When I was a kid, I had a goal: to become the most famous author in the world.
And also a singer. And an actor. And a veterinarian in my free time.
As you’ve probably guessed, none of those things has happened — and that’s OK. I’m happy with what I did achieve, which was to end up right here, telling stories to smart marketers like you.
The moral of the story? It’s important to have a goal — but in marketing, like in life, that goal might take you down a different path than you expected. (The second moral of the story is to make sure your goals are realistic, but we’ll get to that later.)
Marketing goals are the benchmarks you use to measure success among your current and potential customers. Here’s how to choose, fulfill and get the most out of them — and it all comes down to the marketing goal RAP.
The Marketing Goals RAP
You’ve probably been told that every goal needs to be a SMART goal — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. I agree wholeheartedly.
The only problem is that I heard way too much about SMART goals in college, and I’m ready for something fresh. Digital marketing is supposed to be about telling stories in new ways, right?
So we’re going to try something different. Allow me to introduce you to the marketing goals RAP:
To use the RAP, start by choosing something you think could be a digital marketing goal. We’ll look at more examples later, but here are some ideas to get you started:
Once you’ve identified your potential goal, it’s time to start the RAP. Ask these questions:
Is This Goal Realistic?
Now that I’m grown up (by which I mean I have a car payment and go grocery shopping for fun), I’ve realized my childhood goals probably weren’t realistic. Why? Well, aside from my inability to sing, act or do basic math under pressure, it simply wasn’t possible to be all those things at once.
Think the same way about your marketing tactics and goals. If you could do this thing, but only with 10 extra hours in the day and maybe 3 more hands, the truth is that you actually can’t do this thing.
Is This Goal Actionable?
It’s great to have ambition — but if you’re pursuing something like “the spirit of adventure,” that’s not a goal. That’s a motto.
The point is that you need to be able to take clear, specific actions to fulfill your business objective. If there aren’t real-world steps to get you there, smack those pretty words on an inspirational poster and choose something else to be your marketing goal. A specific goal could be to increase email marketing open rates by 10% in the next quarter, which is actionable through various email marketing strategies.
Is This Goal Practical?
Although there’s plenty of room for optimism in strategic marketing, you also need to be practical. That means you need to have a results-focused marketing approach. What’s the measurable value of pursuing this goal? How will this benefit your target audience, reputation or bottom line? At the end of the day, is this goal really worth your time?
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Long-Term vs. Short-Term Marketing Goals
One big difference between the marketing goal RAP and SMART goals is that “T,” which stands for time-bound.
The RAP doesn’t discriminate based on the timeliness of your goals. Instead, it leaves you and your marketing team in charge of deciding whether a particular business goal should be short-term, long-term or a little bit of both. That’s because goals, like your marketing plan overall, should be ready to shift at a moment’s notice. Therefore, I left time out of my acronym as a metaphor for the inevitability of change. And also because “the marketing goal TRAP” just isn’t as palatable.
Once you’ve used the RAP to determine the promise behind a potential marketing goal, you can add timeliness like icing on the cake:
Short-term goals can be completed quickly. Of course, your definition of “quick” might depend on resourcing, budgets and other variables — but the idea is to identify and complete these goals in a few days, weeks or months.
Let’s say I’m a kid again, and I’m setting goals to become a veterinarian. My short-term goals might include:
- Reading books about veterinary care.
- Meeting local vets to talk about their work and do market research.
- Spending time with different kinds of animals.
As you’ve likely deduced, long-term goals are the opposite of short-term goals. If a particular business objective takes years to complete and spans many different versions of your marketing strategy, it’s long-term. That means it’s likely to grow and change in ways your shorter goals might not.
If I were still trying to become a vet, my long-term goals might look like this:
- Saving money for college.
- Pursuing a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.
- Using a social media marketing and blog content strategy to build an audience that could become my potential customer base someday.
OK, you got me — I just made this one up. Still, the “medium-term” is an important concept. Sometimes you have a long-term goal that’s made up of several interwoven short-term goals; other times, you have a goal that can’t be completed right away but also won’t impact the “big picture” of your marketing plan. Voilà — a medium-term goal.
Medium-term goals for vet work could include:
- Getting an internship — a long-term goal that requires multiple short-term goals to be completed simultaneously.
- Choosing an area of focus — a goal that should take some time to fulfill but doesn’t change the general direction of my aspirations.
How Goals Inform Your Marketing Strategy
Another thing to keep in mind about the marketing goal RAP is that it’s not intended to structure your entire marketing strategy. The RAP is about choosing building blocks; you still need elements like a solid foundation, a blueprint and a team of dedicated architects.
Let’s take a closer look at this relationship:
1. Marketing Goals Speak the Same Language As Your Marketing Plan
No matter what industry you’re in or who your ideal customer is, you probably have something that drives your business. It might be a motto, a mission statement or a unique brand personality. These details all come together to create a “language” — the approach you use when your company does just about anything.
