A Marketer’s Guide to SMART Goals

While you may see slight variations in what the acronym stands for, everyone can agree that a SMART goal is one that establishes a clearly defined metric. The words for each letter may be slightly different among sources, but they converge to relay the same characteristics regardless of the version. An example of a SMART digital marketing goal is clear, focused, and time-bound, such as increasing blog subscriptions by 20% within the first quarter of the year.

The first mention of SMART goals was in a 1981 paper by George T. Doran titled There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. The following terms defined the acronym:

  • Specific – The goal identifies a particular area to improve.
  • Measurable – The goal must be quantifiable with a clear indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – The goal must identify who will perform the action necessary to reach the objective.
  • Realistic – Given the available time and resources, the goal must be able to be realistically achieved.
  • Time-related – The results must be achieved by a specific time.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at other definitions of what makes a goal SMART.


We’ve already covered specific as the original description for the first letter of the SMART acronym. However, an alternative uses strategic to define the letter S. Other versions list sensible, significant, and simple. No matter which definition you choose to adopt, the result must be easily understood and leave no room for ambiguity.

To help you arrive at a specific objective, you should answer the following questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Why is this important for us?
  • Who should perform the actions required to achieve the goal?
  • Where does it take place?
  • Which resources, time constraints, or other details are required?


The most used description of this part of the acronym is measurable. You must measure how much or how many of something is required to achieve your goal, and how you will know when you have succeeded. An alternate descriptor is motivating. It is highly motivating to a team to see the marker move closer to the goal as you approach the deadline.

While you still have to have quantifiable actions, goals, and results, it makes sense that motivating is an alternative. After all, what could be more demotivating than working toward a goal you never can tell is achieved? For example, the pursuit of gaining a greater social media following should be easy to measure. However, it will be difficult to keep your team focused if they don’t know how they are progressing or whether they get to celebrate their success at 100, 1,000, or 10,000 new followers.


SMART goals have to be attainable or achievable. Other descriptions include assignable, agreed, action-oriented, ambitious, or aligned with corporate goals. Just as “being measurable” helps motivate the team to action, the plan must be achievable to keep the team focused and engaged. A relatable example is starting the new year with a goal to lose weight.

Unfortunately, many goals fail because they weren’t structured for success. In our New Year’s resolution example, an unrealistic goal would be to lose 25 pounds by Valentine’s Day by eating nothing but soup and working out for at least two hours per day, seven days per week. In contrast, an achievable SMART goal might be to make healthier food choices and commit to working out 45 minutes at least four times per week to lose 25 pounds by the 4th of July. Without attainable expectations, the goal will likely fail.


Options used to define the R in SMART include realistic, relevant, resourced, reasonable, and results-based. Regardless of the one that resonates with your organization, they all point to the importance of understanding the answers to essential questions that could indicate whether it is reasonable to move forward. Many influences could derail an otherwise reasonable goal. Without asking the right questions, you could unknowingly be setting yourself, your team, or your organization up for failure.

For instance, does the goal fit with the corporate objectives? If it is worthwhile, is this the right time to work toward it? Do we have the right people to resource it within the allotted time? Are there any social, economic, or public health issues that would prevent us from being successful?


Would you work in a job where they did not tell you what was considered a workweek or when you would get paid? Would you ever have worked toward a degree if you had no idea how long you had to study to graduate? Whether your organization chooses time-based, time-oriented, time-sensitive, timely, time-limited, time-sensitive, timeframe, or even testable or trackable, it all comes back to having a clear endpoint where you can assess whether you have achieved the goal.

For example, suppose your marketing department has a goal to increase online revenue by 30%. There is no way to determine whether it is achievable or realistic without a timeline. The difference between a deadline of six weeks or six months determines your likelihood of success.

Make Your Goals SMART

SMART goals can be defined in many ways, but the principles behind them remain the same regardless of which alternative for the acronym you choose. The purpose of making your goals SMART is to be as specific as possible. By carefully considering what you want to improve, as well as how and when to do it, you will increase your chances for success.

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