Every industry has tools of their trade. Rembrandt had brushes, Mario Batali has spatulas, and You (extremely talented marketer) have spreadsheets. Spreadsheets aren’t just for accountants; they do much more than math. Just like sitemaps and wireframes, spreadsheets are a type of information design. A well-designed spreadsheet can help you organize teams, clarify goals, and even map out complex processes.

Find more time for play in your day by applying our spreadsheet hacks into your next marketing project.

10 Ways We Use Google Spreadsheets at Digital Telepathy

My coworkers often laugh at me for my reliance on spreadsheets, but design is about solving problems! Google spreadsheets are wickedly customizable, hosted in the cloud for easy access by anyone, and can be designed to solve almost any problem. From content brainstorming to scheduling to data visualization, spreadsheets mean business.

spreadsheets are a form of information design

1. Scheduling – To ensure that we give each client the time they deserve, we carve our days into “blocks.” Each person is assigned one client for the morning and one client for the afternoon. We try to schedule client meetings into their coordinating blocks and identify clear objectives for each work block to keep productivity as high as possible.

DT uses a spreadsheet to schedule resources in AM/PM Blocks

2. Gantt Charts – There’s no better tool than a gantt chart to illustrate how tasks overlap. Spreadsheets make it easy to visualize how resources are assigned and with a little in-line commenting you can transform a gantt chart into a status report.

using spreadsheets to make a gantt chart

3. Approvals – We iterate, a lot. Spreadsheets help us organize client approvals when there are multiple versions from which to choose. For example, when we designed Adventure.com, we created over 60 PSDs over the span of 12 weeks in design. We used a spreadsheet to document client approvals and link back to the correct version so our developers knew which file to reference.

track client approvals

4. Goal Definition – Defining clear goals is perhaps one of the toughest parts of a project. Completing a spreadsheet of the HEART Framework with Goals-Signals-Metrics articulates better objectives that are meaningful and user-centered.

The HEART Framework is a great way to identify appropriate UX Metrics

5. Content Audit – Content is king. When conducting a content audit it’s essential to consider the target persona, which stage of the funnel (or user’s journey) the content is for, the content format, and the effectiveness of each piece of content. Using a well-formatted content audit sheet can make this important task a breeze and help you achieve even greater results with your next revision.

A content audit matrix can help you evaluate your content quickly

6. Content Preparation – It can take a long time for a design PSD to be built into a Content Management System. Use a spreadsheet to create a form that will help your copywriter understand how a design comp is transformed into CMS fields like Headlines, Subheadlines, Description, CTA, etc. Trust me, this will exponentially speed content entry when the system is finally ready. Finally, once the CMS is available… use color-coding to indicate which entries have been transferred.

We used this Google Spreadsheet to expedite content creation for Adventure.com

7. Dashboard Reports – Everyone loves data visualization. Turn data extracts into a wealth of data with beautiful charts and graphs for your executives. Designing data visualizations can also help to develop meaningful insights from a load of hard-to-handle data.

A google spreadsheet is a great tool for creating executive marketing dashboard reports

8. Feedback Forms – Garnering meaningful feedback can be a challenge. For example, you may be interested in how someone feels when looking at a site or if they were able to achieve a specific task. A form (made from a spreadsheet) can help steer people in the right direction and prevent comments like “make it pop.”

Google spreadsheets can become a form in just a few clicks

9. Calendar / Planner – Keeping track of campaigns can be a daunting task. We use a spreadsheet to plan and track our activities. One especially useful tab in our free marketing calendar template organizes UTM tags to increase the fidelity of our marketing attribution to ensure we do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

Use cell grouping and borders to make a calendar in google spreadsheets

10. Competitive Assessment – Using a spreadsheet can help you cite specific examples of strengths, weaknesses, and other notes. Divide and conquer to quickly review an entire website or marketing campaign.



Our 8 Favorite Google Spreadsheet Features

If you’re feeling nerdy, inspired, or empowered… make your next spreadsheet even better by using some of these features.

1. Data Validation This handy feature allows you to create a dropdown list inside of a cell. Depending on the complexity of your data, you can set this in-line or in a separate worksheet. You can also decide whether you want to allow users to free-style (and flag it) or simply reject data that isn’t in the list of choices.

