What are SMART Marketing objectives, how do they apply to digital marketing activities, and how does SMART goal-setting fit into marketing strategy formulation? Join us as we explain one of the most useful frameworks in the business and marketing strategy toolset.

What are SMART Objectives?

SMART is a framework for measuring the quality of a business goal. If a goal / objective meets the framework’s criteria, this indicates it is a good goal to work towards. Setting SMART objectives is a critical step in creating an effective marketing plan and will help you with effective project management.

The five criteria of SMART are:

·       Specific

·       Measurable

·       Attainable

·       Relevant

·       Time-limited

Here’s what each of these means from a digital marketer’s perspective:


What exactly are we trying to achieve?

Marketing goals need to be specific if they are to be useful.

Instead of broad-brush objectives such as “We will sell more product” or “We will become a world-leading brand”, marketers need to flesh out their goals with details that flow naturally into strategy formulation.

To make a goal specific, consider the following:

  • Which of the brand’s products and services does the goal relate to?
  • Who does the goal relate to? Which audience, internal stakeholders and competitors are involved?
  • Which locations does the goal relate to, e.g. individual stores, cities, regions, foreign markets?
  • How will the goal be reached?
  • What are our key obstacles in pursuing the goal?  
  • Why is the goal important?

So, instead of (a) “We will sell lots of product”, you might end up with something like this:

(b) “Our EMEA stores will increase sales of fuel canisters to Generation X customers by rolling out a new set of in-store promotions. This will help us overtake our competitor Calor in market share within two years, which help increase sales of our other products through improved brand recognition. Promotions launched by competitors during the same period could be an obstacle to the accomplishment of this goal.”

Examples (a) and (b) can both refer to the same outcome, but only (b) lays the foundation for effective strategy, thanks to its specificity.


How will we define success in the pursuit of our goal?

Measurement frameworks can help us understand whether a goal has been met, or how much progress has been made towards meeting a goal.

For marketers, the success metrics used to measure goal completion have traditionally included units sold, gross revenue, marketing cost per sale and customers acquired.

Digital marketing has given us lots of new success metrics to track, such as social media engagements, email open rates, website visits, search engine keyword rankings and the conversion rate of website visits into ecommerce sales.

Such tracking is usually done via an analytics application linked to a digital platform, e.g. onboard social media analytics on Facebook and Twitter, SEO tools for monitoring search visibility, and website analytics tools like Google Analytics.  Check out our video on setting up goal tracking in Google Analytics.

Measurability is the difference between “We want to make our social media posts better”, and “We want to make our social media posts more engaging, as measured by likes/comments/shares.”


Can we get this done?

Business goals need to be attainable, considering factors such as budget, access to skills and resources, competition, and the complexity of work required.

We can gauge the attainability of most digital marketing goals by using competing companies as a yardstick. For example, if another brand of similar stature has X number of followers on Instagram, X inbound links to their website and a domain authority of X, achieving similar figures would likely be attainable for your brand, given the appropriate investment of time and resources.

Another good way to understand the requirements for attaining a goal is commissioning a specialist contractor or agency either to submit a proposal for carrying out the work, or help you form a strategy for doing the work in-house.

Setting attainable goals is easier to do if you take a near-term approach to goal setting. So, the goal should describe the next step towards the brand’s long-term vision, rather than describing the vision itself.

“I want to improve our website’s visibility on Google” would be the basis for a far more attainable goal than “I want our website to be #1 on Google” – something that is frequently asked of SEO professionals by over-expectant clients.  


Is this goal really something we should be working towards?

From a marketing perspective, the key to setting relevant goals is making sure the objective fits with the brand’s strategic positioning. This means the goal should accomplish something that suits the business’ offering and its relationship to customers.

No matter how impressive a marketing goal may be, its usefulness will be limited by its relevancy to the brand.

For example, what good would it do for Saga Cruises to build a massive following on the new social platform TikTok, which is used mainly by Generation Z and Millennials?

There is a caveat, insofar as some goals that are tangential to a brand’s strategic position can change the brand for the better. For instance, the money transfer giant Western Union started life as a telegraph service provider. Decision-makers at the company took a punt on adding debit cards to the brand’s offering in 1914, paving the way for Western Union to grow into the company it is today.

So, goals should generally be relevant to the company – but game-changing objectives have their place too.


When’s the deadline?

Goals need time management deadlines to provide the impetus for progress towards their completion. If we don’t have deadlines, we tend to focus on other matters that seem more urgent. Making sure your objectives are time-bound always helps to make for a more achievable goal, as open-ended objectives have a habit of never being completed.

Some of the deliverables involved in attaining a goal may need to be delivered according to a certain time-based schedule. For example, if a new product is to be launched, marketing activities to promote that product need to be ready in plenty of time for launch day.

Other deliverables, such as certain research and design tasks, can be done according to a looser schedule. Just keep in mind with any tasks that you add to your plan that you are realistic and timely with the time they will need and with their completion.

