{squeaky lean}

The 'Trigger Objective' – The secret of good strategy

strategic planning - trigger objectives

UK cultural reference. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigger_(Only_Fools_and_Horses)

Top Rank Objectives can be daunting. So can the strategic planning process required to decide how to go about achieving them.

You know the kind of objective I mean: 'Increase revenue', 'Increase audience'.

They're a bit like: 'Discover meaning of life', 'Deliver world peace'.

Where on earth do you start?!

Just to give you a chance of getting your head around them, you need to break them down into lower level objectives, strategies and tactics.

However, if you read through the conflicting definitions you get from googling 'objectives, strategies, tactics', you'll get a headache.

What we are all actually looking for, are ways of improving our strategic planning process. A good one will deliver us from daunting Top Rank Objectives, safely and easily to what I call 'Trigger Objectives', which aren't daunting at all.

A Trigger Objective is a much lower level objective, set in the reality of the here and now. It relates closely to the knowledge and experience of you and your team, so you can easily list a set of actions or experiments that you think might achieve it.

But the real beauty of a Trigger Objective is that when you achieve it, it sets off a chain of events that sends you on your way to that daunting Top Rank Objective, without you having to spend a moment thinking about it.

Here's how you find Trigger Objectives:

1. Write down your Top Ranking Objective (TRO)

For most profit-making organisations, this is either 'Increase profit', or 'Increase revenue', depending on which stage of development your company is at.

Not exactly life affirming I know.

But life affirming is what your Vision, Values and Mission Statements are for. There's no need to be fancy about your TRO, just be honest and write down what it is.

Now. Get everyone you need to contribute to your TRO together. Or at least a representative from each relevant department. They need to be a part of the debate that comes next.

2. Decide your 2nd rank objectives and pick one

We're still talking high level here. Looking at your P&L might help, as these could be related to your main revenue lines. In my world, if I was doing this for one of our publishing websites like NME.com or GoodtoKnow.co.uk, our 2nd rank objectives might be:

  • Increase display ad revenues
  • Increase sponsorship revenues
  • Increase affiliate revenues

If you stopped here, and asked a team to suggest actions or experiments that would achieve one of these, you would get either blank faces or a cacophony of ideas with no focus. And no idea which ones to start with.

So keep moving. You need to focus on one of the objectives and dig into it further.

Weight them in terms of current value (perhaps based on overall planned revenue contribution) and opportunity for new value (based on which ones you feel have more room for growth).

In my example we'll pick 'Increase display ad revenues'.

3. Decide your 3rd rank objectives and pick one

Thinking through the levers that effect 'Increase display ad revenues', I can list these 3rd rank objectives:

  • Increase display ad inventory (providing more ad space to sell)
  • Increase display ad yield (a higher value per ad sold)

Again, we're still too high, so I'll pick one to dig into further.

Lets say ad yield is holding strong, but we're short of ad inventory. If this were true then choosing would be easy, we'd dig into 'Increase display ad inventory'

4. Decide your 4th rank objectives and pick one

There is really only one metric that effects the amount of inventory we have on a website: page impressions. Some people might include ads per page, but we certainly don't go about adding more ad slots to pages just to increase inventory. So our 4th rank objectives should be levers that effect page impressions:

  • Increase unique visitors
  • Increase visits per unique visitor
  • Increase pages per visit

Right. At about this level – lively debate breaks out.

Suddenly there are people in the room exclaiming that our SEO is woeful so we should work on that to increase Unique Visitors. Someone else is complaining that retention is low and that a membership club of some kind would do wonders to increase our Visits Per Unique Visitor.

This is how you know you're close to Trigger Objectives . Pennies start dropping and people start to jump a step, because we're at a low enough level for people to engage their own knowledge and experience.

Data is still your closest ally though. Use your metrics to settle the debate and pick one objective to focus on. In our example, the data is pointing to Unique Visitors as our search rankings have dropped sharply in the past few months.

5. Decide your Trigger Objective

What can be done to 'Increase Unique Visitors'?

  • Increase offline marketing activity
  • Increase online marketing activity
  • Increase visitors from organic search
  • Increase social referrals
  • Increase month on month visitor retention

From the discussion in step 4, SEO was raised, and search metrics discussed. It's what helped us decide to focus on Unique Visitors in the first place, so lets just pick it:

  • Increase visitors from organic search


Done. You have discovered your Trigger Objective. At Level 5.  

Interestingly, I'd say most Trigger Objectives are found at this level. It's perhaps why Eric Reis' – 5 Why's works so well.

