Outcomes and Targets

For years, when talking about business and marketing, I have used the terminology of goals and objectives. But I'm changing. I am now starting to use the words "outcomes" and "targets". There are a few reasons for this shift.

The first reason for change is that I can't seem to figure out the difference between a "goal" and an "objective". I must have missed that class in MBA school. I know all about SMART Objectives and DUMB Goals. I have used these acronyms in our company and with clients. And they work. Except that I get confused.

Avinash Kaushik gives his take on definitions of Objectives and Goals. But I'm still confused because I have typically held "goals" as lofty and general and used "objectives" to be more specific (using the SMART formula). Avinash inverts this. And I like Avinash. He has great ideas and he knows what he is doing. I end up having to stand on my head to understand his logic. And I have never been able to stand on my head for long.

The second reason is that I like the perspective of an Outcome. The perspective is from the marketer's point of view and what they want the buyers to do. It is behavioral. This is what I have been learning over the last couple of years from the master, my metrics business partner, Joanne O'Connell. Let me describe her concept of an "Outcome".

She defines an Outcome as: The desired behavior of the members of the target market influenced by the marketing investment and effort. In other words, describe what action you want your target market to do. This is very different from "increase revenue", "improve satisfaction" or "increase quality".

I love her definition because it focuses on behavior - specifically the behavior that you want a person in your target market to do. In the past, I would express an objective (or a goal; see the confusion?) along the lines of, "Increase annual revenue by 20% by the end of the year." This fits the structure of a SMART objective" but it doesn't really say how a member of the target market is suppose to respond to a specific marketing campaign.

An "outcome" on the other hand would describe the behavior that you want someone to do. An example for an online business selling dog biscuits would be:

In this example, we know the target market - individual dog owners. Not retail stores. Not dog walkers. Not kennels.

We also know the behavior that we want people to do - order online. Not visiting a retail store. Not phoning. Not faxing (who remembers facsimiles?).

And we know what we want the buyer to buy - dog biscuits. Not toys. Not leashes. Not food.

This is a simple example. The structure of an Ultimate Outcome and underlying Outcomes can get more complex but we need to start with an Outcome that is simple and clear.

Another way to look at an Outcome is that it is a sentence (remember grade 9). There is a subject - Individual dog owners. And there is a predicate - purchase (action) dog biscuits.

Obviously, most Outcomes are sales which lead to revenue. An Outcome, however, is not always a sale. Some examples include voting for a candidate, booking an appointment, participants at an event, donations or obtaining résumés.

Once we have our Ultimate Outcome and supporting Outcomes we can set Targets for each. In our Marketing Metrics Dashboard model, we set KPIs first. These are the measures and metrics that are "key" to performance or "critical" for success. Next we identify the KPIs and set targets for each. In our model, a Target is a desired minimum or maximum figure for the selected KPIs, to be accomplished by a certain date. We like to show the targets (red line) on the KPI charts.

As I mentioned, I like this language and Joanne's definitions for an Outcome. Together we added the concept of selecting KPIs and Targets (an obvious addition). This structure fits with the way I think and the way that I interact with clients. We are finding that our clients love this approach. It is new and refreshing. Clear and focused.