Ditch Marketing Objectives and Replace Them With Expectations

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If you live in the corporate marketing world (which I’m guessing you do, if you’re reading this), then I guarantee you’ve had a conversation at some point about the differences between “Marketing Goals” and “Marketing Objectives”. Which one is the 30,000 view? Which one is more tactical? Which one does leadership care about? Etc. Etc. 

But what if I told you all of those conversations were empty and meaningless?

Ok, I won’t go that far – there are valid reasons to talk about campaign/department goals and objectives. But what I’m recommending today is that we all start talking more about “Expectations” and less about goals and objectives. Here’s why…

Marketing Objectives and Goals Can Be Anything

Goals and Objectives have long been the cornerstones of any good marketing strategy. They define the “targets” that we want our efforts to achieve. Whether it’s something high level and qualitative like “Increase positive sentiment toward our brand” or tactical and quantitative like “Achieve a 30% increase in SQLs over the next 3 months.” Both of those sound great – and they are. But we’re missing a huge component of the discussion… Do you actually expect to hit those goals? If so, why and how?

Let’s take a step outside of marketing for a second to look at at another example: 

I can set *literally* any goal I want, and no one can say whether it’s right or wrong. For instance, my goal – as of right now – is to finish in the top 10% of an Ironman Triathlon within 1 year from now.

Amazing goal, right?! And it’s not just a goal – I’m going to hire a coach, quit my job to free up time for training, establish a rigorous training schedule and diet, and best yet, partner with a charitable organization to raise money in conjunction with my efforts. This isn’t just a dream – I’m committed to putting in the work and doing it the right way.

For all intents and purposes, it’s hard to find fault in that strategy. I know what my goal is, and I know what I’m doing to get to it. ::Pats self on back:: But here’s the difficult question that we often forget to ask: What do I expect the outcome to be?

Here’s the hard truth – I can look at all of the data, I can assess my fitness level and my history with endurance training, I can research my competition, and after all that tell myself honestly: Even though my goal is a noble one, my expectation is that I will finish the race, but in the bottom 10% – not the top 10%.

Does that mean I was just wrong to set that goal? Or maybe I should have defined a more realistic goal? Maybe – but that really only masks the problem with goals. The fact is that goals and objectives in and of themselves are arbitrary. They are a stake in the ground to give us something to aim at. They don’t have to be achievable to serve their purpose.

It's All About Setting Expectations

And this is where we bring it back to marketing. Unlike a physical challenge like an Ironman, marketing efforts are tied to real economic performance for a company. You don’t get points from leadership for defining amazing goals. 

You get points for helping your stakeholders know what to expect from their investment, and then meeting (or exceeding) those expectations.

When you’re communicating with leadership (or shareholders, or any other stakeholders), it’s not enough to describe to them what you’re aiming to do. You have to also describe to them what you expect the outcome to be. I know it seems like splitting hairs, and arguing over semantics at this point, but there is a real shift in tone when you go from saying “The goal of this campaign is to…” to “We fully expect this campaign to…”

When you talk about goals and objectives, the unspoken undertone is one of uncertainty and ambiguity. “Our goal is a 70% increase –but when we get 50%, we’ll still try to spin it to be a positive”

When you talk about expectations, the unspoken undertone is one of confidence and authority. You’re not just setting arbitrary targets, but you are ingesting everything you know about a certain marketing program, and confidently stating “this is what I expect to happen.” “I expect to see a 70% increase based on my analysis and my confidence in the plan. If we see a lower increase, something was miscalculated and will need to be ironed out next time.”

Can you feel the difference? 

Imagine you are a CEO, and your marketing leader is giving an overview of the $4.5M marketing program planned for the year. Do you want to hear about moving targets or industry benchmarks, or do you want to hear confident expectations from your trusted marketing team (With bonus points given for a direct tie between marketing performance and business performance)?

What should you do?

So, should you set goals? Or should you turn up your nose at them, and dive fully into conversations of expectations?

I think Objectives and Goals have a place in marketing. They are great tools for motivation, and team alignment. Because they are targets, they can be shared waypoints among larger teams, and ensure that even cross-functional teams are all aiming in the same direction with their work. So yes, please keep using goals in your marketing operations.

But goals alone are not enough -- especially when it comes to communicating with leadership. We as marketers have diluted to reliability of goals and objectives too much over the years, and what leaders truly want to talk about are expectations. Yes, they may be interested in where you're aiming, but they also want you to inform them of the actual expected results.

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About the Author
Justin is the owner/founder of Fox Consulting Group, and a lead consultant for strategy engagements.

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