Once Upon a Metric: The Art of Storytelling with Data

Author: Emilie Lee, Director of Analytics at Media Matters Worldwide

My fellow Analysts, perhaps this sounds familiar: You’re working on a campaign and have hit a point where the “story” is difficult to find. You’re a few weeks in (perhaps months?) and you are reviewing trends with an overwhelming amount of data to share. With the following tips, you will be able to identify your story with the added benefit of your audience feeling confident in your analysis and campaign management.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Alignment with your internal and external media team on the campaign objective, strategy, and analysis priorities is key. Is the advertiser most interested in creative performance? What about the CPA hitting a specific benchmark? Alignment can save time and guide you on your initial analysis path so you don’t get sidetracked.

When it comes to information the brand team can share with you, more is definitely more. Is there a content calendar or promo calendar that includes important customer emails with an incentive to purchase? This information can give you insights into why certain metrics may have shifted on a specific day.

As a best practice, don’t go more than a few weeks without sharing a performance nugget externally. This allows you to test the brand’s appetite for data-related conversations, have a gauge of their happiness level with the campaign, and understand where their priorities are based on the types of questions they ask.

Read Between The Lines

Was the campaign’s KPI initially CPA but now the conversations are focusing on website traffic? The next time reporting is shared, be sure to highlight site traffic as well as why it’s up or down, year over year or month over month. If the conversation continues to be focused on traffic, this is when a chat with the advertiser about KPIs and how a traffic goal can cause CPA to become less efficient needs to take place. It will help manage expectations as well as ensure the campaign strategy is aligned with higher priority goals. Perhaps the campaign originally had a singular objective, but the brand team is now being tasked with something else. Maybe their internal goals are correlated with a different metric your campaign doesn’t highlight or wasn’t initially responsible for. Encouraging the person leading the campaign’s strategy to have an open discussion with the advertiser will promote full alignment on KPIs.


Don’t forget to consider larger business goals. Is the advertiser hitting their overall daily, monthly, quarterly revenue goals? What other online and offline channels are running outside of this specific advertising campaign? Request access to this data to identify the impact of other channels over time since campaign launch. For example, did natural search volume and email signups increase? If so, it’s possible the campaign incrementally lifted these channels. Similarly, if you have access to channel data during a break between campaigns while media is not running (and thus not driving to the advertiser’s site), and there’s a subsequent decline in natural and direct traffic, you have a great opportunity to request relaunching the campaign.


Remember to understand the user experience. Do different creatives drive to a different part of the advertiser’s website? If so, do certain creative landing pages place the user one click closer to the order or lead? If so, explain why that CPA may be more efficient than the other creative that places users one step farther away from placing an order. Having an understanding of user experience on desktop and mobile can provide you with key insights, including why CPA may be inefficient in general and put the team in a nice position to recommend a site change that could significantly help performance from every traffic source.


Ads themselves are what tie the entire campaign together and drive the more compelling pieces of your story. Does the creative have a call-to-action that aligns with the goal of the campaign? Is sequential messaging involved to help drive users back to the site and increase their likelihood of purchasing? Do you have a specific retail item within your creative that may be driving more sales? Is there an upcoming event or sale that can be supported through creative that amplifies performance further? Zooming out, does your creative resonate more with specific audiences? Bringing all of these performance notes together can drive a very informative story and list of recommendations.


Consistent testing is key to creating a fresh story. Your agency or in-house team should be aligned on the priority of the test, cadence, and goals of the campaign including budget and length. To this end, create a shared calendar document that maps out when each test will occur, a hypothesis of performance, projections, and an estimated date when the team will receive results. Sharing test results will liven up any performance story and give you additional testing light bulb moments for future campaigns.


Heads-up! Visualizations are key for your story and simplicity ensures a clear, concise message. Think of your favorite book when you were younger, the supporting visual completes the narrative, right? The same goes for your campaign story. Was there a spike in orders on a particular day? A visualization and supportive bullet can speak for itself and resonate more than the most colorful paragraph. Has the advertiser’s site traffic declined significantly year over year? A bar chart reflecting volume and percentage change year over year by traffic source will help the team understand where and why the traffic has fluctuated.


Is your team technical or data-savvy? Get into the details and speak freely with acronyms and metrics. However, if your group is unfamiliar with industry terms, consider simplifying language and be prepared to define your metrics within your story so the messaging is clear.


I can assure you advertisers will find a 3-to-4-sentence actionable summary far more impactful than pages of miscellaneous analytical notes. Create a v1, v2, and sometimes v3 of your reporting story to ensure that the final version shared out is succinct and clear. V1 and v2 will be helpful to document performance for your internal team; however, your advertiser team doesn’t need to see the in-the-weeds details unless they’ve expressed an interest in them.


Once the final version of reporting is created and you’ve covered all of the above, ask yourself: What really happened here over the last few weeks/months? If the advertiser was to ask you, “What do I really need to know?,” could you summarize performance with a few sentences and a visualization? If yes, congrats! You have your story. The rest of the report is comprised of any supporting points.

Remember, you, yes you, analytics guru, are the expert. Let all your campaign expertise let you guide the ship with confidence.

From there, you’ll all live happily ever after.

The end.