No stopping now though. Time to move onto Tactics.

Your tactics are the actions you're going to take to hit your Trigger Objective. As its a Trigger Objective you won't have any problem coming up with a nice, big healthy list. The team has helped steer you to this objective, so they should be brimming with ideas.

List them and prioritise them.

I can reveal now that at IPC, we recently went through these exact steps on one website and ended up with this exact Trigger Objective. We also prioritised 'Improve page load times' as our priority tactic. And at the time of writing, the entire team, from Publishing Director to Front End Developer, are completely focused on page load times.

'Even the Publishing Director!?' Yes. He was in the room as we travelled from Increase Revenues, the objective he is ultimately responsible for, all the way to Improve page load times. He's been a part of the collective reasoning that linked one to the other. He is buying into the assumption that faster page load times = increased revenues.

And here is the path that links them, in all its glory:

Looking at the diagram above, you can see there's no need for a long winded strategy document. This diagram contains your Top Rank Objective, your Strategy, your Trigger Objective and your Priority Tactic.  Displaying it in a format such as the one above, makes it immediately clear what you are focusing on. Which makes it more valuable.

Also, if you decide to pivot from this strategy, you can see that you don't need to dismiss the entire path. You might instead move up one level and down to a different Trigger Objective. Or you might go up two or three levels, before choosing a different path. You have a mechanism for the team to use to make these decisions without having to start from scratch.

It should be a living model, changing as you discover new levers that effect bubbles in the diagram, or prove existing levers redundant.

For now though: find your Trigger Objective, decide the Priority Tactic, and go build, launch, measure, learn, build, launch, measure, learn…..etc.

Like this?

By Kevin Heery.


Objective Setting for Dummies

Every company should have a robust objective setting process that all managers are trained in.

But they don't.

The reason they don't is that once people get to a position in a company where they're first asked to write some objectives, they decide it would be too embarrassing to say "I don't know how. Can someone show me?".

So they set some anyway, and their boss accepts them.

They are a bit surprised by this, but the more they think about it, the more they begin to think "you know what, WHY am I surprised?! I must simply be a natural at this!"

They're not. So thinking this is bad.

Soon, they start to get cocky and begin criticising other people's objectives. They can sometimes be heard trying to explain to people in patronising tones, the difference between 'tactics' and 'strategies' – "that is in fact a tactic, you see, not a strategy, you should listen to me, you see, I am an expert, I write objectives you know" – STOP LISTENING TO THEM! Their lips are moving up and down for the sole reason of letting nonsense fall out of their mouths. You won't get anything useful out of the conversation.

That might sound harsh, and what they are saying might even be technically correct, but for these people it's not about having GOOD objectives, strategies or tactics – it's about persuading people that they know what these things are. They think that's enough.

IT ISN'T! Nowhere near enough. In fact, its dangerous to let someone loose on the objective setting thing if they think this way.

So ignore them until they learn their lesson. And know this – it's because so many people act this way and get away with it, that objective setting doesn't get identified as a skills gap, and nobody thinks there's any need for training.

This has to stop.

So I'm going to kick off and say this:

Until recently, I didn't know how to go through a process that would enable me to identify the right objectives for a project I was responsible for. And I am a senior manager at a major publishing company.

There. I've said it. Join me people!

As my qualified statement implies though, I do know how to do it now. And I'm pretty smug about it if I'm honest.

Turns out it's easy. All you do is…

1. Create a diagram showing the journey of a customer who interacts with your product

Within this, make sure you cover the bits of the journey from where the customer finds out about your product, engages with it, does whatever they need to do for you to make money from it, through to the bit where they put it down and later decide whether or not to pick it up again.

Couple of acronyms to help make sure you cover the bits you need to cover:

ARM (Acquisition, Retention, Monetisation)

See the diagram from Kontagent (Analytics company widely used by social games companies)

  • Acquisition (Think: Cost per Acquisition – CPA)
    How do I get the right audience to turn up for the least amount of money
  • Retention
    How do I persuade them to come back of their own accord, so I don’t have to pay to get them again
  • Monetisation (Think: LifeTime Value – LTV)
    How do I persuade them to buy stuff or do other things that make me money

Your customer journey has to cover all three of these elements. Read more on Nicholas Lovell's blog.

