Marketers from all over the world can learn from the dedication, preparation and planning of Olympic athletes. This series of posts will put that into perspective when preparing your own marketing plan.

Here are the posts in this 5-part series:

Today, we talk about setting goals, milestones and metrics that can help you win in your campaign like a triathlete.

Goals, Milestones and Metrics: The Triathlon of Marketing Measurement

triatholon goals metrics timelinePerhaps nothing in the Olympics is more grueling than the Triathlon.

Triathlon races combine swimming, cycling and running, in that order. … The race is completed from start to finish, with no breaks. The transitions between the swim, the bike and the run are part of the race – crucial seconds can be gained or lost in the transition area.

Triathletes are all around champions. They need strong tactical ability to win. Setting goals, measuring progress and having a clear sense of what you will train when are the essential pieces to being an effective competitor in this event. When it comes to marketing, the triathlon that often separates success from failure, involves goals, metrics and timelines.

I will be the first to admit that I am not the strongest “numbers guy” – my passion falls squarely into the creation and networking realm. Even for a creative type like me, goals, metrics and timelines are an essential component to staying focused, consistent and fresh.

Goal Setting to Keep Your Head Above Water

The first leg of the triathlon is a swimming event. Getting a jump at this point is crucial for the triathlete because to fall behind early means playing catch up the rest of the race. The same holds true for marketers: if your pre-launch goals are not defined before you start to create assets and hit your target customers with messages, the entire campaign can suffer.

Great marketers know what they want to accomplish with their campaign. They then translate those into “actionable goals.” For a goal to be actionable it must possess three components:

  1. Clear statement of what the goal is
  2. Deadline
  3. Means for measuring whether the goal was reached (done through metrics)

An example of an actionable goal is “to increase web site traffic to an average of 5,000 page views per week by December.”

Once you’ve articulated you main actionable goal, the key to achieving it is setting “step goals” that bring you closer to making the main goal happen.

For example, if you want to see 5,000 page views per week by December of this year, step goals may look like this:

  • Publish 2 blog posts each week
  • Write at least 4 guest blog posts for major bloggers over the next year, and
  • Run 3-months of Facebook ads once momentum starts to build.

None of these step goals talk about achieving the 5,000 page views per week by December, but they all contribute to it. No matter what your overall goal is, whether sales, subscribers, or awareness you will need to set step goals to get there.

A last word about actionable goals: make sure they are reasonable.

While it is always good to stretch yourself and shoot for the moon so you can hit the stars, for your short term planning make goals that are challenging but attainable. Just like the triathlete who has to time their strokes in the water, conserving enough energy to then get on the bike, your goals have to work towards the long-term strategy rather than just the short term boosts. Setting too lofty a goal in the short term will often produce disappointment, frustration, and eventually abandonment of your social media marketing strategy, causing you to overlook more subtle victories that are actually playing towards your overall long term objectives.

Cycling Through The Timeline of Your Social Media Milestones

The triathlete emerges from a 1.5 kilometer (.96 mile) swim to jump onto a bicycle for the second part of the triathlon. This leg of the race is a 40 kilometer (25 mile) bike ride through various types of terrain. Triathletes know there are certain parts of the ride that make up significant milestones for them to overcome. Similarly, marketers should set milestones to help them along in achieving their timeline of campaign goals.

These are not the ultimate goals of the program itself, rather they serve as interim objectives to reach the larger goal. This should be a simple list of statements that are clear, specific, and measurable, which nest under and support each goal you listed above.

For example, if your overall goal is to increase brand awareness among the 18-25 demographic within 1-year, then your milestones may be listed as follows: “increase Likes on Facebook page to 1000 among target demographic within 3-months” or “run Facebook ad campaign among target demographic that achieves 1-million+ impressions per week over a 3-month period.”

Once you better understand the milestones, you want to map them out on a timeline. The timeline gives you a visual representation of the major milestones you need to hit with your campaign. Here is an easy 5-step process for creating a timeline:

  1. Open up Power Point or Keynote and set up a blank slide
  2. Go to the shape chooser and select the double arrow (the one with an arrow head at each end)
  3. Right click or use Inspector (Keynote) to adjust the size of the arrow to fit the width of the slide
  4. Use the shape chooser to insert straight lines at different points in the timeline arrow where you will have different milestones over different points in time
  5. Insert a new shape at the top of each line where you will type in a short label describing the milestone. Then insert a text box below the line with the date where the milestone will happen (ex/ Sept 2012).

This process can help you produce a quick and clean looking timeline. The one drawback to using it is you will only have room for about 5 to 6 milestones per slide depending on how you format them. In any case, this limitation may be of help to you in choosing what should be your major milestones, what be a smaller “step goal” and what your larger, overall goals are. Remember: milestones are somewhere between step goals and overall goals – they are big enough to be defined and worked towards, but part of your larger picture.

Social Media Metrics for the Long Run

After the bike ride, triathletes have come a long way, but they still face a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) footrace. In training for the last leg of triathlon they must use all types of measurements to make sure they are performing at the top of their game despite inevitable fatigue. Similarly, the marketer needs measurements in a campaign to make sure their efforts are also paying off in the longrun.

You have already started to touch upon metrics in coming up with ways to measure the completion of your goals. Here is where you want to break down each measurement to its core to insure you are choosing the right metric for your individual goal and your organization.

There are three general approaches people take when it comes to metrics or analyzing statistics about their marketing performance:

  1. Count Nothing – unfortunately this is one of the most commonly chosen routes, especially because the creative types doing all the fun tactics stuff are frightened to death when it cones to numbers (they might just reveal that the Twitter campaign you just launched isn’t really that brilliant).
  2. Count EVERYTHING – these people were most likely accountants or bridge players before moving onto marketing, and the danger here is falling in love with and obsessing over the numbers – this can kill innovation and creativity smothering it beneath the need for more data (even when tacking efforts you should be able to surprise yourself)
  3. Count the Right Things – this is the middle path between the two extremes mentioned above, which calls for some experimentation in choosing the right measurements, tracking them consistently, and using the results to guide creative decision making and budget allocation

But what should you measure?

As Albert Einstein once said: “ Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” There are a ton of things you can measure, however, choosing the right metrics can mean the difference between a lot of data that means nothing and an effective means to improving your effort.

In my experience, the best and most meaningful metrics are those tied to user behavior. When we think of metrics in terms of what the user is actually doing, they transform from a collection of numbers to real actions we can influence. This list of user behaviors and associated metrics should get you started in determining what you want to measure for your campaign:

  • Observing: Site visits, page views, links accessed (clicks), time on content pages about products or services, and questions asked about the company in social media
  • Collecting: Downloads, embeds, installs and subscriptions
  • Rating: Likes, retweets, +1′s, stumbles, and star ratings
  • Sharing: Pins, shares and forwarding (content)
  • Connecting: Fans, followers, friends and connections
  • Promoting: by channel (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.), mainstream media (big websites), consumer generated (UGC about your stuff)
  • Interacting: Commenting, tagging, answering polls, working towards badges, signing up for members areas
  • Contributing: Blogging about you, adding original content to your site, uploads, other visible responses
  • Purchasing: Sales made on site, emails gathered

These are just a few of the ways to measure, track and understand customer behavior. There are countless other ways to do this (I’m interested to hear about your top metrics in the comments below). At the end of the day, what matters most is choosing the metrics that will best help you serve your customers. That should always be the goal of any metrics reporting effort, and is what marketing champions do.