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Why Marketing Needs Objectives... Not Just Goals

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In this article, you'll learn how to...

  • Create solid, actionable objectives
  • Implement tactics that support your objectives
  • Motivate employees to enhance the quality of your strategies

Many companies have essentially the same overarching goals: increase sales, decrease operating costs, and reduce churn. All of those goals result in growing a company's net revenue and profitability.

Seems pretty simple, but the way those business goals translate into objectives, specifically with marketing, is the secret sauce that ultimately determines whether an organization stands a reasonable chance of achieving success or whether it will blow another budget on a creative refresh that fails to better communicate or motivate the consumer to convert.

Turning Goals Into Objectives

A good starting point would be to provide Marketing with the sales goals. Without the integral intermediary step of translating that type of purpose into concise and actionable marketing objectives that align the product attributes, brand assets, and user needs, Marketing will most likely end up producing fantastical tactics and catchy messaging taglines, such as "Let's message the benefits of the product," or "We need a branded application for the iPhone!"

Meanwhile, the what, why, and who have vanished into the interdepartmental/agency abyss, leaving the business and the consumer at the mercy of Marketing's creative interpretation of best sellers.

Instead, at such a critical stage, marketing teams need to formulate actionable objectives and working strategies in cooperation with those who set the goals, make the product, and know the target audience.

According to Jan DeLyser, vice-president of marketing at California Avocado Commission, "It's imperative to have clarity of common purpose and freedom to work together." That means that individual departments and agency partners should work toward common business objectives in a collaborative fashion.

Though getting agency partners to cooperate (as opposed to compete) for working dollars is worthy of its own article, if not a book series, having a clearly actionable working objective that spans all agency partners is the key ingredient for collaboration and unity in purpose.

Because of our working relationship with the California Avocado Commission Red Door Interactive has been introduced to a methodology for creating solid and actionable objectives and supporting strategies. The system works by using a sentence structure that comprises three phrases:

  • In order to (insert objective)
  • We will (define a strategy)
  • By (list creative tactics that solve the problem)

For example, if the goal is to increase sales, an objective may be to drive preference of your best target customer while she is in the consideration stage. That can be accomplished if you've conducted your research, identified the best target audience, understood how the target customer perceives your brand or product, and recognized how she engages and researches products (e.g., mobile search, reviews).

If you drop all of those elements into the sentence-structure framework, you could get the following result: "In order to drive preference with suburban sale chasers during the consideration phase, we will activate the online voice of existing customers by creating a game that requires multiple reviews on Facebook and Yelp and that focuses on the reliability of the product."

Implementing Tactics That Support the Objective

Although you'd end up with a game or contest (in the previous example), the resulting strategy contains key elements that support the greater objective based on the company's current needs.

Ensure that you've covered each step of the sales cycle: acquisition, consideration, purchase, and retention. For example, without driving preference, how would you account for competitive threats or influences? When possible, apply what you know about your audience. If you have working segments, or if you've done your homework and have customer personas, you can better refine the methods of activating them.

A company might even include learning more about its audience as an objective: "In order to increase the relevance and value of our communications with our audience, we will introduce programs that qualify and segment our users into a database and develop specific channels for different types of messages by (a) segmenting existing and potential customers in our email database, (b) offering and requiring selection of specific need state choices upon email sign up, and (c) monitoring the method or channel by which consumers sign up for our marketing messages (e.g., SMS text, mobile site, mobile email, website)."

Motivating Your People

Ultimately, the goal is to formulate high-level actionable objectives and provide direction and strategies that allow team members to say, "I have an idea on how to accomplish that!" If your company has creatives with great ideas, give them the opportunity to prove that their concepts make sense against the objectives or strategies. Those concepts might require only a few minor tweaks to produce something extremely efficient and effective.

If your organization can personalize the audience as part of the process, you'll likely see fireworks go off with your teams. They're creative problem-solvers, chomping at the bit to run with a strategic or tactical challenge.

Finally, make sure your infrastructure is in place before you set out to achieve a particular objective. There's no use in setting, say, a rebranding initiative based on customer service if it isn't in top form. Though that might seem obvious, it happens all the time.

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Brett Johnson is senior strategist at Red Door Interactive, an Internet presence management firm that helps organizations profit from their Web initiatives. Reach Brett via

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  • by Kirsty Wertz Thu Jan 12, 2012 via web

    PERFECTLY helpful--well said, great examples. Thanks so much.

  • by Matt Magee Thu Jan 12, 2012 via web

    Nice post on a great topic. I've found that it can really help to think about marketing objectives as measurable things. Although not all worthy objectives are quantitative in nature, asking "what would we measure to show we've reached the objective?" tends to ground objectives in the doable and the specific. And it's got the added benefit of helping to frame a measurement plan that's focused on meaningful insights as opposed to piles of data.

  • by Gordon Diver Thu Jan 12, 2012 via web

    Well written Brett. A fundamental aspect of success that is far to often over looked in the planning stages.

  • by addie Palin Thu Jan 12, 2012 via web

    Great article. While my initial reaction (as an account manager at an objectives-based agency) was to bristle a bit at the insinuation that all marketing folks are anti-objective and/or into tactics for tactics’ sake, the disconnect between sales goals and marketing approaches you write of is a very real pitfall. Goals are often not communicated proactively. That’s why it’s good to ask, and we’ve seen firsthand what a good practice it can be for individual departments and agency partners to work collaboratively. Our direct engagement with sales departments often helps to educate the company’s internal marketing department in the process—so everyone wins. And by synthesizing that information into a focused objective involving the target, it helps keep everyone on track and frees them to explore all kinds of strategies and tactics—as long as they support the greater goal.


  • by Jacqui Thu Jan 12, 2012 via web

    We have the additional challenge of sales goals that are not written down in a measurable way - often it's just 'make profitable sales' ... and that's it!

  • by Regina Antonio Thu Jan 12, 2012 via web

    Wish I read this article in December when I was formulating goals and objectives for 2012? Made a note to revisit your blog in April.

  • by Mahdi Fri Jan 13, 2012 via mobile

    It is great article. Thank you a lot.

  • by Ellen Curis Sat Jan 21, 2012 via web

    Love planning and agree with the focus of the article. One caveat: make sure objectives, strategies and tactics aren't written in an obfuscating manner such as: " In order to drive preference with suburban sale chasers during the consideration phase, we will activate the online voice of existing customers by creating a game that requires multiple reviews on Facebook and Yelp and that focuses on the reliability of the product."

    Wow. That's a mouthful. Communication like this will produce a plethora of blank stares from your creative team and a few snarky comments from your Csuite about marketing speak. For clear tangible business results, you need to clearly communicate your objectives, strategies and tactics.

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