REAL (Reach, Engagement, Activation, Loyalty)

I find this one is good for ad-driven businesses; it covers:

  • Reach
    The fact that people might be aware of your product before they respond and use it.
    Ideally you want to affect this response rate.
  • Engagement
    Once someone does respond, with an ad-driven business model, they need to engage, consuming more content so you drive more ad inventory,  and showing real interest. Interest that advertisers want a share of.
  • Activation
    There's always something you want your audience to do that will make them more valuable. Sign up for something, buy something, refer someone, consume more valuable content (e.g. videos). Activation covers this. You want to activate the customer in terms of making them do the thing(s) that makes them more valuable to you.
  • Loyalty
    Same as Retention in ARM – But if we used 'Retention' here, the acronym would be REAR, rather than REAL. So… Loyalty.
Right. I've taken these, mulled them over and developed a diagram for the user journey on a publishing website. Here it is:

Lets walk it through:

  1. We have to Reach a customer to make them aware of the product.
  2. They need to RESPOND so we actually Acquire them.
  3. Once acquired, we need to ENGAGE as many of them as possible (i.e. make sure they were happy to have turned up in the first place) so we increase our overall level of Engagement, maybe the total number of pages viewed.
  4. As we engage them they are generating ad inventory. For our business to make as much money as possible we need to create enough inventory that our sales team doesn't run out of ad space to sell. This is our AD AVAILABILITY RATE.
  5. At the same time we hope they might buy something from one of our affiliates. We want as high a percentage of people as possible to do this. This percentage is our CONVERSION RATE.
  6. Our AD AVAILABILITY RATE and our CONVERSION RATE drives our Monetisation. Which is, umm… the amount of money we make.
  7. Now we'd like to activate them further. Before they leave we hope some of them sign up and give us some contact details, so we can talk to them without having to wait for them to come back (REGISTRATION RATE) and/or tell a friend about us to give us some free advertising (REFERRAL RATE). If more people do these two things then that improves our Recruitment and Referral numbers.
  8. Finally, once we've got everything we can from them this time round, we hope we've been impressive enough that as many of them as possible remember us and come back again (RETENTION RATE), to improve the overall number of returning customers, which gives us our Retention number.

There. That pretty much covers it. Lets go to step 2.

2. Measure every step of the customer journey

Measure all of it.

And then fall in love with your metrics.

That's what I said, yes. LOVE. METRICS.

Get emotional about them. Lose sleep over them. Keep refreshing your inbox over and over until new ones show up. Feel bitter if your metrics reveal themselves to someone else before you. Lose your temper with them when they say something you don't like, make up with them when you realise it's not their fault (it's yours) and then fall in love with them all over again when they turn to you and say what you've always wanted them to say. – "Your retention rate is up 20%" – oh yes. Such sweet, sweet words!

In the diagram above, we'd need to measure all the white boxes (these will be volume numbers) and all the blue boxes (these will be percentage numbers). Your customer journey diagram has to alternate between volumes and percentages: number, rate, number, rate, number, rate – you get the idea. If it doesn't then you've done it wrong – probably missed something out.

Measuring all this might take a while. Most people already have lots of metrics for the first part of the journey (Acquisition suff) and the middle part (Monetisation stuff), but have much less for the latter part (extra Activation stuff and Retention stuff). So get ALL the measures in place. You DON'T want blind spots! You would be amazed the amount of times a business or project has spent months or even years persevering with an objective that would have clearly been doomed to failure if only they had the right metrics in front of them early enough.

Measured them all? Good. Step 3 then.

3. Identify your strategic gaps

If steps 1 and 2 are done properly, this bit is easy. Look at the percentages for your blue boxes. These are your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). They tell you how well you are performing at persuading your customers to do the things you need them to in order to make your business work.

Firstly, marvel at the fact that you now have this information. And then at the fact that you didn't have it beforehand.

Next, pat yourself on the back for the KPIs that show you are performing well at something.

Now get over yourself and look at the numbers that tell you the things you're not doing well at. If you want to set proper objectives then finding these numbers are like finding gold. Because once you've found one then you've found a proper objective.

If it's your Engagement Rate, then your objective is to increase your Engagement Rate. If its your Retention Rate then your objective is to improve your Retention Rate (you get the idea).

You may think this suddenly sounds too simple. But its only simple because of the work you've done in steps 1 and 2.

Follow this through and while you are correctly concentrating on the real weak spots of your business, e.g. Retention Rate, your competitors might still be pouring money into the wrong places, e.g. marketing for new audiences that aren't engaging or returning.

They probably don't know they are wasting money, because they probably don't know they have problems with retention. And while they're wasting their time, money and resources on this, you're improving your product to the point where spending marketing money might have become a good idea – which is when you decide Reach and Response Rate have become the weaknesses in your business.

In short. You're being cleverer than them. Enjoy.

Like this?

By Kevin Heery.