The one word that should start every document

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Doug Kessler

08. 08. 2016 | 3 min read

The one word that should start every document

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Marketers produce a metric shitload of documents every day.

Proposals. Outlines. Drafts. Treatments. Statements of Work. Reports. Reviews. Analyses. Budgets. Presentations. Audits.

A workable definition of ‘marketer’ might well be, “A bag of sinew that turns desire into documents.”

And, as diverse as these documents may be, pretty much every one of them would be improved if they started with one, short, simple word:


Something important happens when you start a document with the word ‘Goals’. It forces you, the writer, to think about why you’re asking for the reader’s attention – and to capture and share those reasons before you begin.

And something magical happens when you capture and share your goals right up front. All of a sudden, the reader and writer are aligned around a shared idea: what we’re here for. Why we’re bothering to sync up our time and our attention. Why this activity matters.

Built into the goals statement is also the seed of another key question, “How will we know if we succeeded?” (We’ll know we succeeded if we achieved our goals).

Conversely, when we skip the word ‘Goals’ at the start of our documents, we set out for ourselves an all-you-can-eat buffet of nasty little treats.

The reader, who may be carrying a different set of goals into the interaction, will judge your recommendation with a different yardstick. This yardstick might resemble the one you used when you wrote the document, but it might not. (Let’s face it: it won’t.)

Probably the four greatest causes of failure in marketing are unclear, unstated, unspoken or un-agreed goals.

“That content didn’t generate leads.”
(Um, it was never meant to. It was designed to educate early stage prospects.)

“Why didn’t you put a form in front of that video?”
(Um, the form is in front of the ebook it promotes. We wanted maximum views of this one. Remember?)

“Why is it green? I hate green.”
(It’s green because we want to appeal to grass-eating species.)

Sticking your goals at the top of your documents sets everyone up to think about the ideas within it from the only important perspective. The sound way to judge if this is a good idea or not is to think about whether it has a chance of achieving what it set out to achieve.

Best of all, starting with goals flushes out any people who don’t agree with the goals. These are the people who will most annoy you later on. Who will undermine the work (sometimes for very good reasons).  Who will call it a failure even when you know it succeeded. Turns out, these people are not assholes, they were just aiming at a different target. (They may also be assholes, but then so might you be… and, God forbid, me).

Flushing out misaligned goals is one of the most important things you can do in any form of teamwork. Doing it early will save everyone a lot of time, money and acid reflux.

So do everyone a favour: start every document with Goals.

And if you get a document that doesn’t start with Goals (especially when you’re not sure of the goals), ask for them.

I know,  smartypants, I didn’t start this post with Goals.

Well, actually, I did. They went like this:

Goals of this post:

  • To urge marketers to include a specific behaviour into their working routines.
  • To entertain fellow marketers who are looking for a credible form of procrastination.
  • To create or sustain the illusion that Velocity is a cool agency that knows what it’s doing.

But that’s a shitty way to start a post whose goals are as stated. So I killed them.



Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing Strategy

  • corporate-message-development

  • persuasion

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