After working with small businesses for 25 years and teaching students marketing strategy for almost as long, I’m constantly amazed how hard they find it to set strategic goals. Not wishes, not hopes, not dreams … but clearly articulated GOALS for their business. I find this especially disturbing considering the prominence of the word “goal” in our dialogue. Stop by any water cooler on Monday during the football season and you’re going to hear it — a lot. Go to a hockey game when the announced shouts, “GOAL” and the crowd cheers wildly and you’ll see how excited we get over goals. Yet, ask an entrepreneur to set goals for their business or ask a student to set goals as part of a marketing plan for a client and you get something like this (actual quote from social media marketing plan:
short-term goals of establishing a strong social networking and media presence which will in transition fall in place with our long term goals of establishing XYZ Company as the premier platform developing system available for free on the internet.
So , what’s wrong with this goal? It isn’t a goal at all … more like a wish or a hope, but certainly not a goal. What is a goal, you might ask? I’ll tell you.
Anatomy of a Goal
The player on the right has a clear goal in mind and a single-minded drive to achieve that goal. And referees are there to monitor his progress toward the goal. By consistently reaching the goal (line), he achieves his long-term goal of winning the game and, if he stays consistent, he achieves his even longer-term goal of winning the Super Bowl.
Goals keep you focused on actions that achieve success.
Goals should be smart — not mensa smart, but
S = Specific – like 100 yards from his own goal line — that’s the footballers’ goal.
Goals should be specific, offering a clear answer of ‘yes, we did’ or ‘no, we didn’t’ to the question of ‘Did you achieve your goal.
M = Measurable. Sure. It’s 100 yards. We can measure it with any number of tools and we monitor progress toward our goal by marking the field in 10 yard increments. When in doubt, referees can bring in the “chains” to assess whether the player has achieved the intermediate goal of a “first down”.
Goals should have quantifiable measures and milestones that track progress toward the goal.
A = Achievable. Goals should be attainable, but only with sustained effort. If they’re too easy, no one works very hard to achieve them and they don’t play up to their ability. Imagine a professional football team playing against your local pee wee football team. They’re certainly not going to play the way they did against arch rivals on Sunday. The pee wees also know they’re not going to win. So, everyone just goes through the motions of playing without really working at it.
Goals should be hard, but possible.
R =realistic — the goal should be realistic given your resources, your competition, your target market. Sure, sometimes it’s the underdog who wins, but more often it’s the team with the phenomenal players, great fan support, great trainers, … who wins because these resources are critical to success. Thus, a lot of winning occurs before the team ever steps onto the field. It’s in the planning, and as Entrepreneur Magazine emphasizes, “companies who fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Goals should combine resources to their best advantage given their environment.
T = timely. There should be a time associated with your goal. So, a football game goes 60 minutes. At the end of 60 minutes, teams assess their success — did they achieve the goal of winning or not through achieving more intermediate goals of, well, goals.
Goals have an expiration date, at the end of that time, you assess whether you achieved your goal.
Now, let’s return to the original “goal” included in my student’s marketing plan and let’s transform it so it is a “GOOD GOAL” based on being SMART. Here goes:
In the next 4 months (timely), we plan to create a Facebook FanPage, corporate Twitter account, and post 3 times per week to our company blog (specific, achievable, realistic) adding 100 Fans, 250 Followers, and 10 subscribers to our RSS feed (measurable, challenging).
Some Final Thoughts on Goal Setting
It’s CRITICAL that your goals meet your overarching goals — if your goal is to create awareness, the goal set above does that, but it doesn’t contribute much to other goals you might have, such as making a profit.
Recognize that you achieve overarching goals by reaching multiple specific goals.
So, like the football player, you don’t ignore aspects critical for success, such as running faster, getting stronger, and throwing farther and just hope you reach the goal of winning games.
Hence, achieving marketing success is not found through selling more product, but creating valuable products, building a trusted brand, increasing customer satisfaction, and encouraging customer engagement, as well as sustaining employee satisfaction and other internal processes contributing to success.