Let’s be honest. Marketing and data have always been a slightly odd couple. On the one hand, there is the creative marketing genius who masterfully crafts words into digital stories but may sometimes shy away from cold hard business figures. Then you have the analytics wizards who can skillfully weave raw data into facts and figures but are somewhat lacking in creativity and imagination. However, the immense potential of leveraging data to understand how consumers interact with brands is increasingly bringing both sides to the table in the interest of forming a symbiosis that promises to be the next Cinderella story of the marketing world.
In order for the relationship to work, however, data needs to tell the story of how your marketing investment has led to your digital success. This is where effective data visualization is so promising, as it makes complex data accessible to your entire marketing organization and, in turn, serves as a basis for sound decision-making. But like every good story, there is a villain – in this case the dark forces of data integrations unraveling, messy user interfaces, overly complex user sharing options and exploding license fees.
Google’s Data Studio is here to save the day with a user-friendly dashboard tool that lets you generate visualizations literally in minutes – not hours or days. Several impressive features caught our eye right away:
- Data source integration – Data Studio has integrated, native connectors for lightning-fast data retrieval from the major Google platforms, including Google AdWords, Google Analytics, DoubleClick and YouTube. You can also integrate your own data from your internal databases, Google Sheets, Big Query, or with simple file uploads.
- Ease of use – Starting with a blank page, you start by choosing a data visualization type, which you then drag and drop onto your page. It’s that simple. You can also further enhance and refine your visualizations and page layouts.
- End user interactivity – Give your end users control over the data shown in the dashboard by adding filter control functionality to change dimensions like date ranges, campaigns, country and so forth.
- User sharing – An important feature, especially for larger organizations, is the ability to share different dashboards and reports with different stakeholders. You can share any data that is otherwise only accessible to you or restrict who sees data depending on their own access rights. You can also simply share dashboards with specific people in the same way you share files on Google Drive.
This is an example from Google, how the Data Studio dashboard could look like.
However, Data Studio does have some clear flaws, and you will have to assess the trade-offs depending on your own needs:
- No built-in social media sources – It doesn’t come as any big surprise that Data Studio isn’t available (yet) with pre-built data source integration plug-ins for major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat – which is a real shame considering that social media is making up a bigger part of marketing campaigns all the time. It’s still possible to integrate data manually with data exports or automatically using third-party connectors (such as solutions like Webrepublic’s flexReports), but it certainly put a damper on our initial excitement.
- The pro’s objections – There are a couple of tasks that other tools handle better than Data Studio. One downside of Data Studio is that there is no funnel visualization, which is very useful for visualizing checkout funnels or user journey flows. Secondly, when your website generates a large volume of data, Google Analytics uses data sampling to increase its query and calculation performance. However, Data Studio doesn’t notify you when data sampling is active, so proceed with caution! Thirdly, you can’t add two different data sources to a single visualization, such as a performance comparison of different Google AdWords Accounts. You can do this, however, by integrating it first into Google Sheets. And speaking of data integration, there also isn’t any data preparation workflow for linking multiple datasets. As a result, the possibilities for connecting your on-premises databases are limited.
That said, we would still give Data Studio a thumbs up overall. Taking the technical complexities out of the equation lets marketers focus their time and resources on what actually matters for their business.
As easy as Data Studio is to use, we oftentimes see marketers jumping the gun when it comes to the collection of their marketing data. The biggest pitfall to be avoided is not taking enough time to outline a metrics strategy that is closely aligned with your digital marketing objectives. By doing so, scattered dashboards that don’t provide much in the way of relevant information for specific stakeholders can be avoided. If you haven’t yet done so, we suggest that you start thinking about taking the following steps:
- Identify your business priorities and translate them into sets of strategic and tactical KPIs. Make sure you gather data requirements from your key stakeholders.
- Make sure your campaigns and website tracking have a solid foundation that delivers high data quality.
- Set up processes that facilitate the communication of key insights to the relevant stakeholders within your organization.
- Optimize your campaigns proactively.
Companies that succeed in this regard do not see any one tool as a silver bullet; they also invest time and effort into coordinating their people and processes in a way that best leverages their marketing data. Our Digital Analytics consultants can help you develop a sound metrics strategy that addresses your most important stakeholder requirements and helps you generate lean reports customized to meet your organization’s needs. Finally, our experts can help you ensure that campaigns and your web assets are tracked in a manner that is well-structured and ensures data integrity.
Google Data Studio is now available in Switzerland and is (at least for the time being) free to use. So don’t hold back and get started on telling your own marketing story.