Objective Ingredients: How to write a Data-Driven Objective

Have you ever finished a marketing campaign without the ability to say if it succeeded? This is what you were missing.


The big holiday marketing campaign is over, and you’re presenting the report to the VP of Marketing. It was a campaign you worked hard on and are quite proud of. You tell the VP how, overall, you drove over $1,000,000 in revenue and at a cost per sale of under $10. And then it happens: she asks “Is this good? What costs are included in that calculation?”

Do you quote Year-over-Year stats? Do you point out that she never gave you a target to shoot for? Or maybe you’re lucky, and she hasn’t asked the question yet, so it’s not a problem, right? WRONG!

When we set out to design a marketing campaign, the only way to succeed is to persist in asking the right questions in order to set a clear, aligned, and data-driven objective. In order to achieve this, you’ll need a linguistic format for your objective that inherently creates alignment.

How to Set Data-Driven Objectives in Two Simple Steps

With two simple questions*, each with three ingredients, you have everything you need to ensure all parties’ eyes are on the prize. Below is a table that aligns the question with its ingredients:

Screen Shot 2020 04 22 at 12.24.55 PM

Once you have defined all 6 ingredients, you can put them together in two clean answers to the questions, and it will look something like this:


The effectiveness of these two questions does not reside in their simplicity, but rather in the fact that neither the first question nor its ingredients require establishing an actual KPI and target. Again, a focus on people and alignment is the key here. By asking first to clarify the general motive for the initiative, there is less opportunity for pushback; however, once that motive has been defined, it is natural for that to lead into the second question: a clarification on how progress towards that result will be measured with more concrete ingredients (metric/change/target).

Two Factors for Success when Setting Data-Driven Objectives

Before you begin wielding this new tool, it’s important to note two things: first,  this exercise is only set up for success if it occurs during the planning process. Later in the process, it will be far more difficult, if not impossible, to establish unbiased measures or to productively confront stakeholders’ investments in decisions that have already been made.

Second, the objective (the answers to the two well-structured framework questions) must be broadly shared at the outset as well as throughout the campaign. Have I mentioned that this is an alignment tool and exercise yet? This ensures that all stakeholders, both internal and external, are on the same page as to what the campaign is intended to accomplish.

What is the Benefit of a Data-Driven Objective?

Imagine this is your data-driven objective and you are approaching the end of month one of the quarter, and you see in your live dashboards that you are pacing for 90,000 customers. You get on your next agency call and, because they are aligned, they preempt your question and provide three options for incremental budget that are both efficient and ensure you exceed your target by EOQ.

How many conversations would this have otherwise taken? And how many resource hours would have been wasted?

Now, you are likely thinking about how there is no way the boss is ever going to give you clear answers to these questions. Maybe you’ve tried this before and you’ve been burned enough times that you are just going to run this next campaign without a clear data-driven objective or… let’s be honest… objectives that create accountability, and accountability is not so much fun.
The reality is that you’re right, there is a learning curve to implementing this properly and we’re here to help you through that. Just know that we’ve seen first hand that the short term pain of working through the “people side” of this problem leads to a culture of far more enjoyable processes, learning, and performance wins in the long term.

*Credit to Tim Wilson for helping to refine this framework with these two questions. Tim then believes that a long-past colleague of his, Matt Coen, should be sharing that credit with him.


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