Get SMART: how to set marketing goals that drive success
Goals help focus the minds and efforts of marketers on the activities that will generate most value for the business. They’re also great for charting your progress from month to month, quarter to quarter and year to year, giving you and your team a sense of progress and of your increasing mastery of the marketing realm, which helps keep things interesting.
But setting goals can be a tricky task. How can you be sure you’re choosing goals that align with the overall objectives of your organisation? How can you ensure you’re tracking your progress in a meaningful way? And how should you structure your goals to make sure that they keep you and your team engaged and motivated? The simple SMART acronym provides five really useful principles for setting goals that ensure your marketing efforts are as productive as possible.
What are SMART goals?
The SMART acronym is not new – it’s been knocking around for nearly four decades – but in terms of memorability and usefulness, it hasn’t been bettered. It insists that all the goals you set should be:
Now let’s take a look at each of those criteria in a little more depth. In the interests of making the exposition more easily understandable, we’ll take them in a slightly different order…
Relevance is by far the single most important criteria for your goals to meet. If achieving the goal isn’t going to create value for your organisation then it’s not worth pursuing. Checking that your goals align with the strategic objectives of the wider business helps you avoid the practice of setting goals just for the sake of setting goals and wasting the time, effort and resources of your team.
For example, your business might have the goal of increasing revenue by 7% over the next 12 months. Will increasing your follower count on Twitter really help your company achieve this, or is it just a vanity metric? If you already see lots of traffic on your website, but your conversion rates are low, should you be focusing your efforts on winning more traffic, or converting more visitors into leads? All of your goals should help move the needle on the indicators that your wider organisation cares about.
If you can’t measure your progress against a goal, then it’s meaningless. Working towards increasing footfall in a physical store might be a great goal for your company to pursue, but if there’s no way of actually counting the number of visitors, it’s not a smart goal. Similarly, aiming towards a certain number of white paper downloads might make sense as a campaign goal, but only if you’re able to track those downloads accurately.
In an age of increasing privacy consciousness and stricter data protection regulations (like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation), the measurability of your goals for digital channels requires even more thought. Is the data you’re getting coming from a sizeable portion of your actual audience or is it just a small sample because, for example, you’re allowing website visitors to opt out of analytics cookies? And if some of your goal metrics are of dubious reliability, can you replace them with something more reliable, like actual sales or sign ups?
A specific goal is one where you can say, with absolute certainty, whether it’s been achieved or not. ‘Increase brand awareness’ is a goal, but how can you tell if you’ve achieved it or not? Far better to focus in on specific indicators of brand awareness like social media reach, media mentions or branded organic searches, and set a specific target to aim for, e.g. ‘increase branded searches by 15%’.
Making your goals more specific will help you avoid setting vague goals that leave you and your team scratching your heads over how to achieve them. Specificity will also help you contribute more to the wider business by focusing on higher-value activities. For example, ‘increase leads generated’ is a goal, but if not all leads are of equal value to the business, you might be better off focusing on a particular kind of lead, or setting a separate goal for each kind of lead: ‘increase leads generated for Service A by 10%, for Service B by 20%’.
A timely goal is one which is to be achieved over a set period. Making your goals timely will help you marshal the time and resources of you and your team over a set timeframe, like a quarter or financial year, and participate in meaningful planning activity.
For longer-term goals, you might want to establish one or more mid-point goals to aim for to ensure you’re on track, e.g. ‘increase blog page views by 10% over 6 months, and by 25% over 12 months’.
Unrealistic goals will rapidly demotivate you and your team. To keep things spicy, you should set goals that you’re not quite sure you’ll be able to hit in the time available. Thinking about how you’ve performed against the metrics in question over previous periods and how the resources available to you over the coming period compare, as well as how external factors affect the difficulty of improving performance (e.g. a new partnership that will help you generate website traffic, or the increasing difficulty of improving Facebook organic reach) will help you set goals that are hard, but possible, to achieve.
Applying SMART thinking to sets of goals
Another important consideration is the number of goals that you and your team are being asked to work towards. Relevance and achievability come into play again here, since giving yourself too many goals to focus on can be counterproductive. While drawing up long lists of goals may well be a useful part of the process, the number of goals you take forward should be realistic for the resources available. If you need to pare the list down, then prioritise the goals in order of how relevant they are to the business.
There is no universally applicable ideal number of goals for an individual to be focusing on, but if you have to keep referring back to a document to remember them all, it’s probably too many.
Goal suggestions to get you thinking
Research and learning
Increase footfall in stores
Improve brand / issue awareness
Get people talking about you
Reach a different audience
Promote an event
Encourage an action
Drive traffic to your website
Subscribe to your newsletter
Updates to your supporters / customers
Build a community around an interest
Share the work you do
Connect with other like-minded businesses and individuals
Capturing content from supporters
Understand the sentiment towards your business
What are your communication goals for your business?
Now describe how your social media objective supports those business goals
Measuring your goals
Once you’ve identified your most important goals, it’s important for you to define them, understand how best to measure them, and finally determine what success looks like. To help you, we’ve created a template for you to use.