Everyone knows that image is everything in marketing, but we often overlook the back-end of the process: reporting to management or the client on the results of our hard work. People seem to think it’s OK for the report to look raw, crude or technical because it isn’t visible to the general audience. Don’t make that mistake!
"If the statistics are boring, then you've got the wrong numbers." Edward Tufte
Most people place a disproportionate amount of value on the look of things. They want to be engaged. Entertained. Impressed. If you present the results of your efforts as a boring spreadsheet of numbers, they will feel let down, even if the numbers are outstanding. Edward Tufte was arguing that inspired design can actually cause the meaningful “right” numbers to stand out.
Your report needs to tell the reader what to look at, what to think. If you leave it up to them, they will take a least-effort path and possibly even discount the entire report as uninteresting -- and your value drops with the interest level.
So what can you do? Simple things. Decide what you want them to notice and make it stand out. Avoid raw lists of numbers – use highlighting; conditional formatting in Excel is a great feature! But don't overdo it; too much and your message is diluted. Think of the one or two things you want them to remember, and stop there.
Even better, use a chart, but not the default Excel chart. Spruce it up a little – it doesn’t take much. A minute of your time could be all you need for a lasting impression, a contract renewal, a budget approval, a good performance review.
Don’t let your personal brand slip at a crucial moment: when you are being measured for what you are worth. Invest the moment. Leave them impressed.
Mike Sullivan is the founder of Analytics Edge, providing simple Excel-based report automation products for individuals and small businesses.
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