2. Conditional Formatting On our Marketing Calendar we highlight things that “Need Review” or are “Ready for Assets”. This is a great feature for calling out important items to a team who may only be concerned with a few things in your spreadsheet.

3. Concatenation Have you ever wanted to splice two things together? Concatenation is exactly what you need; it takes two fields and combines them into one. You might use this to convert First_Name and Last_Name into Full_Name. A prime example of how we append UTM tags to shorter and easier to understand base URLs to create trackable URL that we use in our social status updates and marketing campaigns.

4. Comments, especially +mentions You can tag someone by adding +email_address into the comment. This will notify them to the fact that you need their eyes on your comment. Once they’ve responded you can just mark the comment as resolved to clean up the interface. Don’t worry, the comment history is still accessible!

5. Make a Copy There’s no need to start from scratch. If you’re planning to reuse a document, just make a copy and you can adjust permissions, keep or change the content, and modify as you see fit. This is a great way to share a template without worrying about compromising the sanctity of the original.

6. Charts and Graphs – It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by rows and rows of data. Converting stats into charts and graphs can help you make a more convincing argument to up the budget and it makes it easier to spot changes in trends.

7. Functions – Admittedly, functions are for the brave (and technical) at heart – but they’re also really powerful. Functions afford savvy marketers an opportunity to perform on par with software developers by manipulating data and performing calculations.

8. Protected Sheets – Sharing is caring. But opening up your spreadsheet could result in someone accidentally deleting an important formula or critical pieces of data. Protecting a range of cells, or an entire sheet will help you sleep better at night because your hard work can’t be compromised.

Our Top 5 Design Tips for Your Next Google Spreadsheet

Hopefully by now you’re convinced that spreadsheets are a valuable marketing tool. But that still leaves the challenge of getting people to actually pay attention to them! A great looking document may help.

Photo Credit: Scott Adams - dilbert.com

Photo Credit: Scott Adams – dilbert.com

Here are a few tips to create an eye-catching spreadsheet:

middle alignment in a google spreadsheet can help readability 1. Middle alignment – Aligning text to the middle (vertical) of the cells helps greatly improve the overall readability of the spreadsheet by separating the text from the gridline. This is a simple step. Do this before you start entering any content.

make spreadsheet rows a consistent size 2. Consistent cell width and row height – Most of our sheets are designed at 35px tall rows, with Arial 10pt font. This is flexible and requires very little effort to maintain. Cell width depends on the content but you can use the “wrap text” button to prevent text from bleeding outside of the visible cells.

deleting columns helps keep your spreadsheet clean3. Removal of excess rows and columns – Spreadsheets can get unwieldy. Help your users out by removing the unnecessary rows and columns. Once your content is loaded, delete the empty cells. (MAC HINT: Highlight the cell or row label then CMD+SHIFT+ARROW to highlight all remaining rows then right-click to delete.)

color palettes are important, even in a spreadsheet 4. Choose a good color scheme – Color palettes are important. Try to use one row from the color picker to maintain consistency. Personally, I like the 4th row down 🙂

freezing rows helps large make google spreadsheets more manageable5. Freeze rows and columns – Like I said, sometimes spreadsheets get unwieldy! Freezing rows and/or columns can keep headers in-view and allow a user to scroll through the rest of the sheet without losing important context.

Spreadsheets FTW!

By now you might join my coworkers in the thought that I’m a little bit obsessed with spreadsheets. But I’m definitely not the only one. I googled “Spreadsheets for Marketing” and came up with over 5 million results! Here are some great resources to help your next marketing project.

  1. Marketing Calendar Template (from DT)
  2. The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist (from DT)
  3. Selecting the Right UX Metrics for your Product (from DT)
  4. Marketing with Excel: 6 Ways It Can Make Your Life Easier
  5. Now That’s A Spreadsheet
  6. Google Spreadsheet Hacks

I hope the next time you’re trying to come up with an idea, rally a team, or track results that you’ll consider spreadsheets as a tool to help you get the results you want.