Setting Achievable (and Measurable) Marketing Campaign Goals

Photo illustration of two people at a meeting with a planning board behind them

I’ve recently been working with a client that manages digital products. As part of that work, they need to show their products are helping retain users and bring in new customers—but they’ve never been asked to answer performance questions before now.

That has meant teaching a product development team how to think about questions that sales, marketing, and executive leadership might have and how to anticipate those needs. One of the key things I’ve tried to drive home is establishing measured outcomes for the client’s work and putting that as central to the product’s development process. That’s done by asking that each request the team gets is framed with the following statement:

“As a [owner], I want [to request] a [new feature], and I will measure its success for [KPI] by [measure].”

For example:

  • “As a product owner, I want logins by text message to increase unique users accessing the app for adoption KPIs by 10% this quarter.”
  • “As a support person, I want to receive remote diagnostics to decrease the 7-day churn for new user retention by at least 10 users in a month.”
  • “As a marketer, I want to measure abandoned widget requests to increase widget completions via a product usage campaign. I want to show our email nurture improved 15% of the leaks in this funnel.”

This forces the product team to learn and answer the following questions:

  • Who requests this change?
  • What is the requested change?
  • What is the goal of this change?
  • How does this change relate to business goals?
  • How will you measure whether the change was successful?

Answering these questions gives a transparent chain of custody and purpose to the work. Rather than fielding one-off requests with no context, they can now be prioritized by business needs, distributed fairly amongst multiple types of stakeholders, and have concrete success/failure criteria for both the product developer and business stakeholder. This results in features more closely aligned with the actual business’ ask.

Now, what happens if you go back to that list of questions and substitute the word “campaign” for “change?”

  • Who is requesting this campaign?
  • What is the requested campaign?
  • What is the goal of this campaign?
  • How does this campaign relate to business goals?
  • How will you measure whether the campaign was successful?

It turns out those questions are just as relevant for marketers.

The one question you need to ask

I once worked with a sales department that only put their closed-won opportunities into their CRM. Any sort of failure in the sales process was completely obscured. There are many reasons a salesperson may not be able to make a sale: the buyer didn’t meet budget, authority, needs, and timeline requirements (BANT), a project stalled, the buyer went with a competitor, and so on. However, without any of that data in their CRM, there was no way to plan a better sales strategy. They had no idea whether to invest in better sales qualification, objection handling, or other techniques to improve performance.

I’d argue the same problem exists in many marketing departments. When you fail to measure and set expectations for a campaign, you’ll never have any way of improving it. Before you can even address measuring your department’s performance, a much more pressing question needs to be answered: How do you measure your campaigns?

That sounds deceptively simple: In this era of marketing operations, most companies do have tracking in place to measure who is participating in what campaign and what status each person in the campaign has. After all, it’s pretty common to have data on file for who registered, attended, and no-showed on your webinar or what campaigns people who MQLed participated in. That view, however, isn’t different from seeing only your closed-won opportunities; there’s no layer of understanding why a campaign was successful or a failure.

How does that lack of data impact your work as a marketing department? Let’s take a common example of a campaign that can run into problems: the humble email newsletter. Newsletters are a popular campaign tactic—my inbox can attest to this with the number of newsletters I get from companies I don’t engage with. But what are they even achieving?

Let’s go back to the set of questions that we posed earlier and review them against a newsletter campaign.

Who is requesting this campaign?

This is an interesting question with newsletters. Who has invested in newsletters being a marketing tactic? Perhaps your company’s executives enjoy the overall updates. Perhaps this has been a marketing department tactic that has carried on across multiple employees over time. Perhaps this is a new initiative from the marketing department.

The point of understanding who is requesting the campaign is twofold. You want to know who the request is coming from for balance purposes, and you want to have a responsible party for success/failure accountability. Knowing who is making requests allows marketing leaders to make better scheduling decisions. If the sales department requests 85 percent of campaigns but marketing planning has only accounted for 25% of work to go to sales campaigns, that can be caught early. If one product line is over-promoted due to campaign requests, this can be seen and adjusted.

Likewise, having someone for marketing to be accountable to for the campaign sets up a working partnership. Rather than tossing a campaign request over to marketing and forgetting about the details, accountability asks both parties to work together. After all, all the subsequent questions we suggest require both marketing and the accountable partner to collaborate on what to measure, what success looks like, and why the campaign matters to your business.

What is the requested campaign?

This question is the most straightforward to answer but often can be glossed over for the sake of time. Let’s go back to our newsletter example. If the requested campaign is to create a newsletter, there are still several questions a seasoned marketer will ask:

  • Who are the intended audience(s) for this newsletter? Is this going to early-stage prospects, customers, partners, and/or internal stakeholders? Are there any personas this newsletter is meant to target? Can the intended audience be described with business language and technical, data-defined criteria?
  • What types of content should be included in the newsletter? Is this something that highlights recent blog entries, whitepapers, and/or videos? Should the content be grouped by themes? How does the content relate to the audience(s), and is your content organized so you can find the pieces relevant to your audience(s)?
  • How does this content relate to the triggers of what catches an audience’s interest? What expectations does your audience have around your solution and its messaging? What are their priorities? These questions should be fleshed out in your persona development and applied practically to campaigns like these.

The content of a newsletter made after answering these questions is likely a very different one that’s made because your stakeholder gave you a week to deploy a newsletter. By inviting these questions and having conversations with your stakeholder, you not only get better input to understand what’s requested, but you can cut down on back-and-forth communication and know your campaign content strategy is aligned.

What is the goal of this campaign?

