In the marketing industry, setting objectives can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, constantly raising the bar can incentivize your team to sustain your growth rate over long periods of time. On the other hand, it can incentivize your team to prioritize your company’s needs over your customers’ needs.
Contrary to popular belief, solely focusing on the results doesn’t actually produce results. Focusing on serving your customers is what produces results. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, is famous for sparking this customer-centric movement. In 2015, he spoke at Goldman Sach’s Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco, and a reporter asked him what some of Apple’s biggest accomplishments from the past year were. He responded, “We're not focused on the numbers. We're focused on the things that produce the numbers."
In marketing, what produces the numbers is a passion for your craft. Sometimes, we can get so obsessed with optimizing for results that we forget what actually generates the views and leads we desperately desire — compelling content.
In this blog post, we’ll show you how to set realistic marketing objectives that will help you craft audience-centric content, prioritize your customers' needs, and hit your numbers, all at the same time. Read on to learn how to identify your marketing objectives’ purpose and process and why it's just as important as the numbers you aim to hit.
What Are Marketing Objectives?
Marketing objectives are the goals your team wants to achieve during a certain period of time. They’re usually a hard number or metric that serve as metaphorical finish line for your team to sprint towards. However, setting marketing objectives isn’t just limited to determining what you want to achieve. You also need to specify how you’re going to reach your goals and why you want to reach them.
In his insightful blog post about setting goals, Jay Acunzo, the founder of Unthinkable Media, reveals a subtle yet potent problem that has pervaded the content marketing industry over the years — traditional goal setting lets you measure what you do, but it doesn’t lend itself to gauging how you do it or why, which is what ultimately gives your work meaning and resonates with prospects.
In marketing, you obviously need to aim for concrete targets. But, as we said earlier, only focusing on the results can sometimes incentivize you to take a course of action that prioritizes your organization’s needs over your customers’ needs.
To help you focus more on your purpose and process instead of just your results, Acunzo recommends considering two additional factors things when setting a marketing objective — your hunger and your aspirational anchor.
Your hunger is your current dissatisfaction with your work today or why you want to achieve your goal. Your aspirational anchor is your vision of your work in the future or how you’ll achieve your goal. These two factors drive your motivation and keep you on track to create work that better serves your customers. When you add your numerical goal to the equation, you’ll be able to simultaneously produce customer-centric work and create business impact.
How to Set Realistic Marketing Objectives
The first thing to understand is the subtle difference between a goal and an objective. A general goal is going to be your broader vision while your marketing objective is that more concrete specification of how that vision is achieved. In order to craft your marketing objective, you must start with vision first by defining three main things:
- Hunger - What is the driving force — or the “why” — behind what you want to achieve? What pain or problem has led you to this point, and why must it be solved?
- Aspirational Anchor - What does success look like — or “how” does the end vision solve that problem?
- Goal - What steps must be taken — or the “what” — for that aspiration to come to fruition?
Now that we understand the “why” and the “how” behind setting marketing objectives, let’s go over how you can root the "what" in reality with the SMART goal framework.
SMART goals are realistic, quantifiable, and focused targets that you can easily aim for. If you’re wondering what SMART means, it’s an acronym that helps you clearly define your goals.
In terms of marketing, you should choose the particular metric you want to improve upon, like visitors, leads, or customers. You should also determine what each team members will work on, the resources they’ll have, and their plan of action.
If you want to gauge your team’s progress, you need to quantify your goals, like achieving an X percentage increase in visitors, leads, or customers.
Make sure that X-percentage increase is achievable in your specific situation. If your blog traffic increased by 5% last month, try to increase it by 8-10% this month, not 30%. It’s crucial to base your goals off of your own analytics, not industry benchmarks, or else you might bite off more than you can chew.
Your goal needs to relate to your company’s overall goal and account for current trends in your industry. For instance, will growing your Facebook following lead to more revenue? And is it actually possible for you to significantly boost your organic reach on Facebook after their most recent algorithm change? If you’re aware of these factors, you’ll be more likely to set goals that are realistic, achievable, and beneficial to your company.