This language is what you’ll speak when you create your marketing strategy. Naturally, your goals are communicated in the same way. That means your underlying values should inform:
- Which goals you choose.
- How you prioritize them.
- How you phrase and talk about these goals.
- What steps you take to achieve them.
2. Marketing Goals Bring Your Marketing Strategy to Life
Remember, your strategy is like a blueprint and your goals are the building blocks that turn it into something tangible. As such, each measurable goal should work together, clicking into one another like a set of Legos. (Just for context, that’s the only kind of building I’m actually familiar with.) The end result is a project that might look a little something like this:
What’s that, you ask? Why, it’s only the tallest Lego tower ever. It’s a mosaic of different pieces, shapes and colors, all coming together to create something incredible. That’s what your marketing campaign can be capable of with the right goals.
3. Marketing Goals Are Creative
Your marketing goals don’t have to look any certain way. Feel free to get creative with your tools, steps and approaches. Don’t forget to bring multiple teams into the conversation to create an interdepartmental approach. From paid marketing strategies and social media campaigns to content calendars and SEO management, there’s nothing too niche to include in your marketing activity.
Measuring the Success of Your Goals
You’ve done the RAP. You’ve distinguished your short-term goals from your long-term goals, even grudgingly using the phrase “medium-term goals” because you secretly think I’m a genius. You’ve chosen all your Lego bricks and are ready to start building your tower.
That’s right: Now you get to track your goals and watch all your hard work pay off. Here are a few tips to start you off on the right foot:
Revisiting Your Original Goals
It’s easy to get so caught up in fulfilling your goals that you forget what the objective was in the first place. When it’s time to measure your progress, remember to revisit your original plan so you know what you’re looking for.
Creating Your Definition of Success
When you choose your marketing goals, you also choose your own definition of “success.” That means it’s up to you to set clear, realistic expectations from the very beginning — that way, you and all your teams can work toward the same thing.
This is also helpful when tracking your efforts — because if a goal has been fulfilled but isn’t delivering results, you know you probably need to redefine your approach. Similarly, if a goal is delivering results but failing to support your overall marketing strategy, it might be time to switch your focus to a different goal.
Tracking the Right Performance Indicators
Let’s say your marketing goal was to use newsletters to boost customer engagement. In this case, the ultimate definition of success would be to get more customers, right?
The problem is that it’s not always easy to track where those new customers are coming from. They might have been influenced by something else entirely, which means your newsletter isn’t carrying its own weight.
That’s why it’s important to track more specific performance indicators when evaluating your marketing goals. For example, you might look at how many subscribers your newsletter has, how much traffic is being directed to a specific blog mentioned in the call to action (CTA) or whether bite-sized portions of your newsletter are being shared on social media.
In addition to these indicators, highly specific key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer retention rates, website traffic from Google My Business listings, and countless other possible metrics provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. These metrics help to ensure that you are on track to meet your smart marketing goals and that your digital marketing strategy is in alignment.
2 Big Marketing Goal Examples
Ready to see marketing goals in action? Check out these examples:
#1: Improving Social Media Engagement
Most social media goals are RAP-friendly: They’re realistic, actionable and practical right off the bat. That’s because social media is a huge part of both business-to-consumer and business-to-business content marketing strategies. It’s also easy to align social media engagement with other parts of your marketing strategy, including brand awareness, customer service and more. Simply put, the phrase “social media” is usually a good sign that you’ve struck marketing goal gold.
If you choose this as your business objective, your definition of success is likely “creating valuable conversations online.” You might track performance indicators like these:
- CTA interactions.
#2: Simplifying the Lead Generation Process
This is a great marketing goal. It’s realistic, especially if you already know where your lead generation strategy is falling short; it’s also actionable and practical.
On top of that, this goal gives you plenty of room to be creative. Depending on your needs, this might involve both internal improvements and customer-facing efforts, which means it’s a true interdepartmental goal. You also have all kinds of tools at your disposal, from video marketing and SEO to better user experience (UX) design.
In this case, your definition of success might be “gaining higher-quality leads with less effort.” To find out if your goal is hitting the mark, you could look at performance indicators including:
- The number of leads overall.
- The number of qualified leads.
- Conversion rates.
- Engagement rates.
Get Your Marketing Goals in a Row
Let’s be honest: Marketing is full of promise, which means it’s also full of tough decisions. If you feel like I did — a kid trying to choose between all kinds of dreams, not all of them realistic or even possible — it might be time to get your marketing goals in a row.
Just remember the marketing goal RAP. Maybe even add some music and a little dance. You never know where it could end up — or what it could do for your brand, marketing campaigns and even your customers.
Editor’s note: This article was updated in Dec. 2023.