20 Sep 2016

Should I Create Soft or Hard Goals for My Content Marketing?

September 20, 2016Content Marketing

The short answer to the question of hard versus soft goals in content marketing is: Do both.

Hard goals, also known as measurable objectives, help get everyone in your organization on the same page because they explain what “done” looks like.

Soft goals, on the other hand, help you understand your customers’ needs so you can offer products and services that solve their problems.


When you’ve gone through the exercise of identifying your goals, objectives and customer needs, you’ll create marketing statements that you can share with everyone in your organization, so you’re all working toward the same ends. A comprehensive content marketing statement looks like this:

We will create content that _________________ so our customers can achieve ______________, and our business will achieve its goal of _______________.

First let’s talk about what we mean when we use the word “goal.”

90 Day Content Marketing PlanWant to dive into more content marketing goal setting? Download our latest template, A 90-Day Content Marketing Course-Correction Plan, a 19-page workbook that will help you refresh and revamp your content marketing program.

Definition of Hard Content Marketing Goals

At Vertical Measures, we borrow from Forbes’ definition of goals as “ultimate, long-term, broad outcomes that an organization wants.” Goals might be nonspecific and immeasurable. Here are some examples:

  • Branding: Become a household name
  • Thought leadership: Position my brand and leadership as voices of authority in my industry
  • Market share: Become one of the preferred brands in my industry
  • Profitability: Generate more leads and make more money


Objectives are measurable outcomes. They’re what “done” looks like, and they help you achieve your goals. Objective statements start with verbs — increase, decrease, sell — and might look something like these:

  • Decrease bounce rates on my website
  • Increase revenue
  • Recruit influencers and advocates
  • Generate more leads

Sometimes we refer to goals and objectives collectively as “hard goals” — those hard targets that a business aims for.

Soft Goals in Content Marketing

Don’t mistake the term “soft goals” in content marketing as being of lesser importance to hard goals. Soft goals belong to your customers and prospective customers, and they are just as important — if not more important — than your own hard goals. They’re called “soft” because they’re harder to measure. Soft goals tend to fall into three broad categories:

  • Education: We can teach our audience how to do something better
  • Problem-solving: Our audience has pain points that we can address
  • Entertain: We can motivate our audience through laughter, anger, and other emotions

We take our clients’ goals and objectives and align them with their audience’s needs. To illustrate what we mean, let’s take a hypothetical company that sells SaaS (software as a service). Let’s call them XYZ Software, and they sell accounting software. When we look at their data and talk to their sales teams, we learn that their audience:

  • Wants accounting software that integrates with other software systems
  • Demands quick responses to customer service inquiries
  • Asks a lot of “how to” questions with regard to accounting best practices, taxation laws, and financial reporting

We can take those soft goals and align them with XYZ’s business goals to increase website traffic, increase brand awareness, and increase market share against big names in accounting software (Quicken, NetSuite). We might suggest strategic initiatives such as:

  • Website traffic: XYZ will use a hub-and-spoke model to create a downloadable free guide in January, which helps its audience prepare for the upcoming tax season (soft goal), so that it can increase website traffic and leads (hard goals).
  • Brand awareness: XYZ will create a resource center (content) that demonstrates its expertise so that its customers can get quick answers to common accounting questions (soft goals), and XYZ can increase its brand awareness (hard goal).
  • Market share: XYZ will hold a series of educational webinars so that its small businesses can learn best practices for financial reporting and forecasting (soft goals). XYZ will generate leads from this webinar, which it can use to feed its sales pipeline and increase market share (hard goal).

Measurement for Hard and Soft Goals

As you set your hard goals, think about how you’ll know whether you’ve hit your targets. How will you know if you’ve increased brand awareness? You might look at your social media analytics for brand mentions or your Google and Bing Analytics for the number of times users have searched for your products or services by name. You might measure leads by the number of people who complete a request for information form or sign up for email newsletters.

We will create content that _________________ so our customers can achieve ______________, and our business will achieve its goal of _______________, and we’ll measure our efforts by using the KPI of _____________.

You can even go a step further by setting specific targets for those KPIs

  • Decrease bounce rates on my website by 10% per month for the next 12 months
  • Increase revenue by 25%
  • Recruit five influencers and advocates over the next six months
  • Generate more 5% more leads month over month

The table below lists seven common hard goals for content marketing, along with recommended metrics.

Matrix for content marketing metrics

What’s More Important: Soft or Hard Goals?

We could create a good argument for both, couldn’t we? Hard goals are important because they help everyone in your organization work toward the same ends. Soft goals are important because without understanding our customers’ wants and needs, we’d be entering our markets wearing blindfolds. The answer is: They’re equally important.