Attaching deadlines to your goals puts pressure on your team to accomplish them. And this helps you make consistent and significant progress in the long-term. If you don’t give yourself a deadline, you can very easily fall into the trap of procrastinating on action items, leading to a slower rate of success. For example, which would you prefer: Increasing leads by 5% every month, leading to a 30-35% increase in half a year or trying to increase leads by 15% with no deadline and achieving that goal in a year?
By analyzing two different goal setting frameworks, we’ve learned how to identify the “why,” “how,” and “what” behind your marketing objectives. Now, we can blend the two frameworks to set a realistic goal that fulfills your customers’ needs and helps you hit your numbers at the same time. Check out the examples below for more detail.
Marketing Objective Examples
- Increase blog subscribers by 25% month over month this year.
- Reach 35,000 visitors to the website from our organic search monthly by the end of the year.
- Improve the mobile traffic conversion rate site-wide from 2.3% to 5% by Q3.
- Convert 500 Leads to MQLs by the end of the year.
- Increase our average monthly open rate from 25% to 40% by Q1.
- Increase our MQL-to-SQL conversion rate from 25% to 35% by Q2.
- Improve our NPS score from 31 to 35 in 6 months.
- Improve our Facebook engagement by 30% month-over-month.
Now that you know how to write a marketing objective, you can get ideas from some metaphorical samples. Below, we’ll start with one long example breaking out the above methodology step-by-step, and then we’ll provide other examples to fuel your inspiration.
1. Increase blog subscribers by 25% month over month this year.
For this example, let’s begin with the aspirational vision framework from earlier in the blog post.
- Hunger (Why) - Our blog educates our audience well but it doesn’t resonate emotionally with them enough.
- Aspirational Anchor (How) - Run a blog that consistently resonates with our audience and that people look forward to reading every time they receive our email digest.
- Goal (What) - Increase blog subscribers as an indication of our success.
With this goal setting framework, you can see how the “why” and “how” behind a goal incentivizes behavior that better serves customers and hits numbers at the same time.
For instance, in the example above, this blog team refuses to just do whatever it takes to boost their blog subscription. They want to craft emotionally resonant stories that their audience actually values, or content that’s worth subscribing to, and this is what will lead to their growth in subscribers and create long-term value for their business.
If this blog team didn’t identify their hunger or set an aspirational anchor, however, the only thing that would guide them toward the finish line is the finish line itself. And that could incentivize short-sighted behavior that helps them achieve their goal at the expense of prioritizing their audience’s needs over their own.
Once the aspirational vision and the general goal has been defined, now it’s time to pivot to a concrete objective using the SMART goal framework:
Our blog educates our audience well, but it doesn’t resonate emotionally with them enough. Let’s start running a blog that can consistently provide value, that people look forward to reading every time they receive our email digest, and that can attract more subscribers.
Increase month-over-month blog subscribers by 25% this year.
Last year, we increased month-over-month blog subscribers by 15%, so we know this is doable.
If we can craft emotionally resonant stories that our audience actually values, we can build deeper relationships with them, attract more subscribers who we can also build deep relationships with, and hopefully do business with them in the future.
Monthly over the course of a year.
2. Reach 35,000 visitors to the website from our organic search monthly by the end of the year.
Let's say our organization's goal is to grow its online organic presence to attract more leads. Those are Hunger and Aspirational anchors, so they must be translated into a SMART goal if we want to take steps to achieve it:
- Specific - Increase website visitors from organic search.
- Measurable - Reach 35,000 visitors monthly.
- Attainable - Must be sure that number is reachable by increasing or improving variables within our control.
- Relevant - Must be the right traffic since the ultimate goal is to increase leads.
- Time-bound - By the end of the year.
3. Improve the mobile traffic conversion rate site-wide from 2.3% to 5% by Q3.
Traffic alone is not enough to generate leads and, ultimately, revenue. We need mechanisms in place to convert the traffic we're already getting. Let's say we notice that our site converts a lot better on desktop than mobile. This means we could be losing a ton of lead opportunities who arrived at our site on a mobile device. That's why we decide to improve the mobile experience. Here's how we turn that goal into an objective:
- Specific - Improve mobile traffic conversion rate.