I’m often surprised to find that, no matter the campaign, there’s often no concretely defined goal to measure its success against when I ask this question to marketers. Some of the more common responses I’ve gotten to this question include:

  • “The goal is to increase sales.”
  • “The goal is to increase MQL rates.”
  • “The goal is to keep our brand top of mind.”

Those are all laudable goals, but they can’t be measured or controlled by the marketer or the campaign. Everyone would like more sales—but that involves both marketing and sales, and likely won’t be caused by one campaign. Everyone would like increased MQL rates, but how does this specific campaign impact that? Everyone would like their brand to be at the top of their prospects’ and customers’ minds, but how do you even measure that?

Let’s go back to our newsletter example. What is the goal of a newsletter? This can be a question marketers struggle with, but we can take some of the goals we had earlier and reframe them into better, measurable outcomes.

  • The goal is to get engagement: Since this newsletter will reach low-activity prospects, we’ll send five links to early-stage gated content. If the recipient requests at least one piece of gated content in the newsletter, it has succeeded in driving the person to engage with our content.
  • The goal is to decrease call center needs: Since this newsletter is going out to our customers and explains some upcoming changes, we want our readers to visit our page from the newsletter about this. The last time we made this change, we received 50 calls to the support center—this time, we want to make sure anyone who read the article doesn’t have to call in. We want to see 40 or fewer calls and no calls from people we see in marketing automation as having read the page.
  • The goal is to increase MQL count: Since this number can be manipulated in several ways via scoring and other techniques, try reframing this goal a bit. What behaviors do MQLs who successfully purchase typically do? Can a newsletter drive someone to interactive content, have a no-sales consultation, or otherwise prepare them for the next stage of their journey? If so, measure that core behavior being driven from the newsletter.
  • The goal is to stay relevant as a brand: There may be multiple ways to measure how this occurs, but the important part is to measure it. If you’re measuring brand awareness by email opens, you need to make sure you have that defined beyond “my email provider says I got x opens.” Are you using email analytics to see how long people look at your email content? Are you considering who you want to stay relevant to in context—target accounts, certain stages in the customer journey, or are you just taking any engagement as valid? Are you using external marketplace surveys or qualitative analysis to measure your brand’s awareness? This is likely a weak way to measure a goal, but it may be a good first step as something to define while you refine your campaign plans.

How does this campaign relate to business goals?

This is another critical question that can seem straightforward but can get overlooked. Why do you want to achieve the goal you’ve defined in the previous question? Suppose we continue with our previous newsletter example. In that case, several business goals can be achieved from a newsletter—they just need to be clear so the company’s goals can be used to measure success and failure. For example:

  • The customer-centric goal of sending a customer newsletter with product updates is to inform the customer about changes, but the business goal is to decrease support cases about the change in a tangible and measurable way.
  • The customer-centric goal of sending an early-stage prospect newsletter is to help provide information on your company’s solutions. Still, the business goal is to find interested early-stage prospects and then review the list of campaign conversions to see if any prospects from large companies have engaged. This helps inform ABM efforts for companies that match our ideal profile. (Sometimes, the business goal of a campaign is just to inform the strategy of another campaign.)
  • The customer-centric goal of sending mid-stage prospects a newsletter with case studies and our ROI calculator is to have them interact with the content and measure the conversion, but our business goal is to increase ROI calculator use—since it asks qualifying questions and records answers that can be used later in the sales process.

Asking this question gives an overall “why” to your campaign and can again be used to help marketing leaders determine priority and effort levels applied to one effort vs. another.

How will you measure whether the campaign was successful?

The answer to this question is critical for attribution. It’s a question you should ask whether you’re a CMO, have CMO aspirations, or are a data-driven marketer. It’s also a question I very rarely see considered—more often, it’s “send this campaign out to the world and hope for the best.”

What is the tangible, SMART goal you’re trying to achieve with this campaign? Going back to our newsletter, we might look at our examples and say:

  • The customer newsletter will be a success if we can measure that at least X customers read the linked article about the product change and we get at least 10 fewer calls to the call center in the next month than we did when we last changed the product.
  • The early-stage prospect newsletter will be a success if we measure at least a 1% conversion rate; that is, we see at least 1% of the email audience fill out a gated content form they were linked to in the newsletter within a week.

In some cases, this may be worth clarifying further: Would someone who received the newsletter and then later went to the content of their own accord within a certain time count as having achieved the goal of the newsletter? Maybe. Is it more important to have certain prospects from ideal customer profiles interact, and does that make it OK to miss 1% conversion rates? Maybe. Have these conversations internally and try to get as clear as possible on what success looks like.

  • The mid-stage prospect newsletter will be a success if we measure the assisted conversions for using the ROI calculator and getting qualifying answers for at least five stalled accounts.

Once you have clarity on what the goals and structure of your campaign should be, you’ll gain three main benefits:

  • Clarity on how to structure your campaign
  • Clarity on what priority and effort your marketing department should assign to this campaign
  • Clarity on how to measure your campaign’s success

These ideas lay the foundation you’ll need to start working with attribution. Structured campaigns can have costs (internal and external) assigned to them, are understood in the priority of the company’s marketing mix, and have clear success and failure measurements for both external participants and internal stakeholders. This data can then be layered to optimize your campaign spend, measure your cost-per-success and cost-per-acquisition, and ultimately drive towards revenue attribution and accountability.

Your next steps in getting accurate and understandable marketing attribution shouldn’t have to be on your own; if you or your department need help getting to concrete campaign measurement, reach out to DemandLab.