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Use a business intelligence report to ask the right questions

This article will help you:
  • Build a business intelligence report based on multiple data sources
  • Generate hypotheses for testing and personalization
  • Use a template to create your own intelligence report

Ideation, the process of generating powerful hypotheses to drive experiments and campaigns, is one of the most important steps in experience optimization. It’s also one of the hardest.

Why? Optimizely's 2015 Benchmark Report suggests that optimization programs face three hurdles when it comes to ideation:

  • Many companies over-rely on quantitative and behavioral data for ideation
  • Most organizations use too few data sources as inputs for their hypotheses
  • Teams don't build a consistent process for consulting the data sources they use

Without a structured framework supporting the creative stage of experience optimization, it can be difficult to consistently generate impactful ideas. If your team needs help with ideation, consider building a business intelligence report to turn your data into action.

A business intelligence report gathers key insights about your site and industry into a single document. When you brainstorm hypotheses, the report helps foster creativity and ground your team's idea generation in data. 

When creating your report, draw from a variety of sources to build different perspectives into brainstorm process. Consult direct data, or intelligence directly about your business such as heat maps, personas, and web analytics. Look to indirect data for industry expertise such as best practices and competitors' sites. Goal trees help you connect your optimization ideas to company goals.

An intelligence report rich in stories about your customer journey will help your program plan impactful ways to optimize your site. Use insights from your report to generate ideas for testing and personalization.


Click to create your own business intelligence report from this template.

What you need to get started:
Materials to prepare
    • Direct data: analytics, voice of the customer, heatmaps, user testing, and more
    • Indirect data: screenshots of competitor sites, articles, consultant recommendations
    • Goal orientation: an understanding of how your testing goals align with company metrics

People and Resources
    • Program Manager
    • Design resources
    • Marketer
    • Analysts

    • Collect data for the intelligence report
    • Analyze your data
    • Create a report

What you end up with
    • A business intelligence report

What to watch out for

    • Remember to perform this process year-round
    • Don't neglect to use this report for decision-making about the site in general, instead of just for ideation

Consult multiple data sources

Direct data, indirect data, and goal trees all provide different perspectives on your site experience.

Together, they provide context and insights beyond what you might see in a single source.

For example, imagine that your web analytics report (direct data) reveals that visitors drop out of the funnel on a certain page. As a result, you may decide to test a clearer CTA to push visitors further down the funnel. But in the process of reviewing competitors’ sites (indirect data), you notice another site personalizing their CTA. After reading about this idea on an industry blog, you decide that this tactic has the potential to be highly impactful. At this point, you weigh your options and decide to test whether personalizing the CTA works with your visitors.

In this example, the direct source - your web analytics - tells you where to optimize. Indirect sources complement this data by suggesting how you might approach this opportunity. When used together, different types of sources shed light on questions surfaced by another data source.

Build multiple sources into your intelligence report to gain more context for your visitors’ behaviors and generate meaningful hypotheses.

Build a business intelligence report

The comprehensiveness and depth of your intelligence report will depend on your program’s resources and maturity level. But any program, no matter the size, can use the report to strengthen its ideation process.

Here are a few steps to help you get started:

  1. Create a timeline for producing your report. Plan to finalize the report before your next major planning session.

  2. Find inputs for your report:

    Identify the data sources that your organization currently uses

    Use the list of direct and indirect sources below to identify new potential resources. Focus on sources that are meaningful for your business and that you can feasibly incorporate given team constraints.

  3. Assign responsibility for different aspects of the report to internal and external stakeholders. For example, ask the marketing team to review value propositions on competing sites or the web analyst to provide funnel segmentation analysis.

  4. Identify a few key insights from each data source to include in the report.

  5. Summarize these insights and gather them into a single deliverable.

  6. Once your report is ready, introduce it and socialize its use at the beginning of your planning meeting. Use it to generate ideas for your campaigns and experiments.

  7. Return to the report at a regular cadence.

The following is a list of data sources to consider for your intelligence report.

Direct data, or what you know about yourself:

  • web analytics
  • results from prior experiments
  • voice of the customer
  • heat maps
  • user testing
  • user personas
  • customer decision models
  • lifetime value (LTV)
  • customer acquisition cost (CAC)

To learn more, read about how to use direct data sources to build an intelligence report.

Indirect data, or information that you gather about your industry:

  • your competitors’ sites
  • best-in-class experiences
  • blogs
  • webinars
  • user groups
  • consultations
  • books
  • academic literature

To learn more, read about how to use indirect data sources to build an intelligence report.

Goal mapping helps you align your campaigns and experiments with your company's goals. Add your goal tree to your intelligence report to focus ideation metrics that matter. To learn more, read about building a goal map.

Best practices

Review at a regular cadence

Prepare your business intelligence report so it's ready for review at major team planning and decision-making sessions. Do this bi-weekly, quarterly, or monthly, depending on how often your team meets for ideation.

Focus on stories and insights

To get the most out of your report, fill it with it with meaningful insights and data that has a story to tell about your visitors. An intelligence review should feed your team's creative process; use it to bridge the gap between raw data and a well-designed hypothesis.

Use takeaways, summaries, and quick insights to tell stories about your customers' desires, optimization opportunities, and competitive advantages. Leave out metrics that are more useful for performance reports about KPIs and revenue; for purposes of ideation, this information can be a distraction. 

By using an intelligence report to drive a structured ideation process, you lay the groundwork for a successful, sustainable program.