Dashboard vs Report – What’s the Difference?


9 mins

Reporting vs dashboard

Table of Contents

Digital marketers today have access to tons of useful information thanks to a wide range of software solutions. You can now collect data from different channels across various devices and use it to come up with effective marketing strategies.

The best way to share this information with decision-makers, clients, and other stakeholders is with reports and dashboards. However, not many people are aware that these are two separate and distinct tools. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the difference between report vs. dashboard tools. More importantly, we’ll discuss how you can use each one to the fullest.  

What are reports?

In the marketing world, a report is a collection of data from different sources describing in detail how campaigns are performing within a specific period. It’s designed to help everyone — from interns and rank-and-file employees to managers and VPs — showcase their work and how it impacts the business. 

The marketing reporting process is organised. It involves gathering, curating, and analysing information and metrics (often at regular intervals), such as every month or quarter. Typically, it includes the use of charts, tables, and other forms of visualisations that make the data easier to digest. In addition, of course, the text format is also widely used. 

Reports come in many forms, and your choice would ultimately depend on what you want to accomplish. They can be as broad or as focused as you need them to be. What’s more, they can cover a specific period in the past or just the current set of information. 

To illustrate, it’s common for marketing agencies to create custom reports that are highly detailed but just share them internally. Then, they use it to evaluate their strategies and find the best way to optimise their efforts. 

When the time comes to present the data to their clients, the report they prepare is more focused and directly to the point. This approach is necessary so the client is not bogged down by too much information.

In this scenario, the goal of the agency and the client is the same. At the end of the day, they all want to attract more buyers, customers, or clients by optimising their marketing efforts. However, each one has a different way of looking at things, and this requires different sets of reports.

What does a marketing report include?

As mentioned above, a marketing report typically contains graphs and tables. That said, there’s so much more to it beyond the visuals. 

Here’s what else you can expect from a good report:

  • A strategy for marketing a product or service
  • Data for marketing analysis or competitor research
  • Information for product or service promotion
  • Marketing campaign data
  • Rundown of marketing goals
  • List of key performance indicators  

One thing that effective marketing reports have in common is that they provide the information that teams need to evaluate past performance. Doing this gives them the opportunity to fix existing issues and make improvements, or in other words, course-correct.

What are the benefits of generating marketing reports?

We’ve mentioned in passing the benefit of reports, which is clarity on the performance of your marketing campaigns. Here are the many other ways that reports can help you.

1. Cross-platform monitoring

Some reporting tools are capable of a lot of integrations, allowing you to pull data from different channels. Moreover, they let you present all the necessary information on a single page. This feature comes in handy if you want to compare the performance of your campaign across different channels.

2. Consolidation of marketing data

A good report collates and organises key pieces of information in one place, making it easier to spot and eliminate manual errors.

3. Gain insights into customer trends and patterns

Looking at data that covers a specific period will help you identify any behavioural patterns in customers and clients. Once you see how they respond to certain marketing efforts, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what they need or want. 

From there, you can come up with a more targeted campaign that will delight and exceed the expectation of potential customers. 

What are dashboards?

A dashboard is a tool you can customise using data visualisation to provide a clearer picture of key metrics relevant to your campaign. It’s short, usually fills a single page, and all of its information can fit on the screen.  

While marketing reports can cover both historical and current data, dashboards are focused on things happening in real-time. 

In addition, they provide a snapshot of only the most important metrics. That’s why dashboards are very effective when it comes to monitoring priority problems and goals where the situation changes from one minute to the next.  

A dashboard is an excellent tool for answering fundamental questions that marketers and business owners often ask, like, “How is the business doing right this second?” That’s because the answer, no matter how complex, can most probably be expressed in terms of a few numbers or metrics. 

Now, you might think that the primary question that a stakeholder would ask varies, depending on where they sit in the organisational structure. For instance, people in the HR department would have different concerns than members of the marketing team. 

The good thing about dashboards is that they are flexible enough for different applications. That’s because the agency or the company can create multiple specific dashboards, depending on their needs. They can be as comprehensive or as specific as necessary. 

There was a time when these tools were reserved for upper management, but those days were long gone. Now, virtually anyone can access self-service analytics and obtain the data that they need to do their jobs well.

What does a dashboard include?

A car’s dashboard is a panel of instruments that sits behind the steering wheel. It tells you how fast you’re running or how hard your engine is working. You could also tell when to refuel by looking at one of its gauges. 

At the same time, all the information it contains is easy to see. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road for too long to know if the oil temperature is too high or if you’re still within the declared speed limit. 

A marketing dashboard works much the same way. In fact, that’s how it got its name. It’s simple, straightforward, and, most importantly, up-to-date.  

Another thing that dashboards have in common is that they are very visual. That’s why they often contain the following:

  • Line charts
  • Bar graphs
  • Pie charts
  • Funnel charts
  • Pivot tables
  • Geo maps
  • KPI widgets

All these elements make it possible for you to monitor key information at a glance. 

What are the benefits of generating dashboards?

Aside from some of the benefits that have already been mentioned in passing, here’s what you stand to gain from using dashboards:

1. Helps guide business decisions

One of the biggest draws of using marketing dashboards is that they offer actionable insights. In addition, since they contain only relevant metrics and KPIs, you won’t be sidetracked by anything unnecessary.

2. Provides real-time information from multiple source

Another advantage that comes with using a dashboard is that it provides real-time information. As a result, it allows you to make timely adjustments to your marketing strategies and avoid wasting your resources on non-value-adding activities. 


Key differences between dashboards and reports

The difference between report and dashboard tools goes beyond their focus on the details or the amount of information they provide. 

