing leadership challenge. Nothing else scored over forty percent.

To meet this challenge, marketers must be able to communicate results powerfully and sharply enough to satisfy C-suite information appetites by not only showing meaningful impact, but also by doing so in a way that grabs the attention of your company’s time-strapped leadership.

Despite the increased use of powerful marketing analytics technology by brands, many marketers (CMOs included) remain unclear about how to tell compelling, data-driven stories about marketing’s impact.

Here are three things that can help you tell compelling marketing impact stories:

1. Avoid “swim-lane” measurement reporting

Marketers often talk about the results of their initiatives channel by channel. What they fail to do is paint the bigger picture of how all of those channels (both online and offline) interact with each other.

Such siloed results miss the bigger picture. They can easily give the false impression that marketing touch-points work independently of one another–a practice that’s been called swim-lane measurement.

Siloed measurement stories might, for example, greatly overstate revenue attributable to display ads or social media, and badly understate the revenue impact of, say, SEM or PR. Make sure your measurement stories recognize and demonstrate how different channels influence others and contribute to the bigger picture.

To tell a complete story of marketing effectiveness, you must organize and display information in a way that allows you to graphically show how it all fits together.

2. Construct complete and compelling stories

Marketers love to hit C-suite audiences with batteries of data and other analytical firepower. But when it comes to tracking marketing ROI, CMOs and other C-level leaders have little patience for fighting their way through a fog of data complexity.

A typical marketing data deluge lacks a key ingredient: context. In other words, data alone can’t make analytical findings resonate for the audience. Pure data will seem like just noise to most non-nerds. The stories you tell with your data must answer not just the “What?” but also the “How?” the “Why?” the “Who?” and the “So what?”

Before you create a single chart or table, examine your analytical findings for elements (stories) that reveal the purpose behind it all. Keep in mind the outcomes you are seeking while you look for intersections and connection points between your data and desired results.

It’s best to use an actual story-telling structure. Stories have characters, and those characters face challenges. Try to identify the “characters” in your marketing impact story, and the challenges they faced. Then show how the challenges were met, and the lessons learned.

Your stories will sound more powerful and authentic if you back up your facts with real life examples, anecdotes, and metaphors that help the audience relate to the information.

3. Offer informed recommendations and conclusions

Be sure to connect the dots for your audiences as you strive to create marketing analytics presentations that paint an ultra-high-definition picture of marketing performance and how it connects to specific results.

Don’t assume that your listeners will draw the same conclusions from the data that you do. Clearly state recommendations and conclusions so others aren’t forced to come up with their own.

It will help to present everything in a context. For example, are you comparing current state to prior state? A rate of change? A key goal-based number?

When you show comparisons (such as year-over-year, quarter-to-quarter, etc.), put them on the same slide, not across slides. And be sure to demonstrate causality with your data, not merely correlation.

Clearly articulate the decisions that have been or should be made based on your results. For example, one brand that was spending a major portion of its marketing budget on television discovered through advanced analytics that TV’s overall contribution had decreased. The team showed the point at which TV spending was producing diminishing returns, and was then able to confidently recommend a specific change in the marketing mix.

Spending a little time to hone your data storytelling skills will help ensure that all of your hard work on measurement and analytics doesn’t go to waste.

Now go create great stories!

Want to showcase data insights to executives at your brand? Download and customize this instructive data storytelling template for your organization.