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. 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 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 entail choosing a hard number or metric for your team to work towards, as well as details about how you’re going to reach your goals and why you want to do so.
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 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 member 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% increase in visitors, leads, or customers.
Make sure that X% 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 on 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.
- Reach more visitors with organic search traffic.
- Improve the mobile traffic conversion rate site-wide.
- Increase MQL conversions.
- Boost average monthly open rate.
- Increase MQL-to-SQL conversion rate.
- Improve overall NPS score.
- Enhance Facebook engagement.
- Increase total market share.
- Evaluate ad impact.
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.
In this example, we’ll set a target of increasing blog subscribers by 25% month-over-month this year — it’s a substantive increase, but possible with the SMART framework.
- 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 with whom we can also build deep relationships, and hopefully do business in the future.
Monthly over the course of a year.
2. Reach more visitors with organic search traffic.
Let's say our organization's goal is to grow its online organic presence to attract more leads and reach 35,000 visitors via organic search monthly by the end of the year. These 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 the 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.
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 enhance the mobile experience and set a goal of improving mobile traffic conversion rates site-wide from 2.3% to 5% by Q3 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. Increase MQL conversions.
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 and so we aim to convert 500 leads to MQLs by the end of the year. 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 of what constitutes an MQL and a plan to obtain those parameters.
- Time-bound - By the year's end.
5. Boost the average monthly open rate.
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 the concrete objective of increasing the monthly open rate from 25% to 40% in one quarter:
- 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 - In one quarter
6. Increase our MQL to SQL conversion rate.
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. Specifically, we’re aiming to increase MQL to SQL conversion rate from 25% to 35% by Q2. 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 an SQL.
- Time-bound - By Q2.
7. Improve overall NPS score.
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 score — from 31 to 35 within 6 month — 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. Enhance Facebook engagement.
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, we might look to improve Facebook engagement by 30% month-over-month:
- 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.
9. Increase total market share.
As digital markets become more crowded, it’s critical for companies to claim as much market share as possible — pulling even a few percentage points away from the competition can have significant benefits for your bottom line.
Let’s set a reasonable goal: Increasing total market share a 5% by the end of the year:
- Specific - Improve total market share
- Measurable - By 5%
- Attainable - Must identify areas of potential loss, such as customer churn, and areas of gain such as targeted advertising
- Relevant - Must ensure there’s a reliable way to regularly measure market share
- Time-bound - By the end of the year
10. Evaluate ad impact.
Advertisements help your brand get noticed — but are your ads doing their job? Here, our marketing objective is to compare the cost-per-click and conversion rate of two different ads using A/B testing on social media over the period of a month to determine which one drives better ROI:
- Specific - Determine the highest ad impact
- Measurable - Evaluated using cost-per-click
- Attainable - Must assess the impact of each ad and how many click-throughs it generates
- Relevant - Must ensure the same metrics are used for each ad to ensure an accurate comparison
- Time-bound - In one month
- Marketing Objectives: Metrics and KPIs
Once marketing objectives have been established, companies must identify and track specific metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to provide both immediate insights and set the stage for long-term strategic planning. Some of the most common metrics and KPIs include:
Sales growth is measured using total revenue volume, number of units sold, or both. Increasing numbers mean growing sales — for best effect, monitor sales growth as a baseline and then during new marketing campaigns to evaluate your impact.
Profit — also called return on investment (ROI) — isn’t simply a factor of sales and revenue. Instead, it depends on the amount of money your brand makes after material costs, marketing expenses, and other spending is subtracted. If material costs increase but sales remain steady, for example, profit will decrease. Monitoring profit variance helps ensure product prices drive ROI.
Total Market Share
The bigger your market share, the better. To calculate this metric, you need the market size of your local industry and its approximate total revenue.
Multiple your brand’s revenue by 100 and divide by the market’s total revenue to get a percentage market share. Recalculate this regularly to see if your share has improved.
New Customer Volumes
More customers mean more sales and more revenue. Along with measuring the total number of new customers over a specific time frame, it’s also worth evaluating customer increases in comparison to other time frames — such as when you’re running a sales or marketing event — along with considering the cost per customer, which is the total amount of money spent to acquire a new customer.
Lifetime Customer Value
Higher lifetime customer values mean more reliable revenue streams. To calculate this metric, multiply the average number of purchases made by return customers over a specific period with the average total value of these purchases. This provides an approximation of lifetime customer value to help inform ongoing marketing strategy.
Conversion rates measure the percentage of people who take action when presented with the choice to opt-in for sales notifications, email newsletters, free trials, or who ultimately decide to make a purchase. It’s worth tracking conversion rates across all aspects of your website to see which marketing tools are delivering reliable results.
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps your brand rank higher with popular engines such as Google, in turn making it easier for customers to find your site.
Tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner can help you identify ways to improve your SEO, and you can quickly test how you stack up by searching for your brand’s target keyword and seeing where you show up in current search rankings.
Social Media Performance
Social media marketing is now critical to generate organic engagement and customer referrals. As a result, it’s worth tracking metrics such as the increase in follower numbers on a certain platform over a specific period, the number of comments left on your posts, and the number of times your posts are shared.
Tools to Track Marketing Objectives
You’ve got the model. You’ve identified the objectives, and you’ve defined the metrics. Now you need the right tools to track marketing objective success across your organization.
The HubSpot Marketing Hub offers all the marketing tools and data you need, and all under one roof. From SEO strategy tools to ad tracking, social media management and live chat support, and a robust content creation platform, HubSpot can help your brand reach more people more quickly and boost total ROI.
2. Real-time Dashboards
Real-time dashboard tools provide right-now, single-pane-of-glass analysis of current sales performance, KPI progress, and other key metrics. Often hosted in the cloud, real-time dashboards make it possible for everyone in the organization to view current marketing goals and ensure business operations are aligned with specific outcomes.
While spreadsheets are often considered relatively low-tech and legacy deployments when compared to more robust marketing tools, they nonetheless offer actionable value. Tools such as Google Sheets and Excel are easy to use, easy to view, and offer an understanding of specific metric performance at a glance that can help inform current marketing efforts.
4. Website Analytics Trackers
Tools such as Webtrends and Google Analytics provide in-depth statistics about the number and type of users that visit your web page, along with key data such as how long they stayed, what they clicked on, and which actions (if any) were taken.
While website analytics alone aren’t enough to inform marketing efforts, they’re essential to help marketing teams refine overall strategy for maximum effect.
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 objectives.
Once you do, it’s important to write those objectives down and commit to creating a solid plan of action to achieving them.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in [Insert original publish date] and has been updated for comprehensiveness.