October 7, 2014 ben salmon

What Do CMOs And Racing Drivers Have In Common?

So it’s probably not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of dashboards is motor racing, let alone this sport has a lot in common with CMOs.

The original meaning of the term dashboard is “the barrier of wood or leather at the front of a horse-drawn carriage to protect the driver from being ‘dashed’ by the debris thrown up by the horses’ hooves”.


The picture above shows an early dashboard – it’s is very straightforward and shows the concept of providing meaningful information has been around a long time. The dashboard in your car is very similar. It allows you to monitor the car’s speed, fuel and sometimes revs. Essentially the information you care about while driving.

The Racing Driver

So now let’s look at the motor racing environment. A place where tenths of a second count and where decisions have to be made every second. There is also a huge amount of data available to the teams and drivers, but what does a driver really want then they are out there on the circuit? Answer: a simple dashboard which they can glance at to understand their current lap time, difference from last lap, any warnings, and engine revs.

Illustrated below is an example of a race car dashboard. It’s a very simple and easy-to-understand view of the driver’s information. Not the most glamorous but very effective. When the driver gets back into the pits the data is downloaded from the car and analysed at a more detailed level, but we will look at that later.


race dashboard attributely

The Marketing Dashboard

So what is the definition of a dashboard in the business world? It is described as a graphical summary of various pieces of important information, typically used to give an overview of a business.

Looking at this definition the two big pieces which stand out are the important information and overview of a business.

So what about the CMO? Think of the senior marketing person, a marketing director or CMO, much like a racing driver. They need to know at any given time their core metrics. Potentially their brand tracker, cost per acquisition, new customers, lost vs. retained customers and average customer value. That’s it. Nothing else.

Overall they need to have the latest information at their fingertipn, so they are able to make their informed decisions quickly. Anything else?

– They need to be able to see very quickly what’s working and in which direction things are trending.
– They need to be able to understand what needs looking at and what should be focused on.
– They do not need to see this week’s newsletter open rate, the bounce rate on the website or even the number of Facebook likes on the social media page.

Time and time again because we are blessed with vast amounts of easily accessibly data we feel compelled to access it all to tell our story. Instead we need to simplify, simplify, simplify.

Too Much Information?

Think back to the racing driver. Can you imagine if we presented him with the following chart?

software dashboard2 attributely

Or this one

software dashboard1 attributely

These are the data readouts which get downloaded once the driver is back in the pits. It allows them to understand:

– their performance on the track,
– where they might find more time,
– how to remove unnecessary stresses on the car,
– the difference between them and other drivers they are competing with.

Now could you imagine this level of information being presented to them while they are driving at great speeds, while on the radio, changing gear, lining up the car for the next corner and making sure their nearest rival doesn’t get past. So why do we insist on doing the same for our senior marketing colleagues.

What the various different agencies, technology companies or internal departments need to understand is that simplicity is key. They only need to show the more detailed information when something is going wrong or when they get asked why something has or has not happened.

Is there an Easy Answer?

There certainly isn’t a simple or single answer to this very common problem but one of the first steps is to put in place a reporting or measurement hierarchy. In this way we can start to deliver the right information in the right amount of detail for the right audience. By using this approach we can then hope to provide decision making information to the right people based on the decisions they can and cannot make.

This can work in two ways. You can show a report to a marketing director telling them they have a high email bounce rate for their latest winter sales campaign, and are likely to be blacklisted, but they can’t do anything about it. They might be concerned about it, but only when it starts to affect customer responsiveness, engagement and therefore growth or retention.

Flipping this on its head, showing the database marketing manager that the overall brand metric has declined in the last quarter is again not something which they can directly affect or is relevant to their every day life. In the illustration below is an example of a reporting hierarchy.

reporting hiearchy attributely


Ideally we can start to simplify the information we have day to day into more bitesize chunks which are relevant to our different audiences. To wrap up here are some initial thoughts for creating a dashboard which is audience- rather than data-focused:

– Know your audience: align the information which is important to them.
– Define the metrics which matter: use these metrics which can be directly aligned to business objectives and which can be acted upon for the audience.
– Provide the answers WHEN they are needed not because they MIGHT be needed.
– Technology is the enabler not the answer. Ensuring that the metrics have been defined, that the data is there to provide the metrics and that the right level of detail is agreed upon must come first.

Thank you to race technology and Michiel Dijcks for their great motor racing images.

Tagged: , , ,

Start creating measurable results