As the owner of a small business, you know that solid marketing is crucial to your company’s overall success.

The thing is, “marketing” is a pretty broad term. If you go into things thinking that you need to have your hand in all things marketing, you’re going to stretch your team way too thin. Even worse, your business probably won’t benefit all that much from your efforts.

This isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence in the world of business. In fact, in 2017, Hubspot found that nearly 40% of marketers don’t believe their marketing strategies to be effective. Similarly, CoSchedule found that only 58% of marketers are successful in achieving their marketing goals. 

On the other hand, CoSchedule’s report also found that marketing teams that take the time to clearly define and document their marketing “plan of attack” are over three times more likely to see their efforts pay off.

The point is this: Your marketing efforts can only be as strong as the foundation you’ve built them upon.

This is where marketing plan objectives come into play.

What Are Marketing Objectives?

Though the term “marketing objectives” may seem pretty self-explanatory, there are some nuances to the definition we need to hammer out before we go any further. 

A marketing objective is a clearly-defined, measurable indicator of your marketing-related performance, as tied to both your marketing and overall business goals.

Notice that this means the development of your marketing objectives comes after the setting of your marketing goals. That is to say, the terms “marketing objective” and “marketing goal” are not synonymous with one another.

The difference is as follows:

  • A marketing goal is a more general statement regarding what you hope to accomplish through a given marketing initiative.
  • A marketing objective is a definitive milestone, marker or another indicator that tells you that you’ve achieved your marketing goal.

 A few examples:

  • If your marketing goal is to increase brand awareness, your marketing objective may be to increase your unique visitor numbers by 15% over the next month.
  • If your marketing goal is to generate more leads, your marketing objective might be to collect 1,000 email addresses in the next 30 days.
  • If your marketing goal is to increase customer retention, your marketing objective would be to increase your customers’ repeat purchase rate by x percent by a specific point in time.

The two go hand in hand. A marketing objective defines the terms of success for a given initiative, while a marketing goal explains the rationale behind this definition of success.

To explore this a bit further, let’s now dig into the importance of setting marketing objectives in the first place.

Why Is Setting Marketing Objectives Essential to Your Marketing Initiatives?

As we said earlier, organizations that set marketing objectives, on average, end up accomplishing much more than those that don’t.

So, if you’re looking for a surface-level answer as to why setting marketing objectives is so important, there it is. There are a couple of underlying reasons worth exploring, here.

First of all, setting clearly-defined marketing objectives allows you to better understand the path you’ll need to take to achieve your overall marketing goals. In other words, your marketing objectives will help you narrow down:

  • Which marketing tactics you’ll employ in a given scenario
  • What type of content you’ll create for a given campaign
  • What channels you’ll be operating on

And pretty much anything else that has to do with your individual marketing initiatives (as well as your overall approach to marketing).

As a simple example, let’s say your marketing goal is to generate more leads—with a marketing objective of collecting 1,000 mailing list registrations through a landing page offer. 

In this situation, you might then determine that you’d need to:

  • Create a landing page, linking to this page via PPC ads
  • Create gated content, such as an ebook or whitepaper, to entice mailing list conversions
  • Develop PPC ad campaigns to be presented on platforms your target audience is known to use (Google, social media, etc.)

While this is only one possible path you might choose to take as you trek toward your marketing goal, the point is that setting marketing objectives illuminates these various pathways—and helps you determine which is the best one to take moving forward.

In contrast, attempting to reach your marketing goals without a clear objective in place may very well lead you down multiple dead-end paths—and may stop you from reaching your goals at all.

Marketing Objectives as a Measure of Success 

The other key value of setting marketing objectives is that, upon completion of a given initiative, you’ll have a much better understanding of how and why you achieved (or failed to achieve) your goals. 

For example, let’s say the hypothetical campaign above generated 2,000 new mailing list subscribers—two times as many as originally hoped for. 

An aloof marketing team might pat themselves on the back for a job well done, then start their next campaign completely from scratch. They have no real idea why the campaign was so effective—they’re just happy it was.

The team with a clear focus on their marketing objectives, on the other hand, will be more inclined to dig deeper into why their campaign was able to generate two times the amount of leads they’d expected. In turn, they’ll have a better understanding of what tactics, content types and channels to utilize in future campaigns.

This works the other way, as well. Objective-focused teams will also be more apt to determine why a specific initiative didn’t pan out as well as they had hoped. They then can get to work on making the necessary improvements moving forward.

So, the act of setting marketing objectives benefits your organization in that it illuminates the optimal path to your marketing goals, and enables your team to make critical improvements to your approach to marketing overall.

With that in mind, let’s dig into how to actually go about setting proper marketing objectives.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Marketing Objectives

As a quick note, the following section will assume that you have a clear marketing goal in mind, and are now working on setting a marketing objective to tie to this goal.

