Where to Find ‘The Why’ Behind Your Marketing Performance

Chad Kearns, Vice President of Marketing Services

Marketers are expected to gather, interpret, and summarize a whole lot of data. The ability to interpret data and turn that data into insightful and actionable analysis is fundamental for marketers at any level.

The marketing lifecycle starts with planning and evolves into forecasting, executing, reporting, iterating, forecasting again, executing again, reporting again, iterating again, and on and on and on.

I get to see a lot of reporting analysis in my role. Some of that comes from my agency team; most comes from clients, competitors, vendors, or peers. Much of what I read or hear struggles to explain the why behind the numbers. As marketers, we’ve got to get better.

Look Beyond ‘The What’

Stop talking only about what happened when summarizing a performance report. What happened is a summary of the numbers. X was up 12% year over year. Y is now ranking for A, B, and C terms. Articulating what happened is useless since your reports already show that. And if your reports don’t clearly show what happened, demolish your reporting template and start over.

The real value in reporting analysis is clearly articulating why the numbers landed where they did. Why did the trends shift in a certain direction? Why was the forecast crushed? Why was the forecast missed? What factors led to the change in performance?

Use your opportunity to share the why behind the what; that is where real insight starts.

Focus On ‘The Why’

The why is not something everyone should be able to clearly understand after reviewing the numbers. Your analysis—the why—whether presented verbally or through writing, is where you as a marketer bring value.

A LOT of folks struggle with this. Writing about what is easy. It’s right in front of you on the report; regurgitating that information doesn’t take much expertise. Good marketers contextualize the numbers, providing the story behind what happened.

Where to find the why is everywhere. Some reasons are within your control; others are not. If you’re struggling to explain why performance is changing, here’s where to start:

Internal Strategy and Tactics

There are far too many strategic and tactical levers that organizations control to list them all here. It is important to realize that no matter how big or small, every change executed will impact performance.

These are just a few of the many levers that can explain those performance changes:

  • On-site copy changes
  • Conversion path design/UX adjusted
  • Ad spend adjusts up or down
  • Ad features new creative asset
  • Product/service value proposition changes
  • Price/offer changes

This list can go on for days.

The key is to really hone in on what changed and how those changes could have impacted your data. Connecting those changes to your performance starts to contextualize the why.

Competitor Strategy and Tactics

What are your competitors doing?

The list shared above highlights some of the things that you can control within your marketing landscape. Your competitors control those things as well within their go-to-market strategy.

The adjustments they make absolutely impact your performance.

Finding ways to keep track of your competitors can be a goldmine for why your performance changes. Again, their changes contextualize your performance.

Third-Party Traffic Sources

Every traffic source sending users your way aside from Direct comes through a third-party website or platform of some kind. Google, as an example, drives paid and organic traffic to websites every single day.

Layout changes affect search result pages. Available ad inventory and average cost per click rates flex. Links back to your site come and go.

When performance changes, don’t forget to look at where your traffic is coming from and how decisions by third-party drivers could alter your performance.

The theme: these changes explain the why behind your performance trends.

Industry Benchmarking

‘Is that good?’ is a question we often get from clients at the agency.

While difficult to find data to perfectly fit your competitive landscape, industry benchmark reports can be a decent way to provide context to performance against the industry standard. It’s also a good way to see at a high-level, where performance metrics should be.

The Conversion Benchmark Report from Unbounce is another example of industry-level benchmarking available.

As performance metrics shift up or down, it’s important to understand how the landscape is shifting. As it shifts, so will performance.

Consumer Behavior

Audiences are constantly evolving how they consume marketing. Device types change, the technology used changes, sentiment and attitudes shift over time.

Marketers must be in tune with these shifts in consumer behavior.

Pew Research Center consistently produces well-researched data that may connect with your audience or intended market. Pew is just an example of one research-based firm producing data and analysis.


Technology impacts performance.

When technology changes, marketers need to understand what it means for their marketing program, and how that impacts performance.

Technology advances could come from device types and user behavior on those devices. It also comes from platform capabilities.


Online privacy regulation is front and center for us as marketers right now.

More and more regulation around how the internet is used for marketing is imminent, and the impact will be felt by those who are focused on marketing online.

We’re already starting to feel the impact of it.

GDPR and CCPA became common vocabulary in our world.

Changes to iOS14 pose impending problems for marketers.

Laws and regulations on how we can use the internet and technology will continue to force marketers to pivot and performance shifts.

External Environment Factors

Anyone see their metrics change when the pandemic hit?

The connection between that and performance was easy to make for many. Far more subtle factors out of your control may not be on your radar though.

Current events impact marketing.

Staying in tune with what’s going on is a must.

Create Context to Discover ‘The Why’

Contextualizing marketing performance is crucial to analyzing performance and iterating strategy.

Context is found in so many places around us. There isn’t a formula or workflow to perfectly build context for your marketing program; it’s uniquely formed depending on your industry, experience, and the resources around you.

Find the right approach to contextualize your marketing performance and see how your ability to analyze and iterate strategy grows.

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