Communication objectives that help and those that don't

Why objectives are important

Objectives give direction.


Giving direction is crucial for marketing and communication strategy. It's obvious why:
1) it helps people understand, what they have to develop in terms of ideas & actions
2) it provides a basis for evaluating the success of those actions.

Now, as a planner I have been searching for an answer to the following question for a long time: How to set objectives so that they help people to develop their marketing activities? A simple question - in theory.

Common but futile knowledge:
Most of the pieces of literature and informations on the internet I've found refer either to the notion of SMART objectives (see graphic) or to the difference between marketing and communication objectives. There's nothing wrong about both of these notions. But they did not really help me. While I was mainly developing communication objectives with marketing objectives already set by my clients very I rather wanted to know:
A) how are communication objectives set best = so that they help?
B) how can communication objectives be derived from marketing objectives or "goals"?


SMART doesn't work very well:
A) I tried to apply SMART criteria to  communication objectives - e.g. in a creative brief. This was not wrong, but it was not the right thing to do as well. Why?

Yes, "Specific" is crucial, "Realistic" is important, "Achievable" is great, but things get worse for most planners when they come to "Measurable" and "Time-Bound". The problem about these criteria is that they seduce the planner's brain to think quantitative. The next thing that happens to a lot of people is that they state the communication objectives in terms of impact on certain dimensions tracked by the brand management. Most often these are brand awareness, brand likeability, brand preference, certain - not insightfully chosen - image dimensions etc. Again,  this is not exactly wrong - measurement is good - it just doesn't help to understand what exactly to develop! What would help is to know The How of "Achievable"! "How can we achieve whatever needs to be achieved?" is the question creative and account people want to be answered - and they don't care, actually, about the market share or brand awareness figures. Why should they? These don't help them.

Marketing goals don't help much:
B) What about deriving communication objectives from marketing objectives? It happened to me - so I guess it happens to other people, too: I really believed for a while this might be possible. It is not! Why?

It's simple: because marketing objectives in most cases are built as SMART objectives and focus on the evaluation of actions. There's no way to derive a helpful communication objective form a marketing objective described as "increase market share to 45% in the SME-segment in the next 12 months". The only things you can derive from such objectives is the target segment and the offerings to be marketed. This helps you to conduct market research with the right respondents or to buy the right media and target the right people at the right time. But it doesn't tell you (directly) what kind of communication and message is needed. Now I believe that there's no direct if-then-relation between marketing goals and communication objectives. Not even the slightest! But there might be one between communication objectives to be set and the problems ON THE WAY TOWARDS the marketing goals proclaimed by the client.

Conclusion & Proposal:
Overall I learned that there seem to be two types of objectives: those to evaluate how things went in retrospective and those that really help a planner.
The problem is: nobody will tell us the objectives. We have to set them ourselves. But the questions remain: how do they have to be if not SMART?

I believe that one of the simple ways to think in a more helpful way is to ask "what to change?" instead of "what to achieve?". Even if it's true that sometimes change is not required, still this perspective helps in most cases when planners are involved.
I believe that choosing a certain form of statement helps a lot. So here are some useful ones.
A communication objective is more helpful when it is stated e.g. in the form of
"from ... to ..." or "convince them that ..." or  " or "dissolve the connection between ... and ... ".