{squeaky lean}

The 'Trigger Objective' – The secret of good strategy

strategic planning - trigger objectives

Couldn't resist the cultural reference. Baffled? http://bit.ly/Ro7yA

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.

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By Kevin Heery.

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