The foundation for any effective marketing plan is clear, SMART objectives. These will provide direction for all stakeholders, the ability to track performance and refocus actions to achieve the business end goals – whether these are for setting up a new small business venture, planning a small, short-term project or writing a significant long-term strategic plan.

The acronym SMART has been around for many years and is a great way to ensure that the objectives set are indeed smart! A good, SMART objective should provide clarity on how a plan or strategy will be measured and whether success has been achieved (and therefore celebrated), or identify where the gaps need to be filled.

SMART is an acronym that provides information on the essential elements that need to be found in each objective to achieve better results.

Specific

Be as specific as possible regarding what needs to be achieved. For example, if profit needs to be increased is this net profit or profit before tax. If market share needs to be increased which market share specifically? If more customers are to be attracted, which customer segment specifically?

Measurable

Without a measure, SMART objectives remains a basic aim with no clear understanding of what the achievement outcome should look like. For example, increasing revenues without a measure of how much to increase revenues can leave stakeholders unclear on exactly how big the challenge is. However, increasing revenues to a specific measured amount (e.g., 25% increase in revenues from X to Y) provides clarity, allowing stakeholders to measure whether they are on track, as well as how much of a gap exists between where they are now on the measure versus where they should be.

Every objective should have some measure allocated; this may require some form of software to be implemented or survey tracking to take place. This ensures that monitoring of performance based on objectives takes place. Some organisations have limited resources and cannot, for example, measure prompted brand awareness. However, they can measure website visits or other measures that may link to increased brand awareness. Choosing the right measures that can be tracked is a skill in itself.

Achievable

This links to the measurement element of the objective. Every measure should feel achievable, but also motivating and inspiring. This requires potentially an indication of other benchmark measures via market research or creating measures based on historical performance. Measures that feel too demanding can be demotivating. Whereas measures that appear to hardly move the business or project forward can also be demotivating and lead to questions around whether the allocation of resources is worthwhile against achieving the objectives.

Realistic

This is often confused with achievable and in some ways, you can think of this part of the acronym as ‘Relevant’. This ensures that not only the measures put in place are achievable, but also make sense in the broader concept of the business environment and strategy. Some businesses for example, need stability, so diversification strategies and related objectives driving the company into a new situation may not be realistic at that point in time.

Timebound

This is the final element of the SMART objective acronym, but often gets left out as many assume that this will be the end of the project, business planning cycle or financial year. Making these assumptions can cause further confusion and ultimately, clarity is the driver; so, if it is the financial year end then clearly state this, or a specific time of the year (e.g. end Dec 2024) or expected end date.

It is always important to include a specific date. This provides a deadline for when the objectives will be evaluated and whether they have been achieved (leading to celebration or commiseration as the case may be). It also spurs activity. For example, if you want to increase revenues by 25% by a certain date, which may be only 6 months away and you are currently only tracking at a 15% increase having implemented your plan 3 months prior, action needs to take place. This provides evidence to motivate this action to take place and create a sense of urgency. Without specific deadlines, the sense of urgency to achieve growth and targets will be lost and goals simply end up never being finally measured.

Wrap Up

You could argue that ‘time bound’ is perhaps more important than the others. However, ultimately, they all work equally to ensure that every objective shared with a project group, employees or other important stakeholders is clearly understandable in terms of what needs to be achieved, how quickly and how success will be measured.

At the Oxford College of Marketing, we have a range of professional marketing courses designed to help develop your understanding of setting marketing goals. Find out more about our courses by filling out our online enquiry form here.

This blog post was written by Fiona Eriksen-Coats (MCIM, DipM Business Science Hons), a tutor with Oxford College of Marketing.