When I was a little bit younger, I was often confused about marketing objectives. To be honest, before I even worked in marketing, I really didn’t understand the difference between “marketing” and “advertising.” (Truth be told, most CMOs probably still don’t understand that difference.)
I think it’s worth a little bit of discussion around marketing objectives. Let’s dive a bit deeper.
Marketing Objectives Phase 1: The Basics
Here’s where most decision-makers in marketing are already getting tripped up. Senior people love to run around yelping about how they “protect the brand” or “manage the corporate image to the world.” Sure, sure. There’s validity in all of that, of course — and it’s best to think about your job at some high-functioning level, because then if you’re a person that holds yourself accountable, you’ll probably do OK at it. (Er, or you’ll do OK at what you think it is — but only about 1 in 2 people are really clear about what’s expected of them at work.)
Alright, so as you rush around squealing about branding and margins and KPIs and all that, here’s the basic thing to understand about marketing objectives:
Marketing is a support function for sales.
If you market shit better than anyone in the world and you have the greatest brand and everyone loves you and your e-mail marketing hits all its margins and your KPIs are amazing, yay! Here’s the thing: if all that happens and your company doesn’t sell a lick of shit, you’re out of a job in about 14 months or less. Welcome to capitalism, baby!
So that’s the first thing to realize about marketing objectives: marketing needs to drive sales. Plain and simple. If it doesn’t, everything you’re doing is in a vacuum.
Marketing Objectives Phase 2: Linking Goals To KPIs
This is another huge mess for a lot of silo’ed departments like marketing, because this is what traditionally happens in most mid-size to larger organizations:
- The CEO has a set of goals (usually around revenue or growth)
- He/she (ha, let’s be honest — usually ‘he’ because our society is a joke) tries to present/communicate those to his top dogs
- Those top dogs each run a silo
- For those top dogs to think they’re individually relevant, they need their silo to be the essence of what that company is doing
- As a result, they prioritize and re-contextualize information from the CEO relative to what they need to achieve, not what the company needs to achieve (this happens all the time)
- In marketing, where there’s another 4–5 silos (digital, print, design, e-mail, social, etc.), this message becomes an even bigger game of telephone
Setting organizational priority is one of the biggest messes of the modern working world, honestly. So few companies do it even remotely well.
So this is Phase II of any convo about marketing objectives. Namely:
- Aside from “make as much money as possible and have fat-ass bonuses,” what are the goals of the org? (Priority-setting)
- How will the org know when those goals are being met or not being met? (KPIs)
- How do those goals and those measurements align with what people should be doing every day? (Management)
Trying to get from Bullet 1 to Bullet 3 above is essentially like trying to cross the Pacific Ocean in a boat made of lunch lady hairnets. Godspeed, sucka. If you get past 100 feet past San Diego, I give you a lot of credit.
Marketing Objectives Phase 3: Where Does The Plan Come From?
This is where it gets fun as hell to observe from afar, and soul-draining to be a part of. Here’s the deal. Most organizations hire people, and as a result of them being hired, the organization is basically saying this:
“We make X-amount of money per year. We’re going to give you some (not a lot) of that money in exchange for some responsibilities and goals.”
Bear with me, because this is why automation is a huge deal: eventually, companies won’t even be saying the italicized part above.
So again, bear with me: even though the hiring organization is spending a small percentage of money on this person … money it would presumably like to keep and throw back up the chain as a bonus … instead of empowering that person, we automatically belittle them to make sure they’re falling in line with our protocols … it’s basically like the Army, which shouldn’t surprise anyone because the corporate world has deified the Army for about 50+ years now.
As all this happens, we ignore the idea that organizational breakthroughs can come from anywhere — instead believing they must come from top dogs.
But top dogs are too busy — “Rushing to my 11:15 on Q2 revenue plays!” — so here’s what they tend to do on the marketing side:
Hire a consultant.
Charlie Consultant just slapped this bad boy on your desk. KPIs, baby!
The idea is that the consultant has more experience, has seen different brands, maybe has seen your competitors (!), and will know best how to guide your process. This is especially true as Baby Boomer CMOs had to deal with digital. Rather than learn new skills — because most senior management types assume formal power means they don’t need to do that shit anymore — they just outsourced the whole concept and started bringing in consultants to guide the plan.
So now here’s where we come to: a bunch of people internally (employees) with some good ideas and getting paid to execute a strategy, right? And then a bunch of people externally (the consultants) coming in and designing a plan, then … they’ll ultimately disappear and that internal crew will have to execute it. Hmm. What could go wrong here?
Marketing Objectives Phase 4: The Problem With Consultants
Here’s the core issue here: if you’re a senior decision-maker in marketing for a brand, you should believe (God, I’d hope) that your brand is unique in some way, or offers some value-add that other competitor brands don’t offer. Your brand is a goddamn snowflake! It’s like a millennial! It deserves a participation trophy!
OK, so your brand is unique.
You know what most marketing consultants do?
It’s all stuff like this:
- Content is king!
- Automate and scale!
- The power is in the e-mail list!
- Embrace social!
- Power of the brand!
- Track impressions!
Virtually every bullet point above has some degree of validity, but has also been utterly crapped on as a business metric in some other sense.
Let’s just talk for a second about content marketing, for example: “experts” in content marketing love to pitch the same suite of solutions to every brand they work with, which means that tons of industries are now flooded with the same crap on every possible topic — because most writers are Googling around the topic, reading the Page 1 results, and mimic’ing those.
Now you’ve got a world where, because of consultants and generic advice, everyone is doing the same shit.
Content Marketing! Content is king! Right, or … everyone’s saying the exact same shit.
Automate and scale! Get a software solution! Drip e-mail campaigns! Right, or … your automation suite looks like a monkey on crack got a hold of some markers.
The power is in the e-mail list! Sure, sure … or you’re chasing a 4.8 percent click rate and about a 1 in 10 open rate (probably worse if you bought the list).
It goes on and on.
So what do we do now?
Marketing Objectives Phase 5: Define Your Uniqueness
This is where the rubber hits the road on marketing objectives. See:
- You’ve got a brand.
- It has value.
- It’s unique.
If you believe those things, the next step is defining how you can articulate that value. That’s the process of storytelling. I won’t go too deep down that rabbit hole because “storytelling” is another major marketing consultant buzzword, but … you need to think about what works for your customers. Namely:
- Where are they?
- What do they read?
- How do they want information presented?
- Who makes decisions in the industry?
- Who can buy stuff?
- Are they old-school or new-school?
- Are they visual or textual?
This list can go on for miles, but if you’re a B2B company selling flamethrowers, you probably don’t need to be on Pinterest — although some consultant will tell you to do that and count the impressions. (It’s inherently meaningless.) If you’re a company that makes hip jeans for 20-something girls, you probably don’t need “thought leadership” on LinkedIn, but someone would upsell you that crap for a bigger agency contract, and that isn’t even a lie.
If you want to break the whole idea of marketing objectives down to a singular set of concepts, here you go:
- The true objective of marketing is to drive sales.
- The way you drive sales is to explain and illustrate the value of your product or service.
- The way you illustrate your value is through channels and means that your customers are comfortable with.
It’s simple in theory, tough in execution — but copying everyone else won’t help in the least.
Any other thoughts?
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.