We’ve alluded to this a few times throughout this article, so let’s make it clear, here:

Marketing objectives are created so marketing teams know exactly what they have to accomplish for a given venture to be considered successful.

By “exactly,” we mean that …

Marketing Objectives Must Be Specific

Simply put, the more specific the marketing objective, the easier it will be to tell whether or not you’ve reached your established marketing goal — and whether or not it actually matters to your business. 

Consider the following non-specific marketing objective:

  • We want to increase our conversion rate.

First of all, of course you do—all companies want their conversion rates to increase.

More importantly, though, it doesn’t set any clear milestone that will determine whether or not your efforts led to good things for your business. Technically, if you increase your conversion rate by .01%, you’ve accomplished your goal—but this increase will barely impact your business (if it does at all).

But, by defining a specific indicator of success, it will be 100% clear as to whether or not you’ve achieved your goal as you wrap up your initiative. Specificity is the first component of setting SMART objectives.

Marketing Objectives Must Be Measurable

If you were still a bit “up in the air” about the difference between a marketing goal and a marketing objective, here’s where things should get much clearer.

While a marketing goal might be a bit more general or abstract, marketing objectives must be measurable.

Say, for example, your marketing goal is to “increase brand awareness.” 

The problem: Brand awareness isn’t exactly a tangible “thing” that can be measured.

On the one hand, there may be thousands of people who are aware of your brand, but have yet to engage with your company in any way. On the other, many of your site’s visitors (who, by visiting the site, have technically become “aware” of your brand) may not be paying all that much attention while doing so, and may completely forget about your company once they navigate elsewhere.

That said, you might tie to this marketing goal a marketing objective such as “increase our Twitter following by 25%.” Determining whether you’ve reached this objective, of course, will be as simple as crunching the numbers once your campaign comes to a close.

Marketing Objectives Must Be Achievable

While there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic with regard to your marketing initiatives, setting the bar way too high can be a recipe for disaster.

First of all, it’s disheartening to your marketing team. If you, for example, set your sights on increasing conversions by 500% in one month, your team is almost certainly going to be left quite disappointed when reality hits and they’ve come up way short of their target.

Secondly, it defeats the purpose of setting an objective in the first place (which, again, is to provide a guiding light on your path toward achieving your marketing goals). While there are many pathways to help you increase conversions by 10%-25%, you’re not likely to uncover one that will allow you to spur conversions by 500% in 30 days. 

So, while you do want to set the bar high enough that achieving success has a positive impact on your company, you don’t want to set the bar so high that achieving this success becomes an impossibility.

Marketing Objectives Must Be Relevant

Here’s where you’ll begin to tie your marketing objectives into your overall goals for your business.

As we alluded to in the last section, “relevance” basically means ensuring that accomplishing your marketing objectives will lead to tangible gains for the company overall.

As a simple example, if your marketing objective is to increase your average order value by 10% over the next six months, you’d easily be able to tie this into the overall business goal of increasing sales revenues.

Getting a bit more complex, if your marketing objective is to increase your Twitter following by 25% over six months, you’d need to provide evidence that this impacts brand awareness—which in turn impacts your company’s bottom line. 

Again, while we can say in general terms that this is the case, it’s important to nail down the specifics in order to legitimize a given marketing initiative in the eyes of your various stakeholders. That’s what relevance is all about, here.

Marketing Objectives Must Be Time-Bound

You’ve likely noticed throughout this article that we’ve included time limits in our examples of proper marketing objectives.

This was no accident.

Just as your marketing objectives need to define specific and measurable terms of success, these terms also need to be bound by a time limit.

Reason being anything’s achievable if you have enough time—which, again, renders marketing objectives not bound by time completely useless. Heck, that 500% increase in conversions we mentioned earlier is nothing if you extrapolate it over the course of a decade or so.

More realistically, it just gives your team a better idea of what they need to do, how they need to do it and when they need to do it by. 

Say, for example, your marketing objective is to increase the number of visitors to your site by 500%. If you were charged with doing this over the course of a year, you’d know that content marketing and SEO might be a viable pathway to go down. If you were tasked with doing so in three months, you’d know you need to implement a more immediate solution, such as PPC campaigns and other advertising initiatives.

Moving Forward with Defined Marketing Objectives

To be blunt: Every company in existence knows they need to “do marketing” in order to succeed.

But, in failing to set specific, attainable objectives for their marketing initiatives, many teams—while headed in the right direction—ultimately end up failing to achieve anything of note for their company.

On the other hand, the teams that know exactly how to proceed toward their overarching goals will be able to do so with confidence—and will almost always end up achieving what they set out to do.

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