As a young Marketing Manager I used to hate setting marketing objectives. I felt like I was setting myself up to fail if I planned a marketing activity and explicitly stated "this needs to deliver X to be successful".
I lived in fear of failing to meet those objectives. I also didn't understand that the first time you run a marketing activity, you have to make a lot of assumptions, some of which may turn out to be incorrect. If you're not aware of the assumptions you're making then the only conclusion you can come to is that the activity didn't work and can never be made to work. If you know your assumptions then, afterwards, you can review them based on what happened and see which ones are incorrect.
Now I think about objectives (and assumptions and marketing!) differently.
Objectives are not a stick you use to beat yourself up with. They're a tool to make your marketing more effective. Here's how to use them.
I've written about how to set objectives in a previous blog, so let's assume you've set yourself some good, strategic objectives and some tactical objectives. You've executed your marketing activities and you're now reviewing whether they were worth the investment.
If you haven't achieved your objectives, you have two choices:
1. Improve the activity
First you need to systematically review the activity, looking at the gap between what you wanted to achieve and what you actually achieved.
If the answer's 'yes' then you have work to do. Go back over all your assumptions, look at the strategy behind the activity and every aspect of its execution and plan how it can be improved to close that gap.
At this point I always keep in mind the words of Olympic rower Ben Hunt-Davis, "Will it make the boat go faster?"
Whatever you change, ask yourself, "will this close the gap?"
2. Stop the activity
If your marketing activity really can't be improved such that it will deliver a return on your investment then you simply must stop doing it.
The argument that comes up against this is that the activity also adds value to the organisation over and above the objectives. Things like "customer loyalty" and "brand awareness" are sometimes cited as benefits of an activity that were outside the scope of the objectives. Or "we didn't sell as many of the X-product as we hoped but we had some great sales conversations and, as a result, sold some Y-products instead".
If these things are valuable and are a key reason to do this activity, then they need to be (a) measurable and (b) included in the objectives. If an activity was worthwhile even if it didn't meet its objectives then the objectives were wrong and need to be reviewed before the activity is run again.
Other benefits of setting objectives
As well as assessing the success of an activity after it's finished, use your objectives to assess your activities throughout the execution.
For example, if you're exhibiting at a 2-day show and your objective is to generate 100 leads at the event, check how many leads you've generated at the end of day one. If you're not on track, what can you do to increase your chances of achieving that objective? Do you need to bring in another person to work the stand? Do you need to up your social media activity? Do you need to change the layout of your stand or change how you approach prospects? If your objectives were primarily about lead generation but there aren't many qualified prospects at the event, can you shift your strategy to build customer loyalty and invite some customers to a hospitality event at your stand?
Communicate your objectives with everyone involved in your marketing activity. If your whole team knows what is expected of them then they will all be working towards the same goal. They'll also be able to flag up if the activity is not on track. allowing you to take remedial action early.
Often it can become clear very early on in a campaign or activity that it is not converting as well as planned. If everyone in the team is looking out for these red flags then you can take action quickly and either cancel the campaign or take action to rescue it and improve its ROI before it fails.
As painful as it is to accept, sometimes it's better to pack up your exhibition stand and go home instead of wasting another day of lost opportunity cost while your sales team kick their heels.
When thinking about objectives, always bear in mind the NLP presupposition, "there is no failure, only feedback".
Objectives exist to give you quantitative feedback so you can clearly see where you need to improve your marketing. Although there are many results of marketing that can't (cost-effectively) be measured, it's very difficult to know whether your marketing is working if you don't have at least some measures in place.
Personally, I much prefer to execute activities that achieve their objectives and also generate the 'unmeasurables' as a bonus.
If you'd like some help setting your marketing objectives and making sure you achieve them, do get in touch. I'd love to hear from you and see how I can help. Contact me
Get strategic advice, tips and ideas straight into your inbox every fortnight.