Adobe Summit Breakout Session: Data Storytelling

This session was not very technical and really had nothing to do with SiteCatalyst specifically, but data presentation in general. As analysts we’re comfortable in the details and the numbers, so it can be hard to pull ourselves out of the weeds and remember that our audience doesn’t care about what segmentation logic we used, but “what should I do to make my business better?” This session had some good best practices for packaging up the data and putting a cherry on top. (PDF of the presentation can be found here.)

A few random quotes:

  • “We hear facts, but we feel stories.”
  • “If you lead with data, people’s shields come up. Dry, factual arguments are met with skepticism.”
  • “If you lead with a story + data, shields come down. The story allows people to drop their intellectual guard.

NOTE: Every single presenter must have been given that third piece of advice, because I swear the first 10 minutes of every single presentation at Summit was some useless, often unrelated tangent: ReportBuilder and U2, Discover and river surfing, etc.  So while I agree a story can be useful, I would argue the story needs to be RELEVANT.

A reminder on the basics of a literary story arc, and mapping those to a data story:

  1. Introduction / Setup:  background of current situation, identify main problem or opportunity
  2. Inciting Incident / Rising Action: share the findings from the data to reveal deeper insights
  3. Climax / Denouement: present major finding or key insight (a-ha! moment)
  4. Falling Action / Resolution / Conclusion: give recommendations

Some advice on visuals:

  • build the customer journey with visual elements (use screenshots of the site to remind audience what the visitor sees)
  • identify the right data (add context by comparing to another date range, another segment, etc.)
  • identify the right visualizations for that data (don’t get fancy because you can, 2D charts along common aligned scales are best for accurate comparisons, avoid pie charts)
  • remove unnecessary noise (no more than 4 lines in a line graph, if you must use a pie chart have no more than 5 slices and lump all “other” into 5th slice)
  • highlight what’s important (use colors, annotations, etc…don’t make the audience work to find what you want them to see)
  • make it easy to consume: “Never force your audience to memorize, organize, or calculate numbers in their head.” (omit unnecessary chart features, use clear labels and chart titles)

5 things to avoid which will derail your story:

  1. not knowing your audience
  2. using unfamiliar analytics jargon
  3. sharing too much detail  (be selective in what you share and don’t feel obligated to substantiate everything, the audience likely trusts our expertise and is not interested in the analytics process, only the insights)
  4. leaving out valuable context
  5. talking too much and not allowing time for discussion

And tips from a client who has a “Chief Storyteller” on staff:

  • get your point across, one point or illustration per slide, overall story should have a moral or lesson
  • when presenting to an executive, distill into how it will drive business, and two cocktail talking points
  • you don’t need to show the analysis, only the results (put the analysis in an appendix)

Ouch. That last one hurts. But it’s true. When it requires 25 data points broken into 10 segments trended over 13 months to find some insight, we want to show our hard work.  And as linear thinkers, we want to walk through the logic of how we came to our conclusion.  It’s a good reminder that sometimes the best analysis (even if it took 2 days and 5 pivot tables) can be distilled into one sentence…

Unlike this post.


Adobe Summit Breakout Session: ReportBuilder

At Summit 2014, there was a session called “Adobe ReportBuilder: Attaining data mashing (Excel)ence“.  (Here’s the PDF download of the presentation.  It will show more detail than this post.)  It was one of the more helpful sessions. If you don’t know what ReportBuilder is, it’s an add-in to Excel that allows you to build data blocks within your spreadsheet that pulls data directly from SiteCatalyst. (It used to be called Excel Client.)  It’s a lifesaver for recurring scorecards where you constantly have to pull the same metrics with updated time ranges. No more exporting / copying / pasting!

While I find ReportBuilder to be pretty self-explanatory and Adobe has training videos on the basic functionality, at Summit they shared these useful new features and/or best practices:

Use separate Excel tabs for controls versus data

One of the most powerful features of ReportBuilder is that you can have the report blocks set up to dynamically pull certain report parameters from cells in Excel. Adobe’s first tip was have one dedicated Excel tab for all your controls/inputs, and separate data tab(s) that contain the data blocks:

Advanced / shortcut rolling date expressions

If you choose “Rolling Dates” from the date selection dropdown, there is an additional link for “Show Advanced Options”. Those allow you to write expressions to more exactly identify your rolling dates. Customized Expression Elements:

  • cd = current day
  • cw = current week
  • cm = current month
  • cq = current quarter
  • cy = current year

Expression Examples:

  • From cm-13m to cm-1d (returns the last full 13 months of data)
  • From cw-13w To cw-1d (returns the last full 13 weeks of data)
  • From cd-7d To cd-1d (returns the last 7 days of data)
  • *always add “-1d” to eliminate partial, current day data


Editing multiple report blocks at once

While using cell-based inputs can eliminate the need for this feature, if you happen to still do it the old clunky way there is an option that will save you time by allowing you to mass-edit several report blocks at once. On the “Add-Ins” ribbon in Excel, select “Manage”, highlight the report suites you want to mass edit, select “Edit Multiple”, and follow the wizard to update the report parameters. Don’t forget to refresh!

Dependent data blocks

These are useful if you have a report that returns a list of line items that you want to use as a filter in another data block. I didn’t know this was even possible!

Anomaly detection

Using the previous 30 days as a training period, ReportBuilder can estimate the expected, upper, and lower range of data for a given metric.  You must be looking at a trended report with daily granularity to be able to use this functionality.  Enabling this will help you identify weird outliers in your trended data.


Since it took me 2 months to write this post, with the May 22 upgrade it looks like all the events/metrics are now in the same pane and no longer separated by traffic/conversion metrics!  No more having to build separate data blocks for visits and revenue, yay!


Adobe Digital Marketing Summit 2014

This year was the first time I was able to attend Summit since the beginning of my web analytics career 10 years ago. After attending eTail and, my expectations of any digital marketing conference were super low. In my recent experience, these conferences have solely been venues for marketing douchebags to see how many times they can toss about the latest marketing buzzwords. “Big data!” “Omni-channel!” “Predictive analytics!”

Although some of my buddies who also attended Summit said it wasn’t as good as past years, I was delighted. All the content was extremely relevant and tactical. I walked away with a few secret tools and lots of new ideas. And I’m going to share all those tools and secrets with you now. “Big data omni sharing!”

I’ll be writing up some specific posts about sessions I attended in person and share my extended notes and screencaps on those:

And the single document that was worth the price of admission for the entire conference:

  • Excel Template That Automatically Extracts SiteCatalyst Admin Settings