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How to set and achieve marketing goals: the SMART objective

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

While preparing a #MarketingPlan, you should consider a business as a whole of people who assign themselves tasks (roles) to pursue a common goal (objectives).

An organization without objectives doesn’t work. Keep reading to discover what an objective really is and why it is so critical for a company.

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Objectives are the strongest variable which affects an individual’s behavior in a working environment:

  • They give attention to a specific direction;

  • They stimulate focus and effort on a task;

  • They encourage persistency;

  • They facilitate the development of strategies.

How to set goals to improve performance and motivation

According to Edwin A. Locke (an American psychologist and pioneer in goal-setting theory), demanding ambitious goals lead to superior working performance compared to easy and elementary ones. He considers a goal difficult when an individual’s performance is set to 90%, taking into account that they have all the necessary skills to accomplish it. In this way, motivation becomes the critical factor for success or failure.

Clear and specific objectives also have a better impact on individuals and should be preferred over general ones. Abstract objectives, like “try to do your best” or “we can give our best”, don’t work.

To maintain this positive influence over time, feedback is needed on a consistent basis.

Individual motivation is not attributed to the participation toward the goal decision making process, but in the acceptance and belief in achieving said goal.

An individual’s willingness to pursue a certain goal is fundamental. In 2002, Locke and Gary Latham (a professor of Organizational Effectiveness in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto) identified three factors which indicate goal setting success:

  1. The importance of the expected outcomes of goal attainment;

  2. Self-efficacy: one's belief that they are able to achieve the goals;

  3. Commitment to others: promises or engagements to others can strongly improve commitment.

Finally, a reward for achieving an objective is also important. In his Expectancy theory, Victor Harold Vroom (a business school professor at the Yale School of Management) states that the desirability of an outcome affects individuals’ motivation. Quoting the expectancy theory of motivation in Management, by Montana, Patrick J., Charnov and Bruce H:

This theory emphasizes the needs for organizations to relate rewards directly to performance and to ensure that the rewards provided are those rewards deserved and wanted by the recipients.


In marketing, one of the criteria to guide goal-setting is S.M.A.R.T. This acronym means that an objective should be specific, measurable, attractive, reachable and timed.

The SMART marketing goal acronym
Meaning of the acronym S.M.A.R.T.


What is to be done? Everyone should interpret the goal in the same way.

For example, let’s say you have a website and want to increase its traffic. You book a professional digital marketing consultancy and say: «I want more visitors». Probably the consultant will reply with: «Okay… and what do you mean?».

So, try to use real numbers, like: «I want to increase the visits on this page by 30%» or something similar.


How can you know whether the outcome meets the expectations? You should be able to keep track of your progress. Once you have set your objective, monitor the performance: you can do it daily, weekly or monthly depending on the specific goal.


What’s the outcome from achieving the goal? An objective must be appealing: its outcome should pay back (at least) the energy (physical/mental effort, assets, money...) spent to achieve it. If you’re setting goals for an organization, you should ask yourself whether it is aligned with the company’s mission and vision. Should it be done? Why? Is it relevant for the marketing strategy?


Does the person have the right skill set to achieve the goal? Do we have enough resources to carry on the project? Objectives must be concrete and realizable. If the person lacks abilities or resources, Locke and Latham’s self-efficiency mentioned above will be missing.


When will it be done? When is it due? An objective should be time-oriented and have a clear activity schedule. Entrepreneurs or managers often mismanage deadlines and tasks pipeline, causing delays in project delivery. This is because they assign high priority to every goal.

Andrea Pietrini, managing partner at yourCFO Consulting Group, taught me the difference between urgent and important tasks. For a business, all tasks are important (or they should be), but only few are urgent. Urgent tasks must have the priority.

Example of S.M.A.R.T. goal

  • To build a highway section, 30 miles long, in 6 months from now by having available 30 skilled workers, full equipment and material, and a $50M budget.


From Locke and Latham, we understood there are at least three key points that explain the meaning of managing an organization by objectives:

  1. Defining a goal means making a result “thinkable”;

  2. You don’t have to confuse the objective with the method. The objective is the destination, the end point; the method represents the journey, the plan or tool that makes reaching a goal possible;

  3. There is no such thing as a too complex or difficult objective, because it depends on the person who deals with it.

It is incredible that all of these concepts are also applicable to our private life and the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, has proved it.

Some sound advice from an astronaut: Chris Hadfield explains how you can achieve goals

Chris Hadfield was a Canadian astronaut, engineer and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a fighter pilot. Pretty cool, ah?

His approach to life is as simple as it is effective: you are the result of what you’ve done in the past. Achieving goals is not a linear path, but an irregular line represented by all of your attempts, little achievements and failures.

The curve to goal achievement by Alberto Carniel
This is an example of curve to goal achievement. The X and Y axis represents time and achievements, respectively. The grey line is the overall trend of an individual's performance. Instead, the black line is the real path that everyone follows while attempting to achieve a goal. The path to success over time is not linear and can be made by many other minor achievements or failures that, little by little, guide an individual to the final goal.

If you look at you now and then turn back, you’ll see that everything makes sense: who you are, your job, your body, your relationships, everything is a reflection of your prior actions.

It’s because of the choices you make today, that you will turn into what you want to become tomorrow.

But the most powerful concept that I’ve learned from Hadfield is that even if the odds are against you, it doesn’t matter, you can make it. You just have to make the first step in the right direction:

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be an astronaut, but I realized the odds were terrible. So, I thought, well, let's head in the direction that I like. Let’s do things on the way that, if I don't make it all the way to the very impossible end of the ultimate job that I might love to do someday, that each of the things that I'm doing on the way are things that I like doing and that I would be happy to stay in. So, I did that.


As it is in the private life as it is in business, the odds are always terrible. That’s why S.M.A.R.T. goals can make a difference in the short and long run.

I’m curious, how do you achieve goals in your organization? Do you use any task management software? Share your experience in the comments below!

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