Here are a few more ways that you could tell one tool apart from the other:

  • First off, reports are comprehensive and typically cover a number of topics that have to do with your overall marketing strategy. Aside from offering insights into the subject matter, it augments this by giving summaries and recommending a course of action. On the other hand, a dashboard focuses on a central topic or question and offers only current data. A good illustration is how a dashboard can provide up-to-date overall sales figures, whereas a report can cover regional sales figures, along with comparisons with previous time periods. 
  • Both dashboards and reports are useful tools that every marketer must learn how to use well, as they provide the most relevant metrics using visual elements. However, reports are exhaustive, and their tables often take up more than one page when printed. On the other hand, dashboards are only one page long and generally fit on the screen. 
  • Reports contain data that can go as far back as months or even years ago. As a result, it can give a pretty good idea of how your campaign or marketing efforts are progressing over time. In comparison, a dashboard only gives you a glimpse of what is currently happening.  
  • With dashboards, you won’t see a long list of metrics. The most it would contain are five KPIs that will give you an overview of any activity. Since its length is a bit limited, it typically centres on high-priority goals and issues. If you want to monitor something that is relevant or important, a dashboard is the best tool to use. Reports, on the other hand, are packed with data. They contain so much information that they are capable of painting an overall picture of your marketing initiatives. 
  • Both reports and dashboards contain visual elements like tables and graphs. However, there are a few key differences. We’ve covered how reports have tables that are a few pages long, whereas all the information on the dashboard fits on one page. Another deviation is that reports contain blocks of text to explain the visual components, while dashboards don’t.  
  • Another thing that sets dashboards apart from reports is the volatility of their data. Dashboards show the latest information only, making them more suitable for daily analytics business intelligence applications.
  • The last thing you should note about dashboards is that you need a higher level of understanding of the subject matter if you want to appreciate them. That’s because they are concise and deliver information in bits. There’s no accompanying text that can help you make sense of the visual elements. Reports, on the other hand, can be as long as you need them to be. Everything you need to understand the information is right there.

Similarities between dashboards and reports

At this point, you have a better idea of how different dashboards and reports are from each other. So let us take a few steps back and see why some people confuse them with one another in the first place.

Here are some of the qualities that both tools share:

  • First things first: both reports and dashboards are valuable tools for presenting data. They go about it in different ways, but at their core, they’re designed to provide useful and actionable information. 
  • Another common thing between the two tools is that they depend heavily on visual elements. Both use graphs, tables, charts, and more. These elements make it easier for the readers to digest the information being presented. 
  • Reports are more in-depth and have the tendency to be longer than dashboards. That said, there are instances where they can be one page long, just like dashboards.
  • Another characteristic both tools share is that you can customise them to meet your unique and evolving needs. This feature is critical because each user has unique needs and goals that require an equally distinctive approach. There are software solutions that let you drag and drop all the blocks that you need. Some even have an intuitive editor that shows you what your report or dashboard looks like as you craft it. That said, despite their functionality and effectiveness, both tools don’t require lengthy tutorials to use them to the fullest. 
  • Whether you’re a digital marketer, an employee, or a business owner, you need to create reports or dashboards at one point or another. More importantly, you’ll have to share them with the rest of the organisation. It’s the only way important information reaches the right people so they can make the right decisions. 
  • The good thing about dashboards and reports is that they are both shareable. Of course, the process may vary from one analytic tool to another or the permissions in place. Nevertheless, both tools have some kind of sharing function.

How to use dashboards and reports effectively

There’s no doubt that reports and dashboards open up many possibilities for marketers, business owners, and other stakeholders. You can use them separately or in tandem because they do a good job of supporting each other. 

The key is knowing which tool to utilise and when to use it. Here are some useful tips on how to get the most from reports and dashboards:

When to use dashboards

Dashboards offer valuable insight into specific metrics in real time. That’s why it’s a great option for cases where you need to make quick decisions, including the following:

1. Investment portfolios

An investment portfolio is a collection of assets that usually include stocks, bonds, real estate, and even cash. Each one has an allocated percentage, which you could change at any point depending on how the components are performing. 

To keep your asset allocation on track, you need to have access to updated and real-time data. That’s where dashboards come into play.

2. Business performance

Business owners face tough situations left and right, where they need to make difficult decisions, and each choice could either make or break their operation. 

To stack the odds in their favour, they must constantly keep tabs on how the business is doing. This way, they have all the information needed to stay on top of things.

3. Web analytics

Web analytics dashboards go way beyond just measuring web traffic. It lets you see your website’s performance at a glance and make quick but informed decisions that can impact individual campaigns or entire strategies. 

When to use reports

Using the above examples as a reference, here are some cases where a report would be more appropriate:

1. Investment performance

If you want to see how well your investment has been doing for the past 12 months, what you need is a report.  

2. Quarterly business performance

Quarterly business reports can help a company’s stakeholders analyse and evaluate the organisation’s health and performance. That’s because they provide data, insights, and recommendations, all of which are necessary to make the right business decision.

3. Year-on-year website performance comparison

Most businesses have a peak season and a lean season within a 12-month period. That’s why it often makes sense to compare performances from year to year. A report is a valuable tool in this scenario.

4. Research report

Marketing activities like competitor research require thorough investigations and data analysis, which is right up the alley of reporting tools. In these cases, a dashboard won’t work because it focuses on real-time information only. 

Using marketing reports and dashboards is a must, especially in this data-driven age. It helps business owners and marketers see things more clearly, allowing them to make the right decisions and timely adjustments. 

Reporting Ninja’s marketing reporting software can help you make amazing custom reports and dashboards quickly and seamlessly. 

Sign up today for a free trial!

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