marketing strategy vs plan

A marketing strategy is a core pillar of every business.  Moreover, Marketers that document their strategy are 538% more likely to report success than those who don’t. That’s big. Yet more often than not, the words “marketing plan” and “marketing strategy” are used interchangeably. 

However, there is a strong difference between the two. 

A marketing plan is a programme of marketing tactics. A strategy, on the other hand, is a blueprint to accomplish a specific goal (that is open for adaptation and change when needed.) 

It’s important for a company to understand the difference between having a marketing plan and having a marketing strategy. While they have their own strengths and purposes, they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. 

In this article, we explore the differences between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan, how they go hand-in-hand, and provide useful guidance tips. 

What’s the difference between marketing strategy and marketing planning?

It’s easy to confuse strategy and tactics and think the two terms are interchangeable. But they’re not. Your marketing strategy is the “what” part of the equation and helps you answer the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”

Your marketing plan is the “how” part of the equation, and helps you to answer the question “How are we going to accomplish our goal?”.

Ultimately, a good way to think about the difference between the two is that marketing strategy acts as a guide to a set of actions in the plan that the marketing team will undertake. 

On that note: If you are in a position of reviewing a strategic plan, don’t be lulled into accepting a plan as strategy. Marketing leaders are often presented with plans masquerading as a strategy. The problem with plans is that they require massive amounts of investment and work — and often for very little reward.  While competitors are unhampered in playing to win, your organisation will be doing stuff — typically lots and lots of stuff. 

Instead insist on a strategy with an integrated goals and key milestones that positions your company to win. It must provide a clear roadmap. And as with any project on which you approve the spending of time and money, make certain that you can project results.

With that in mind, let’s explore the two and how they go hand-in-hand.

What is marketing strategy?

Your marketing strategy is your blueprint to accomplish a specific goal. It lays out the long-term, broad goals that you want to achieve. It should be very flexible and open for changes and course corrections when needed. 

Since the objectives set in the strategic plan are more long-term and typically evaluated over a longer time perious, strategic planning occurs at the beginning of the year, quarter, or month. 

While strategic planning should be reviewed every quarter at least, we recommend keeping a more laser-like focus on your goals and reviewing progress every two-weeks. 

💡Remember: Strategy specifies the choice to do some things and not others. For example, a company decides it’s going to target Gen Z’s, and makes a decision to not target the baby boomer generation. 

What is a marketing plan?

Once you’ve created your strategic plan, it’s time to determine the tactics you’ll use to reach your goals. The scope of your marketing plan will vary depending on its purpose or the type of organisation it’s for. For example, you could create a marketing plan that provides an overview of a company’s entire marketing strategy or simply focus on a specific channel like social media marketing, or content marketing. 

Whether your marketing plan is a one pager, or a more indepth overview its essential that your team is on the same page. That’s why centralising your plan in one place is so important. 

It increases the transparency of your work, leaves no rooms for assumptions, and can prove that you’ve put in a lot of thought and effort. 

How marketing strategy and planning go hand-in-hand

The biggest issue with strategic plans is that after organisations devise a vision for the future, there is no plan to reach the future state.

The frustration only grows when evidence of little of no progress towards strategic objectives is evaluated, tracked, and measured. 

The message is clear: Meaningful change occurs only when strategy is converted into action. 

To do this, the goals from your strategy and plan should be clearly embedded within your marketing management systems and processes. Visibility is key. As is the ability to track goals, set key milestones, and report on progress regularly. 

Using technology to plan, manage, and execute marketing better

As marketing technology has advanced, so has the sophistication of the marketing planning process. Marketers now have access to A/B testing and multivariate testing to develop experiments around what users want, and then use the results to develop highly optimised strategies.

This will help you to create strategic marketing plans that make a real impact and deliver on the overall business goals. And again, that’s why it’s important to document your marketing plan in one place

When it’s visible, you can make iterative improvements. Yet when things aren’t recorded, the strategy becomes hit-and-miss. It also makes the marketing strategy too dependent on individuals. What if someone crucial leaves the business? They probably know aspects of the marketing strategy that they won’t have passed on. This is where technology can help.

In a nutshell: The reality is that developing a strategic plan – and then seeing it through to full implementation as an operating plan – requires a host of skill sets, tolls, and expertise. 

The last reason you’d want your marketing plan to fail, is because technology and tools let the team down. Consider how you want to keep track of your marketing activity and choose a marketing management tool that will support both marketing strategy and marketing planning. 

Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor

Marcus is the CEO of TrueNorth, a growth marketing platform that helps marketing teams focus, align and track marketing in one place.

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