Writing your marketing plan, no matter which technique you use or structure you follow, usually includes setting objectives. A marketing plan objective is the goal you want to achieve. It's a definite, clear, final product you want to see come about. It's the direction of your marketing future, and in many ways the most important part of your entire marketing plan.
Choosing marketing plan objectives is based on some serious thought into your business, its strengths and weaknesses, and competition and market. Then, after you choose your marketing objectives, you're going to come up with strategies and tactics to make those dreams a reality. That's right--every other section of the marketing plan is either about picking good goals or making those objectives happen.
The number of marketing objectives varies from business to business, but for a small business having two to four objectives is a good aim. Less than two and you aren't growing your business like you should be to keep up with the market. More than four and your attention is divided; if you're the only one doing your business marketing, more than four goals can lead to a lackluster showing on each of the objectives and no big successes.
If you really want more than just four objectives, ask yourself why. Wanting more than four objectives is a sign you might be thinking of your strategies as your objectives. An objective would be to increase sales through online acquisition channels. Strategies to do that would be testing out Google AdWords, banners ads, affiliate marketing, and increasing conversion rates. Signs that your objective is actually a strategy in disguise are the presence of a brand name or the ability to finish the objective (ie. sign up for something). If you want more than four objectives because there's just so much to get done, consider restricting yourself to four objectives for now, then creating a new marketing plan in three or six months. In the early stages of a business it is not unusual to change your marketing plan that often--just be careful not to drop successful marketing initiatives because you're bored with them and ready to do something else.
Succinctly, a marketing plan objective is a simple statement of the goal you want to achieve in a set time period.
In the end, it should lead to making your business more money, though often in a roundabout way. For example, a common goal is "Increase customer satisfaction". Initially, that might seem to be about existing customers who have already paid for their product and not making money at all; only after careful thought do you realize increased customer satisfaction pushes up sales to existing customers, increases word of mouth referrals, and improves the reputation a potential customer learns about when researching you.
Here are some examples of goals, taken from a variety of small business types.
The measurability of marketing objectives is hugely important in a medium to large business because it also is the measure of accountability within a businesses marketing structure. To be blunt, it helps them decide who to fire when things go poorly. In a small business with only one or two people working on a company's marketing efforts, things are a bit different. Also, for many new small businesses, the owner has a hard time saying if a 10% increase in a certain area is easily achievable or ridiculously hard. As such, your objectives probably don't need to be as rigidly measurable as you'd expect in a larger business (ie. Increase customers who purchase high-dollar items who return by 22% by July 2010).
That doesn't mean you can ignore measurability, though. At minimum you need to be able to measure where you are on a goal when you create it, and measure it again with each week or month that passes. You need to know if what you're doing--your strategies--really are helping you reach your goal. You also need to draw a line in the sand with your objective to see if you're achieving your goals. If you're not, you either need to step up efforts, or reevaluate whether it was a good objective choice in the first place.
Here are some of the above goal examples, with measurability added and an objective set.