The SMART criteria we’ve just talked through are widely regarded as the standard SMART criteria in 2019. However, some people use different words for the five letters of the mnemonic, including George T. Doran, the originator of SMART.

In a 1981 issue of Management Review, Doran wrote:

Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

As we can see, the SMART criteria have changed since Doran’s day – but only slightly. George T. Doran’s original ‘A’ for the SMART criteria: Assignable

Who will deliver this?

Before we move on to talk about how SMART goal-setting can fit into a marketing strategy workflow, let’s consider an important alternative ‘A’ criterion: Assignable.

To make a goal deliverable, we must identify people capable of accomplishing it. That might mean looking within your own company’s staff, or it might mean commissioning an agency or freelancer to provide their specialist skill.

We recommend profiling the skill levels within your organisation to determine whether you can accomplish a goal using in-house talent only, or whether you’ll need to engage external talent.

Target Internet’s Digital Skills Benchmark is a free online tool that individuals and teams can use to find out which digital marketing skills they excel at, and which are areas for improvement. Try it with your team to decide who you can do each task involved in attaining your goal.

When to use SMART goal-setting

A brand’s goals should be based on an awareness of the environment it is operating in – especially in terms of the opportunities that are currently open to it. This means we need to place an important step before goal-setting in the strategy formulation process: situational analysis.

One effective situational analysis tool is SWOT analysis, which encourages marketers to think about Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

We can apply SWOT to any aspect of marketing. For example:

  Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat
Branding People recognise our brand name. Our logo looks dated. A highly-rated design agency has expressed interest in working with us. If we change our logo drastically, customers might no longer recognise it as ours.
Social campaign We have a high number of followers on Twitter. Our tweets are getting very low engagement. Brands like ours get high engagement on LinkedIn. Switching focus to a different social channel could mean losing contact with our Twitter followers.
Website We have a good link profile. Our direct traffic is relatively low. A web domain that closely matches our brand name has become available. Moving to a new domain could damage our link profile if not done correctly.

In a full SWOT analysis, you would list several strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, usually based on interviews with a wide range of stakeholders. As well as specific marketing projects, SWOT can be applied to the big-picture view of a business. You can read much more on this subject in our Short Guide to SWOT and TOWS analysis for Digital Marketers.

How SWOT findings help with setting SMART goals

Here’s how the findings from SWOT or other types of situational analysis can feed into SMART goal-setting:

  1. Identify inter-related strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from your SWOT analysis.
  2. Use these to draft up some goals that use your strengths to capitalise on your opportunities, while accounting for your weaknesses and threats.
  3. Check the goals against each of the five SMART criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-limited.
  4. If a goal does not meet a SMART criterion, edit it to fit with the framework.

Once you have carried out these four steps, you should be left with a set of goals that are in-tune with your circumstances and suitable for implementation. An alternative approach is to use just the weaknesses identified through SWOT as the basis for SMART goals.

Identifying the right reporting tools to measure goal attainment

Measuring goal attainment is crucial to evaluation, future planning, and reporting progress to stakeholders.

In the ‘M’ stage of SMART goal-setting, you should have considered which metrics you will track to quantify the success of your goals. Now, you’ll need to ensure you have the correct tools in place to provide this data.

Here are some examples of popular measurement tools for a range of marketing activities:

· Google Analytics: for website-related and on-site content marketing goals. Here’s how to get certified as a proficient Google Analytics user.

· SEO tools: specialist search performance tools such as Raven and Moz can help measure goals relating to inbound links, keyword rankings, and technical factors affecting search performance, e.g. PageSpeed and website architecture. Read our reviews of the world’s best SEO tools.

· Email marketing: choose an email marketing tool that gives you detailed reporting on KPIs like open rate and unsubscribe rate. MailChimp and Litmus are good examples.

· Social: for basic metrics, use the on-board analytics of social media business accounts like Instagram Business and Twitter for Business; or for more detail, use a third-party platform like Hootsuite or Buffer.

Having appropriate measurement tools in-place from the moment you start working towards your SMART goals will mean you can regularly check your progress and tweak your approach as required.

A good way to learn the workflow of SWOT analysis, SMART goal-setting and checking reports is:

SWOT up | Be SMART | Get your Report

An alternative to SMART: the BSQ goal-setting framework

SMART is just one of the many goal-setting frameworks currently used by businesses, marketers, life coaches and others.


BSQ is based on a very simple set of principles:

1.     Think Big

2.     Act Small

3.     Move Quick

Think big means set ambitious goals; act small means break those goals down into easy steps; move quick means set a deadline to get the job done.

If the SMART goal-setting framework is too convoluted for your way of working, try BSQ instead.

David van Rooy, VP of Talent and Organizational Capability at Walmart Canada, fully explains the BSQ framework in this Inc. article.


Whether you go on and use SMART, BSQ, or any other goal-setting framework, the thing we really want you to take away from this article is that effective goals require careful thought. Anyone can pluck a nice-sounding goal out of thin air – but useful goals, ones that can get done, are a work of strategy. The more time you put into setting your goals, the better placed you will be to bring them to fruition.