How to Set Business and Marketing Goals Amidst Uncertainty

Setting business and marketing goals
Setting business and marketing goals

We’ve all learned over the past year that uncertainty can arrive at any time and make massive impacts on markets, companies, and consumer behaviors.

Was your business prepared?

If you’re still here reading this article, it’s likely that you’ve survived what’s been a really tough year (congrats!) and are looking to the future, which looks brighter but still quite uncertain.

Setting business and marketing goals can be one of the most challenging parts of navigating an organization through an uncertain time. Without reliable predictors, how can we make decisions?

The short answer is that you can’t make them with certainty, but honestly, that’s true of any time. What you can do is remain transparent, manage morale, and set adjusted goals that account for the circumstances and many potential outcomes.

Here’s how to do it.

Quick Takeaways

  • Embracing and acknowledging uncertainty is essential to maintaining company morale during uncertainty.
  • Brands can benefit from focusing on objective measures and factors they can control.
  • Uncertain times and crises are the best breeders of organizational innovation.
  • As always, brands must remain customer-focused and transparent in their messaging.

Setting Effective Business and Marketing Goals

Before we really dive in, let’s address what exactly it means to set a good business or marketing goal. The framework that most businesses use is SMART goals — goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

SMART goal framework

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Using a SMART goal framework is the difference between talking a lot about what you want to accomplish (we’ve all been in those meetings) and creating specific objectives with metrics in place for maintaining accountability and measuring progress toward your goals.

Setting Business and Marketing Goals Amidst Uncertainty

SMART goals sound great, but what about when the external circumstances aren’t ideal, or even worse, are totally unpredictable?

Businesses in every industry have been faced with massive uncertainty over the past year. The resulting takeaway for businesses is this: uncertainty is challenging, but survivable.

Brands that face uncertainty head on and adjust their business and marketing goals accordingly can survive and even thrive in an unpredictable market. In fact, they find new opportunities that otherwise may never have presented themselves.

And the SMART goal framework? Still necessary and applicable, with realistic expectations, adjusted metrics, and an innovative mindset.

Embrace, Don’t Resist

Step one: embrace the uncertainty. You can’t change it, and resisting the situation will only create friction between your company and your market, customers, and employees.

Talk openly about the uncertainty that exists and welcome internal discussion about it within your organization in ways that contribute to setting new goals and keeping the company morale on track.

When you’re transparent about uncertainty, you remove fear of the unknown and unspoken. Perhaps most importantly, you create an environment where your employees feel that they’re part of working toward a common goal — even an uncertain one — rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Focus on What You Can Control

This is another grounding tactic that can keep your team on track in a time when external factors are uncertain and can feel overwhelming.

In business, one of the inevitable challenges of market uncertainty is that customers tend to buy less, often because their buying power decreases. While brands can’t control the pressure that an uncertain market puts on buyers, they can set realistic, adjusted goals and allocate resources toward marketing KPIs that can still be effectively impacted by your team’s efforts.

Meeting an adjusted goal successfully does much more for company morale than not meeting the original goal and making excuses due to market conditions.

Remain Data-Driven

Data-driven strategies are always a best practice, but in times of uncertainty data is even more important because it serves as an objective reference point for market trends and consumer behavior.

Uncertain times means charged-up news and overall market discussion. Staying focused on data and actual behavior trends versus acting on word-of-mouth indicators or fleeting headlines keeps brands from implementing reactionary strategies that don’t align with the actual circumstances.

Stay Customer-Focused

In times of uncertainty, one of the best ways to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your market is to communicate effectively with your customers. Operating with a customer-first mindset can be more important than ever when there is a shortage of other reliable factors to rely on.

Keep in mind that retaining current customers is more cost effective and higher-converting than attracting new ones. In an uncertain time when finding new customers is more difficult, knowing what your current customers want and making them happy is more important than ever. Brands should set business and marketing goals that specifically address current customer feedback and needs.

Be Innovative

It might be tempting to keep it conservative during times of uncertainty when so much is unknown and risk seems even more dangerous. And while this might get your brand through an uncertain time unscathed, it might also leave you behind your competitors who proactively sought the opportunities in a challenging situation.

In fact, it’s in times of crisis and uncertainty that some of the most important technologies and innovations we use in our lives have come to exist. The pandemic has been no exception.

Nurturing a culture of innovation, welcoming innovative solution ideas from employees at all levels within your organization, and being willing to try out the good ones can keep your organization moving forward toward its goals even amidst uncertainty (P.S — it can do this all the time, too).

Adjust Your Messaging

Part of embracing uncertainty is acknowledging it. Adjusting brand messaging is an important part of navigating the situation with your customer base, and brands can do it in ways that are honest but also infuse a sense of security — something customers actually look to brands to provide.

Forbes offers three approaches that are relevant during crises like the pandemic but can apply in any uncertain situation that brands and customers face:

  • Cautious Empowerment – Highlight your existing solutions and those you are building with specific examples of how your customers can use them to minimize risk and solve current problems.
  • Cautious Security – Provide reassurance that your company and industry are working on solutions to address current challenges.
  • Optimistic Engagement – If your brand can provide specific ways for customers to destress, explain them and emphasize them during uncertain times.

When you adjust your brand messaging and communicate directly with your audience about current challenges, you create connection and a welcome sense of consistency (that amidst uncertainty, your brand is still there) for customers.

Plan for Scenarios

Scenario planning originated in the U.S. military and is a way for companies to prepare for multiple potential outcomes. While it doesn’t predict the success of any particular strategy, it makes brands more prepared.

Typically, scenario planning takes into account the predicted best and worst case scenarios as well as several that fall in between.

As with any forecasting method, scenario planning comes with potential biases and pitfalls brands should do their best to avoid, including tendencies like overconfidence or social bias.

Here’s a good framework for the do’s and don’ts of scenario planning:

Scenario planning best practices

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Start with a Strong Content Strategy

Effective customer communication and brand presence is always important but absolutely essential in times of uncertainty. A strong content strategy means your customers know where to seek information and consistently get the resources they need from your brand.

Check out our Content Builder Services or schedule a free consultation to learn how Marketing Insider Group can help you implement an effective content marketing strategy right away!

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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