How to set Digital Marketing Goals that Yield Results


There is no athletic game on earth that doesn’t have clear goals that signify a win (well, except maybe Cricket)—and yet so many organizations move forward in digital strategies without clearly defining the main goals. This undoubtedly leads to major fumbling, and even if there is a win, you have no documented way to get there.

I understand why goal-setting is often overlooked. The last decade has seen a mass rush for every organization to have a digital plan. A desire to be part of the digital space can (wrongly) trump the process of careful strategizing. Not to mention that social media has so many prongs that figuring out where to dig in can be all-encompassing. The unromantic process of goal-setting is easily overshadowed.

But in the same way that archers wouldn’t let an arrow fly without knowing where they were aiming, a digital strategy can’t get off the ground with a set of tangible goals. Lots of organizations go from creating a brand story to drafting audience journey maps, but skipping the goal-setting part of the process is skipping the part that informs every other element of the campaign execution.

Be S.M.A.R.T.

There are lots of acronyms that can guide you through goal-setting, but the one I find most useful is S.M.A.R.T. Your goals for any digital campaign should be:

·      Specific

·      Measurable

·      Attainable

·      Relevant

·      Time-bound


If you toss the ball in the general direction of the net, it’s good, but probably not good enough to score. The same goes for making your digital strategy goals specific. If you have a specific target in mind, the team always has a set of objectives to work towards, and the chances of campaign success increase. Specific goal-setting increases the consistency of your team’s actions, and the clarity of decision-making.

Beware of setting goals that are too lofty, especially if a single digital campaign can’t achieve it. Don’t confuse the goals of your organization (which are often more visionary) with the goals of your campaign. While they should be related to each other (see Relevant, below), campaign goals should be very specific to the activities of the campaign.

Bad example: This Facebook advertising campaign promoting our annual gala will contribute to our goals to end world hunger.
Good example: The two goals of this promoting the video through a three-month Facebook advertising campaign are to 1) sell at least 100 tickets to the annual gala, and 2) add 250 new e-mail addresses to our list.


Scores are measured in numbers, not feelings, and the same goes for your digital strategy goals. Metrics have been the buzzword of the last few years, and for good reason. The C-Suite speaks in numbers: the marketing department must communicate results in terms of the bottom line. If you want the higher-ups to throw resources toward your campaign, you have to prove the campaign’s worthiness, and that proof is in the metrics.

But having measurable goals is also good for the digital strategy itself. If you can measure something, you’re able to determine the quality of its success. The worst way to approach a digital strategy is to feel your way through it. If you set a specific goal that is measurable in the digital space, you will have something to look to when determining whether the campaign was a win or a loss. Otherwise, you’ll be shooting in the dark.

A side note about sentiment: if your goal is to build positive audience sentiment, be careful. There are a few pricey platforms out there that measure sentiment—or you can do it on your own through keyword measurement—but because the way people speak online is so particular and nuanced, measuring sentiment is going to be a difficult task.

Bad example: This campaign will increase brand awareness.
Good example: We will determine how much this campaign increased brand awareness by measuring Facebook video shares and traffic to the landing page, and then compare that to the results of last quarter’s campaign.


Good goals stretch your capability beyond what you normally do—that’s why they’re goals, not tasks. But goals should not be so out of reach that you set yourself up for failure. Finding the sweet spot between a goal that is aspirational and a goal that is status quo is an important step.

Knowing what’s attainable means knowing your resources. What kind of money are you allocating for this campaign? How many staff will be dedicated to it and how much of their time will be spent on just this project?

And—you guessed it: attainable goals are directly linked to measurable goals. When you start putting goals in terms of metrics, you’ll very quickly be able to see if they’re attainable or not.

Bad example: The goal of this Q1 Twitter strategy is to emerge as a thought leader in global nonprofits
Good example: By the end of Q1, this Twitter strategy will result in a 25% increase in followers, a 30% increase in re-tweets, and 50% more traffic driven to the site.


Sure, it would be cool to have 300,000 Twitter followers. But is that relevant for your larger business objectives? If you’re trying to drum up large donations from major philanthropic organizations, will 300,000 Twitter followers help? It might, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first place to go. However, if you’re trying to gather signatures to pass legislation about housing and homelessness in the city, then yes, a major Twitter following will probably help.

The point here is not to rush to a social strategy without knowing how it’s going to be relevant for your particular organization. Every organization—even nonprofits—have business objectives, and a digital strategy should serve those objectives. So don’t go after millennials on Snapchat if your greater mission wouldn’t be helped by engaging millennials (or, for that matter, if your organization’s content doesn’t work on Snapchat.) Bottom line: don’t dunk your ball in the wrong net.

Bad example: Our foundation, which gathers donations to provide housing in rural India, will invest in an influencer partnership with a YouTuber, whose audience is mainly people between 14 and 24.
Good example: Our foundation’s mission—to raise awareness of and funds to support efforts to empower women and girls in rural areas of the globe—will be served by a partnership with this YouTuber, whose audience is mainly women between 16 and 28, and will include a call-to-action to share a video, use the hashtag, and donate what they can.  


Every game has a clock that runs out, and so should your digital strategy. No one wants to deal with a sprawling, vaguely purposeful campaign, which is what happens when a strategy goes unchecked without an end in sight. Set a very specific time stamp on your goal—say, 18 months—with benchmark goals along the way. This way, you will know how to measure a win. The benchmarks can serve as breathing points where you can do mini-evaluations and change course if you need to. Of course, if your goals are specific and measurable, evaluation will be a cinch.

Bad example: Over the next two years, this campaign will work towards raising brand awareness.
Good example: By the end of this 18-month video marketing campaign, we will create one three-minute video every three months following the specific narrative of this young girl in Kenya, and how she was helped by the foundation’s programs. At the end of each three-month period, we expect video shares on social to be up by 30% and conversions to increase by 10%, and a ticket sales benchmark working towards the gala at the end of 2017.

Different Ways to Be S.M.A.R.T

Other organizations arrange these steps in different ways. Some use M.A.R.S.T, starting with making sure their goals are measurable, so that hard numbers are the foundation of every action. However you decide its best to prioritize these steps, it will be a process that will set you up for success down the line.