“To what end?” The importance of objective setting in marketing and communications

By Posted in - Measurement & Monitoring & Strategy and Planning on September 28th, 2011 3 Comments

Measurement and evaluation is without doubt the plague of the communications professional. It is also quite probably the reason why communications functions often aren’t better resourced and supported than they currently are. Nobody is going to invest in something that they can’t be sure is actually working for them. So, the only way that we can really push for better resource to deliver more creative campaigns online and offline is to show the impact that our work has had (or perhaps is going to have).

When I’m running a workshop, speaking at a conference, or just starting out developing a strategy for a client, I’m often asked how we can know whether a particular social media campaign, profile or account is working for an organisation. My question back to them is always the same: ‘what were you trying to achieve?’ Sadly, the answer back is rarely delivered with confidence and depth. And the answers that most fill me with horror are the following (which I hear a lot):

* “We’re trying to build a community”
* “We’re trying to engage with our students, alumni, parents, businesses… or just anyone who’s interested in us”

So, how do you measure either of those things? And, most importantly, what’s the point of doing either of those things?

Building a community for the sake of building a community is a pointless exercise. Everything we do in our organisations as communications and marketing professionals should be done to support some overarching goal or vision (the organisational strategy, if you will). In this respect education organisations are no different to any other business or institution. We have a purpose and in order to deliver on that purpose, we must be clear about where we are going and that every bit of resource allocated to getting there is actually aligned with that vision. Building a community therefore cannot be an end in itself. Even in society at large ‘community building’ isn’t an end in itself. We build communities because we want those communities to do something: to help one another achieve a common goal, to earn money, to reduce crime in neighbourhoods, and at its most basic of levels to work together to provide food so that we don’t all die. There is always an end point, and those end points are measurable.

So, this is why when we are planning and developing strategies for online and offline engagement, we need to really push ourselves to develop SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound). And so, I suggest that every time you are justifying why you should be doing something in your marketing-communications activity, you need to be asking yourself the question “to what end?” And keep asking it until you get to the point where you can no longer answer that question. Then, and only then, do you have your objective. At that point, you can then check that it is aligned to your overall organisation’s (university, school, college, whatever it might be) vision and strategy. And if it’s not, forget it. Move on. Do something else that is aligned to that. Otherwise you are wasting resource. You might deliver great things, but if it can’t be linked back to what the organisation is trying to achieve, then why should the person or people responsible for steering and leading that organisation (or the tax-payer) be funding you to do it? And unless your organisation has specifically determined in it’s overarching strategy that it’s purpose in life is to build a Facebook page with 10,000 members and two new posts per week and a minimum of 5 likes on each of those posts, then your online stats and analytics are also only a tiny part of that measurement process. They might form part of measuring the journey that helps you to get to delivering the objective, but they will rarely measure whether the objective itself (if the objective is correctly set) has been achieved. The only instance I can think of where the web analytics can provide the full picture is in an e-commerce scenario.

So, the process you’ll go through and what you’ll end up with is something like this:

“Our objective is to achieve x which in turn will deliver y which will mean z, and we need to do this by [date]”

In this process, x and y are equally tactics as well as being part of the objective (they may actually be your strategy). But z must be directly traceable to the organisational vision.

So, please please please, when you’re doing any communications and marketing strategy and planning work (especially for online communications, because most people are still just playing with this and not doing it strategically), keep asking yourself “to what end?” If you can answer that clearly and concisely, then you may well also find that your leaders and managers might be more ready to come on that journey with you and put a little resource your way.

As always, give me a yell if I can do anything to help you on that journey.

(3) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Allison Werner - Reply

    October 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I'm studying Social Media with @dr4ward at @NewhouseSU, and we were assigned to comment on a blog post. Even though I already tweeted about this post, I really wanted to elaborate more on it. From beginning to end, you make some great points about garnering attention online. You're so right, "building a community for the sake of building a community" is not a substantial reason to have an online presence. In another one of my classes in public relations, I'm learning about how PR professionals are becoming more accountable for articulating how they contribute to the bottom line. Since social media responsibilities are becoming intertwined with PR roles, I think this post emphasizes how your social media activity must actually create measurable results. I'm fortunate to be in classes teaching me this! Thanks for posting! #in Considering following me at @alliemwerner and my class's hashtag, #NewhouseSM4 for tweets on the communications industry

  • Tam Mckenzie - Reply

    November 16, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Great article. Cheers

  • […] have blogged before about the importance of objective setting in any approach to using social media. It’s something I spend a lot of time banging on about to people. Without clear business or […]

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