- Measurable - From 2.3% to 5%.
- Attainable - Must identify roadblocks to conversion and how we plan to remove them.
- Relevant - Must actually have enough mobile traffic to justify the effort.
- Time-bound - By Q3.
4. Convert 500 Leads to MQLs by the end of the year.
With inbound marketing, it's easy to get swept up in blogging, offer creation, and lead conversions. At the same time, if we don't have mechanisms in place to move those leads closer to a purchasing decision, these efforts don't pay off the way they could. Part of our jobs as marketers is to foster relationships with our leads while qualifying them so that the sales team focuses on prospects who are ready to buy.
Let's say we have a top-of-the-funnel lead generation engine where website visitors convert on eBooks and guides. Our goal is now to bridge the gap between where they're at in their journey vs. where we want them to go (becoming a customer). We decide to do that through an ongoing educational email drip sequence, and we start with our objective:
- Specific - Convert Leads to MQLs.
- Measurable - From the existing number to 500.
- Attainable - Must ensure we already have a large enough pool to extract those MQLs from (or a fast-enough lead generation engine to supply them).
- Relevant - Must have a clear definition for what constitutes as an MQL and a plan to obtain those parameters.
- Time-bound - By the year's end.
5. Increase our average monthly open rate from 25% to 40% by Q1.
In order for us to effectively nurture leads, we want people to be reading our content... which they won't do if they don't get past the subject line of the email. Here's how we position this concept into a concrete objective:
- Specific - Increase average monthly open rate.
- Measurable - From 25% to 40%.
- Attainable - Must analyze existing email tactics to identify gaps.
- Relevant - Must only include the most relevant marketing emails in the metrics to avoid skewing data.
- Time-bound - By Q1.
6. Increase our MQL-to-SQL conversion rate from 25% to 35% by Q2.
Never forget the primary goal of marketing, which is to promote an organization's goods or services in the effort of generating more sales. At the same time, fewer than half of marketers consider their departments aligned with sales.
A relevant goal might be to improve the effectiveness of our marketing efforts by solidifying the marketing to sales hand-off. Our concrete objective might break down like this:
- Specific - Increase the MQL-to-SQL conversion rate.
- Measurable - From 25% to 35%.
- Attainable - Must ensure we already have a large enough pool to extract those SQLs from (or a fast-enough lead generation engine to supply them).
- Relevant - Must have a clear agreement between the marketing and sales departments for what constitutes as an SQL.
- Time-bound - By Q2.
7. Improve our NPS score from 31 to 35 in 6 months.
Marketing doesn't end once the prospect becomes a customer, and that means also working on ways to fuel the flywheel i.e. turning customers into brand advocates who purchase from us and tell their friends to do the same. NPS is a solid measurement of customer happiness, so improving that number is a solid place to start building our objective:
- Specific - Improve the NPS score.
- Measurable - From 31 to 35.
- Attainable - Must analyze existing NPS roadblocks to identify gaps.
- Relevant - Must ensure there's a mechanism for collecting and analyzing NPS input.
- Time-bound - In 6 months.
8. Improve our Facebook engagement by 30% month-over-month.
One of the best ways to grow a brand’s marketing efforts exponentially is by investing in its community of customers and prospects. The goal might be to stay top of mind and energize the community by raising the bar on each social media platform. For example:
- Specific - Improve engagement on Facebook.
- Measurable - By 30%.
- Attainable - Must identify the content that's engaging our existing user base and see if 30% is a reasonable number to strive for.
- Relevant - Must ensure that there's a solid definition of what metrics are being counted as engagement.
- Time-bound - On a monthly rolling basis.
Once you understand the importance of vision, identifying broad goals, and using the SMART goal framework to make concrete marketing objectives for those goals, it’s time to identify the gaps in your marketing and begin outlining your own objectives.
Once you do, it’s important to write those objectives down and commit to creating a solid plan of action to achieving them.
Originally published May 8, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated May 08 2020
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