Thursday November 3, 2016

How to Properly Set Marketing Expectations

How to Properly Set Marketing Expectations

A key lesson we all learn in life is how to set expectations. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson most of us only receive when our expectations are so out of whack that we suffer a crushing disappointment. For example…

I grew up playing video games. Every birthday and holiday, I’d desperately want the newest video game system. It got so bad that I’d have dreams where that fateful gifting day finally came around and, yes! I got it! Then I’d wake up. And I didn’t have it. Talk about a lackluster imagination.

Now to be clear, there was usually no way I was going to receive these games. They’re crazy expensive! But my expectations were not realistic, so I’d open up my gifts, and still be very excited (I’m not a monster), but there’d be that lingering feeling of… eh. 

Every facet of life, no matter how old you are, can be negatively affected by poorly set expectations. Marketing your business is no exception; having unrealistic expectations for the outcomes of your efforts can be disastrous.

Here’s why and how you can get your marketing expectations back on track.

Unforeseen Consequences

Before we dive into how to properly set marketing expectations, we first have to understand why improperly setting them can lead to some major headaches.

Improperly set expectations can have far reaching effects. They can lead you to wrongly evaluate your campaigns, throw out too many different forms of content that confuse your audience and, perhaps most importantly, doubt yourself. Setting proper expectations allows you to weather the inevitable storms and setbacks your marketing content is likely to have.

Let’s take a look at an example of how poorly set expectations might play out. 

Say you’re hosting an event for the first time, and you’d like to turn it into an ongoing series. For the first one, you set your attendance expectations at 10 attendees. For the second, you double it, going up to 20. Then, well hey doubling seems to make sense so the third goes up to 40 attendees, the fourth up to 80 and you’ll worry about the rest later.

Obviously, in this example there are a few flaws in thinking. We didn’t touch on the tactics you’d use to get people to attend in the first place, like email, social or paid advertising, but let’s assume that from the very beginning you’re using all the promotion tools available to you.

So the question then becomes, what exactly are you going to do differently to double your audience every time? The only new tactic introduced here is general word of mouth, which requires your audience to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. This is not exactly the steadiest foundation on which to build a solid set of expectations.

 What happens when by, say event three, your audience has not only failed to double (twice) but actually remained the same? You’ll more than likely feel like a failure, and due to your expectations, conclude you need to cancel this event.

This is all understandable, right? When you put a fair amount of time into something, you generally want a lot of people to experience it. Who creates something hoping it remains locked behind closed doors? But we tend to expect that success constitutes an ever growing audience, rather than focusing on the impact you might be making on key individuals. 

When you instead frame your expectations on this more macro level, it becomes clear what your priorities should be. Getting 80 attendees for an event might be great, but not if none of them turn into customers. But having only 10 attendees – yet one turning into a customer ­– that’s what you are really looking for. Attendees matter for sure, but what matters more is impact. That’s what you should be focusing on.

So setting more realistic expectations in this example would be to come away from an event with at least one new lead. They may or may not turn into a customer, but if even one does, odds are their business probably pays for the event and then some.

Another thing to consider is the emotional factor. If you properly calibrate your expectations and they end up being true, you’re likely to feel much better about the work you did. You’ll feel accomplished and successful. You should never discount how big of a boost this can provide moving forward.

How to Set Expectations that Work

Now the key here is to figure out how to set realistic expectations. This will vary depending on what form your marketing content will take, be it a blog post, video or marketing an event, but the key here is to first determine what you really need to consider a marketing effort a success; is it a client conversion, lead generation or just broadened awareness of your business?

There are three different areas you can fine tune your expectations for:


Whenever planning a marketing campaign, you need to allow time to let multiple, repeated attempts connect with your audience. Going back to the event example above, the expectation to double attendees for the first four events was clearly out of whack. Beyond just calling for a dramatic increase in attendees, it failed to plan beyond those four events. There was no wiggle room built in for what would happen if those numbers weren’t hit.

Instead, the timeline should have been elongated to at least a year, with the expectation that halfway through the year you can properly calibrate and determine how many people are likely to attend each event. Then the expectations can be built gradually, from receiving positive feedback, to maybe one or two returning attendees, to a new customer, to averaging a new lead each event and so on. 

New Business 

After you’ve set your timeline, figure out how many new leads you could realistically potentially generate and set your expectations accordingly. Look at where you’re marketing (social, email, direct mail), who you’re marketing to and data from past experiences. Just because you’re starting up something new doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly discovered gold and new customers will start flying in. 

Building Awareness

Once you’ve nailed down your goals for new leads or customers you expect to get out of a marketing campaign, then you can start thinking about attendees and clicks in an “awareness” bucket. This is where you set your expectations for how your marketing efforts will help expand the reach of your business’s brand. 

Maybe someone doesn’t become a customer, but they tell a friend to attend your event, for example. Similarly, someone could share a blog post on social media, forward on an offer email or contact you for information. This all builds awareness of your brand. It may seem somewhat random, but by continuing to push information out you can properly view these clicks and shares as what they really are – signifiers that your information is resonating and helping you to recalibrate your lead expectations.

Even if your marketing only reaches a handful of people, having it be high value and well put together content will set a precedent of quality that you can rely on down the road.

Setting Down Roots

With all of these suggestions you’ve probably noticed two things clearly standing out. One is that setting expectations correctly generally requires you to lower the number of people you anticipate will attend/download/click on your marketing content; and two, it’s important to play the long game.

The truth is there’s no one piece of content that is going to put your business suddenly over the top, flush with new business. You need to set incremental steps and continue to build and cultivate a brand that consumers can trust.

 Properly set expectations allow you to make improvements where needed and really focus on your audience. You’ll feel better and do better work. Who doesn’t want that? 

Ready to start unifying your marketing and sales efforts?

Download Our Free Guide to Aligning Marketing and Sales Activities Here. 

Written by Scott Rogers |

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