The Data, The Context, The Insight; Transform Information to Intelligence

When working at an agency, there always seems to be different types of reporting. When I worked at an agency for large technology company, I lived by the motto, “prove your worth.” This continues to be my motto as I’ve moved to in-house marketing gigs. As I have tried to continually show my value, I found that there are often three parts to reporting that make it valuable to the boss: the data, the context and the insight.

The Data and the Context

The data is much like the foundation of the report. And just like the foundation of a home, it’s probably the least sexy component, but also a necessity.

Raw data by itself can often find it difficult to provide proper information. For example, if I were to tell you that a website had 2000 visits last month, what would that mean? Is that good? Is it bad?

Context to information is required when reporting to almost anyone. The easiest way to bring context is often by comparison. By comparing these 2000 site to a different time period, you’ll have context of whether the site has improved or declined in visits.

This graphic by Hugh MacLeod captures the relationship between data and context perfectly. Data by itself is just information, context with that information provides knowledge.

Used with permission from gapingvoid llc

Used with permission from gapingvoid llc

Comparisons, segmentations, and visualization are the most common ways to provide that context to the raw data. Infographics could be considered king of context by the way they create comparisons and visualize the information. What will separate a great infographic from a poor graphic is by how quickly the context of the data can be understood.

The Insight

The third piece to the report is the most important of the report. Insight within the report is what makes the data, and the context relevant to that whom you are sharing the report. If data is information, context provides knowledge, then insight is the intelligence of the reports. The important thing to understand at this point is that the insight will vary depending on whom the report is for.

create-insight reporting

A data analyst, coordinator or technology specialist will often times have direct access to the raw data within a business unit or marketing team. Because these people are dealing with the raw data often and have complete access to the information, the need for insight when dealing with this group is minimal, because they can see impact from the numbers.

However as you move up the command chain, access to the raw data is not as accessible. The attention of managers and executive are spread wider as their responsibilities spread wider. The need for insight within the report increases dramatically. So knowing who you need to report to depends on the insight and the amount of insight is required with the data. And the person that needs to provide the insight is the person who is closest to the data.

What Does Good Insight Look Like?

Insight might be one of the main buzzwords you hear in 2015. But what is insight? In the context of reporting, it is your ability to clearly perceive information, understand the significance of an event or action, and then be able to articulate what that significance means in relations to business goals and objectives.

At Right Intel, we focus a lot on the insight bubble that is available on any piece of intel brought into our knowledge dashboard. We work a lot with companies on training them how to use that insight bubble to share true insight. There are typically three rules of thumb that we try to have them promote within the insight bubble.

  1. Make it Relevant

    Your insight is the perfect opportunity to make data, information, and content relevant to your intended audience. This is your chance to answer the question, ”So what?”

  2. Provide the Action Items

    What is the next step? What adjustments need to be made? Or what should we do now? This is your opportunity to tell the executive team that they have the right person doing the right job.

  3. Detail the Impact on Business

    By doing the action Items, or by comparing to historical events, can you predict the impact that this information has on your business?

Deliver your Insight

Your insight can only provide value if people are seeing it. Delivering the insight within your report is extremely important. The American Marketing Association put out their new Analytics in Action survey last month. In that survey, they asked who had access to insights and information, and the method in which they were delivered. Their finds showed that PowerPoint, Email, and dashboards are the most popular way to deliver the insight.


Shameless Plug: Evaluate how your company is currently delivering reports and insight throughout the organization. Right Intel offers a solution to help deliver your insight to targeted teams.

Real Value

Quoting from the great Avinash, “If 50% of your dashboard is just words in English, that is fantastic. Your value will not come from being the deliverer of data. It will come from being a knowledgeable person about what to do with the data, what actions to take.”

Data and context may seem like obvious pieces to a report, and when I was young and at an agency, that would be where I focused most of my attention. However, over the years, I’ve learned the value of insight within the reports created is how you live up to the motto “prove my worth.”

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