How to Set Marketing Goals: Ask Yourself this Question

Setting marketing goals is one of the first things I do with new clients. When our clients go through our Whole Team Marketing program, two of the most important steps we take are setting goals and doing a marketing inventory. 

All your marketing activities should serve your specific business goals, or they are simply burning money.

Defining your goal is the easy part. You probably want to make money, at least I hope so. You may also want to be recognized for your expertise or achieve a specific level of growth.

Marketing Inventory: Keep, Update, Discard

The next step is to make a list of all the tactics you’re using to bring in new business. Go through those tactics one at a time and ask yourself if they’re moving you closer to your stated goals.

Anything that isn’t moving you closer to your goals is moving you further away because it’s costing you time, money and energy you could apply elsewhere.

The next step is to flag every tactic as “keep, update or discard.” You want to keep the ones bringing you closer to your goals, update ones that aren’t performing optimally but have potential, and discard those that aren’t moving the needle.

This Keep, Update, Discard process will leave you with a tidy little list of next steps.

Keep, Update, Discard is a good approach for many big projects. I’m using it right now for my annual year-end home organization blitz. My favourite sweatpants? Keep. Purse with a broken zipper? Update by taking it in for repair. That ugly sweater I got off Instagram? Discard! No, wait, keep. Ugh, I haven’t decided. That ambivalence can happen to you when doing your marketing inventory too.

Ask Yourself The Question

When you can’t decide whether to discard a marketing tactic, it’s time to employ The Question.

The Question is so simple. You’ve asked yourself The Question dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

The Question is, “Why?”

The Question is, “Why?”

As in, why am I doing this particular marketing tactic? Why can’t I discard it if it’s not bringing me closer to my goals?

Or, in the case of my home organization project, why am I ambivalent toward keeping an ugly sweater I bought by mistake and will never wear? 

Uncovering Your Hidden Goals

Discarding unhelpful marketing activities takes acknowledgement of what I like to call your hidden goals.

Almost all of us work toward goals we don’t even know exist. We need to be real about why we are doing something to stop doing things that aren’t helping us.

(Click to Tweet)

In the case of my ugly Instagram sweater, I know I’m never going to wear it. So why am I struggling to discard it and send it off to Goodwill? When I stop to think about it, I realize it’s uncomfortable for me to donate it because I have to admit I just wasted $40. If I keep the shirt, I never have to acknowledge that error.

The same thing happens in marketing.

Someone I know well works for a major Canadian corporation. We’ll call it FutureCorp.

One of the marketing tactics FutureCorp employs is sponsoring various events like sports tournaments and music festivals. When FutureCorp set out to do a marketing inventory, it realized the sponsorship of these events doesn’t get them closer to any of their marketing goals, which means they should discard the tactic of sponsoring events.

However, FutureCorp’s senior leaders are hesitant to cut ties with these events. That’s the sign of a hidden marketing goal.

We All Have Hidden Marketing Goals

Any time you feel attached to an action that doesn’t serve your goal, it’s a sign that you have an unacknowledged, hidden goal that you are subconsciously working toward. In some cases, this hidden goal may even compete or conflict with your stated marketing goals.

FutureCorp needs to examine what other goals these sponsored events might be serving outside its stated marketing goals.

Maybe sponsoring a sporting event is a flex; it shows FutureCorp’s competition how successful they are. Maybe they feel compelled to keep giving money to a music festival because of a longstanding relationship with the organizers. Or maybe the audience of an event would notice if FutureCorp withdrew sponsorship, and the company stands to increase customer loyalty if they stay on as a sponsor.

Convert Hidden Goals to Stated Goals

If you uncover a hidden goal and decide it’s a goal worth having, it needs to become an acknowledged, stated goal. This step is unskippable. That’s because you can’t work toward what you don’t acknowledge. If you work toward an unacknowledged goal, you risk wasting resources and confusing your audience.

Say FutureCorp decides the payoff is stopping competitors from taking the sponsorship opportunity. It doesn’t want the “FutureCorp World Pickleball Championships” to become the “MegaCorp World Pickleball Championships” because it would call into question FutureCorp’s financial success, which could even impact share prices.

FutureCorp should acknowledge its goal to appear stable, successful and benevolent in the eyes of its clients and competitors. The “why” for this goal is share price stability, growth, and customer brand affinity, which has an impact on its success.

Critically Assess Your Hidden Goals

If you find yourself attached to a tactic that does not increase your chance of success, you are probably looking at a goal rooted in ego. Yes, even businesses have egos.

In that case, you need to do the uncomfortable thing and eliminate the goal from your marketing tactics. Quit sponsoring the Pickleball Championship. Get okay with your competition picking up that accolade.

That’s it. Two choices. Either add the hidden goal as a stated goal or stop using the marketing tactic that doesn’t serve your goals.

Picture of author, Bridget Brown