Why marketers must set business goals

Why marketers must set business goals

What is – or should be – marketing’s place in setting business goals, and what’s the best way of allying marketing with these goals?

Whatever the organisation, when it comes to pursuing business goals, marketing will inevitably play a crucial role in achieving these objectives. Whether they are to boost sales revenue, increase customer numbers, raise brand awareness, deliver a better customer experience or increase profitability, aligning marketing strategy to help realise these goals is as obvious as it is vital.

However, the most effective way for marketing to play its role isn’t simply to translate the organisation’s business objectives into marketing activity – it should be at the front end of the decision-making process to establish the businesses strategic objectives, and bring its expertise to help define measurable targets.

Marketing should lead on objective-setting

“Marketing should include an insights and planning function for the business and the brand,” says Colin Cather, creative director of branding specialist Bottle. He says marketing should be contributing to – and often leading – the objective-setting. “Insights will reveal threats and opportunities and proper planning will interrogate the brand ambitions; ‘we want to grow revenues by 5%’ becomes a conversation about whether that is through increased penetration, frequency of purchase or increased premiums and margins. That in turn can lead to a new product development need, as well as a new campaign or brand platform.”

Establishing and understanding clearly what the specific objectives are – rather than just interpreting top-down goals from the board in a marketing context – will feed into a more effective and efficient marketing strategy that aligns smoothly with these goals across teams. With all the cogs of the business turning in the right direction, it can also ensure better integration and clarity with – and buy-in from – other functions within the organisation. This will be particularly effective in businesses that have a less ‘siloed’ approach, where there is a more integrated strategy across all channels and teams.

Use data to inform marketing objectives

A chief marketing officer on the operational board, with the right internal influence and leadership, can be crucial in getting marketing involvement in the operational planning process. Setting realistic, specific and achievable goals is essential, and marketing intelligence can focus on the granular level of detail needed to help inform decision-makers on the strategies, resources, measurement criteria and timescales involved in delivering well-defined and attainable organisation-wide business goals.

The metrics and customer intelligence generated from marketing analytics tools can also be crucial in monitoring step-by-step progress and measuring the success – or otherwise – of strategies against benchmark KPIs. These can be measured on a weekly, monthly, or daily basis to help keep business goals on track. Whether these are measuring brand awareness, engagement, lead generation, customer retention and loyalty, sales, or a combination of other metrics that are important for the organisation, the detailed feedback and insights this data provides can identify what is and isn’t working – and also flag up whether an adjustment in strategy is necessary. They can also indicate where or how this can be most effectively implemented.

It is vital, however, to ensure these tools are able to provide clear, specific metrics across that can not only help marketing but also create an accurate ‘bigger picture’ for the broader organisation and across all teams and channels – again, encouraging buy-in to achieving these goals, at the same time as identifying how well the strategy is progressing.

Nurture an agile marketing culture

The influence of marketing can be even more effective if a company has an appropriately agile culture that involves a marketing-oriented focus across teams, suggests Dr Omar Merlo, assistant professor in strategic marketing at Imperial College Business School.

“Marketing’s role in setting business goals is at least dual,” Merlo says. “What most people can usually see most clearly is the impact of people like the CMO, the marketing director, or the marketing department as a whole. This is the most obvious way in which marketing exercises influence on business goals. 

“However, a potentially more important and yet less visible way in which marketing can impact business objectives is through an organisational culture that is market oriented.”

Firms are increasingly fostering a culture where everyone – regardless of their job title or departmental affiliation – is responsible for listening to customers, bringing that customer intelligence within the organisation, and feeding it into the business strategy. “This makes marketing less ‘visible’, but potentially more powerful,” Merlo says. His research suggests that significant performance gains result from companies that rely on both an influential marketing department and a strong market orientation or culture to drive business objectives.

Adjust marketing goals in light of circumstance

It may not always go to plan, however, and sometimes business goals may have to be reset if they are clearly unachievable. Aligning marketing fully with business objectives also ensures that broader goals that may not necessarily appear to have a direct relationship to marketing are taken into account initially at the operational planning stage – and, consequently, if or when adjustments to marketing strategies are necessary. These could involve, for example, long-term sourcing of materials, recruitment policies or data protection – all elements that could impact on the capacity of the business to deliver its objectives within a certain timeframe if changes are made, and which should be therefore considered if marketing strategy or key business goals need to be altered to keep on track.

Key points – setting business goals

  • Internal alignment is critical for effective implementation of business goals.
  • Marketing input at the operational planning level should enable businesses to establish specific goals and create a clear and realistic plan to reach these goals – with an attainable timeframe.
  • A defined process for achieving these goals and the resources necessary to accomplish them should be built into the strategic plan.
  • Measurement tools providing relevant metrics should deliver a clear picture of progress at every stage from every channel and team. As well as encouraging buy-in from teams across the business, they can also identify where adjustments to the plan may need to be made.

Breaking down silos within the organisation will help alignment with business goals across all functions.

To discover more, read CIM’s latest research, The Value of Marketing.

Phil Lattimore
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