Dominican University of California professor Dr. Gail Matthews conducted scientific research on accomplishing goals.

Her study included 267 participants from a variety of organizations, companies, and industries with specific business or professional goals.

The goal of the study was to show the difference in the capacity of an individual or team to accomplish a goal based on varying levels of commitment (i.e., just ideating on goals, writing them down, creating action steps, and implementing accountability practices).

During the study, Dr. Matthews set up five test groups:

  1. Group 1 was asked merely to think about the business-related goals they hoped to accomplish.
  2. Group 2 was asked to think about and write down their goals.
  3. Group 3 was also asked to write down their goals and action commitments for each goal.
  4. Group 4 did what Group 3 did and also shared these commitments with a friend or colleague.
  5. Group 5 did everything Group 4 did and sent weekly progress updates to a friend or colleague.

When the study ended in four weeks, the results were conclusive. The group that only thought about their goals accomplished 43% of them. In contrast, the group that wrote down their goals and action steps and shared them with a friend or colleague completed 64% of their goals.

The most successful group, however, was the group that did it all—they wrote down their goals, wrote down actions, shared them, and held themselves accountable. This group completed 76% of their goals, which also happens to be a 76% higher rate of success than that of Group 1.

By the end of this article, you’ll discover how you can be 76% more likely to hit your online marketing goals by learning how to set marketing goals effectively.

Before we dive into exactly how to get such results, let’s first discover:

Why goals are important

In life, whether personal or professional, goal setting is invaluable. The reason is simple: goals give direction. Without a goal, there is no guiding star, no tangible aspiration, and no method for determining if what we’re doing is actually meaningful.

Goals can help guide an organization in the right direction. With clear goals in place, every task, meeting, idea, and memo can be synchronized to meet the same objective. As tasks and meetings get completed, the next beautiful aspect of goal setting becomes clear: they help to consistently and objectively measure progress. If your goal is to generate 500 leads in a month, setting goals for your team will not only better align your activities to help you increase lead volume but also provide objective feedback on whether your approach is working.

If you’re halfway through the month and at 400 leads, great! Do more of what you’re doing. But if you’re halfway through the month and only at 50 leads, you now have definitive proof that you should adjust your strategy.

Lastly, goals help minimize distractions. New ideas, thoughts, and tools pop up daily. Without a bouncer guarding the proverbial club entrance and checking the list, there’s no telling what distraction could waltz right into your world.

The bouncer’s job is to beg the question: “Does this new idea, thought, or tool have the potential to help move us closer to the goals we’ve set?” If the answer is yes, allow that new thing through, explore it, and cultivate it.

But if the answer is no, put the new thing on the back burner. It’s not worthy of being thrown away, as it may be relevant later, but at this point in time, the goal takes priority.

Different types of business objectives

It’s appropriate to think of goals as belonging to three distinct categories:

1) Business goals

Metrics used here are typically revenue, profit, EBITA, etc. These goals impact the entire organization, regardless of department, product, or division. Success here is made up of dozens or hundreds of micro-successes at the department level.

2) Marketing goals

Metrics used here are typically qualified leads, sales-accepted leads, cost per lead, and conversion rate(s). Marketing’s job is to bring in as many quality prospects as possible (and ideally, at a minimal cost) for sales to work with.

3) Task goals

Often the most overlooked, this goal category encapsulates individual tasks or initiatives. Metrics here can range anywhere from click-through rate to organic visits on a section of the website, email opens, etc. The accomplishment of task goals is the critical piece needed to ensure marketing (and other departmental) goals get met, which in turn helps business goals come to fruition.

Each of these goal categories is different from the others, but even so, they’re all interdependent.

It’s like baking bread. Your ultimate goal is to make a loaf of bread (business goal). But you can’t make a good loaf without adequately kneaded dough (marketing goal), and you can’t get a perfect ball of dough without high-quality ingredients (task goals).

how to set marketing goals

How to determine a useful marketing objective you can measure easily

All too often, the question “what’s your digital marketing goal?” is met with a blank stare. That’s not because you don’t have any goals or because your business enjoys stagnation, but instead, your goal likely isn’t well defined at your level in the organization.

For digital marketers, the good news is that as long as your organization as a whole has a goal, you can follow three steps to nail your own specific goal.

1) Define the business goal

Make sure you’re 100% clear where the business is going. Is the organization looking to sell more of Product A? Or Product B? Are they happy with current sales volume but looking to decrease overall operational cost?

2) Reverse engineer into good marketing objectives

Let’s pretend the goal is to sell more of Product A. Great, the next question is how many? Determining a volume of Product As sold allows you to work backward through the funnel to get to demos or leads. If one of every 100 demos or leads ends up closing into a sale, and the company wants to sell 500 additional units this year, then we’ve identified that marketing needs to contribute 50,000 additional leads this year (or 4,167 additional leads per month on average).

3) Reverse engineer into digital goals

Knowing that 50,000 new leads need to be created in general, you can then determine how many need to come from digital marketing. Let’s say 20% of your leads currently come through digital marketing platforms; that equates to 10,000 additional digital leads this year (or 833 a month).

Returning to the broader company goal of selling 500 more Product A units this year, you know digital marketing needs to provide 833 additional leads per month.

How to turn a goal into action steps

Strategic marketing goals are great, but they’re useless without an action plan. No action, no progress. No progress, no chance you’ll hit your goal.

So how do you take digital marketing goals and turn them into a smart marketing strategy with action steps? Here’s a three-step process:

1) Break digital goals into initiatives

Continuing on from our Product A example, we know we need 833 new leads per month. But they don’t all have to come from the same place. As digital marketers, you’re likely investing in PPC (Adwords, Bing ads, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.), SEO, email, and other mediums. The most logical place to start is to take the 833 leads you need to create and break that number down by the ratio of your current leads that all your marketing mediums produce.

For example, if PPC makes up 25% of your current digital marketing lead volume, then you would need PPC to make up ~208 of your 833 new leads. You can further break that down by platform. If AdWords makes up half of your PPC leads, then AdWords’ lead goal will be 104, and so on.

By the end of this activity, you’ll have specific lead goals for each medium (PPC, SEO, etc.), platform, and campaign—a critical step in turning that daunting 833 monthly lead target into bite-sized, tangible, and accessible goals.

2) Apply KPIs to those initiatives

With your corresponding lead goals, you can now identify the KPIs that will meet those goals. Sticking with our example, if your AdWords goal is 104 leads per month and your top campaign in AdWords makes up half that volume, we can dig a little deeper into its metrics.

Let’s pretend that our top AdWords campaign has a conversion rate of 2% and currently generates 52 leads. One example of a KPI goal here would be to double that conversion rate to 4%. With no other metric changes, that would increase our lead volume to 104, covering the additional 52 leads per month for that campaign.

This can get more granular with specific target changes for click-through rate and conversion rate. For example, if that top campaign produces 52 leads with a CTR of 2% and a conversion rate of 2%, increasing each by 50% would more than double your leads to 117, and is more realistic than doubling one or the other.

This level of granularity applies to all platforms, mediums, campaigns, etc. The key here is to determine what changes (and in which metrics) will push your lead targets to meet and exceed your goal.

3) Develop tasks designed to move the needle on those KPIs

Lastly, when you know which metrics need improvement, you can determine the tasks to make it happen. In our above example, tasks to increase click-through rate and conversion rate could include:

Click-through rate

  • New ad copy testing
  • Ad position testing
  • Narrowing keywords in ad groups for better relevancy

Conversion rate

  • New landing page testing
  • Ad-to-landing page messaging alignment
  • Shorter landing page conversion mechanism (fewer form fields, etc.)

Upon completion of these three activities, you’ll have a list of actionable items to task out quickly on any to-do list with reasonable confidence that, if executed well, the big, hairy, intimidating goal of 10,000 new leads this year will take care of itself.

Bringing it all together

We’ve covered how to set marketing goals that get results and why it’s important. But how does all of this relate back to Dr. Gail Matthews’ study and my promise that you can be 76% more effective in hitting your marketing goals than your competition?

Those who put more effort into their goal setting got more out of it—76% more, to be exact. In this article, I broke down how to define your marketing objectives and strategies and turn them into action steps. By sticking to this outline and following up with your team for accountability, you’ll achieve goals 76% more often than anyone who fails at these criteria.

How do you set goals for your department? More objectively? More subjectively? Something entirely different from what’s described here? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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