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Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Plan

Posted by Ali Schwanke on November 13, 2016
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At a basic level, the difference between marketing strategy and marketing plan comes down to purpose and application.

Marketing strategy is driven by your business strategy -- where you want to go, what market you'll serve, how you'll go to market with your products, etc. A marketing plan is goal-driven activities and tactics to help you achieve that vision.

But let's break it down a bit further.

In our experience, marketing means something different to everyone. Same with marketing strategy.

To one company, "marketing" might mean more blogging. To another, it means a specific campaign designed to deliver leads. To another, it’s a new logo and brand for their 25 year old company. 


According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is defined like this“the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” 

While that’s great, it doesn’t really help entrepreneurs, business owners and marketers determine the "why" and the "what" behind their marketing engine.

And because of this, we are constantly getting a request for 2 things:

“I need a marketing plan.”

And (or) . . .

“I need a marketing strategy.”

Which one do you need?

The answer is Yes.

Weird answer, right?

Well, it’s kind of a trick question. You need both. You need a marketing strategy and then a plan to bring that strategy to life. If you need some help getting that plan together, check out our marketing plan guide and template!

Marketing Plan Guide and Template

What's the difference between a strategy and a plan?

Let’s look at the individual components and how they’re defined.

A Marketing Strategy is:

  • The “why” behind your company.
  • The “what” that defines what you deliver, how you deliver it and the message/position you will use to define your product or service with your intended audience.

The marketing strategy is the “way” you will achieve the goals set forth by the company.

A Marketing Plan is:

  • How you are going to achieve your marketing goals.
  • The large campaigns, the individual events, or the marketing tactics live here.

The marketing plan is the matrix of ideas, systems, and events.

It is the application of your strategy to create a roadmap that will get you from point A to point B.

So, the issue here is – most people want to jump into the “how” or the plan, without first defining the “why” and the “what”. They can end up wasting valuable time and resources, or outlining a beautiful plan that is neither realistic nor effective.

Marketing strategy is the brainstorming -- the approach.

The thinking. The ideas. The angles. The way.

Marketing planning is the doing.

The executing. The vision brought to life.

Let's look at some examples of marketing strategy vs marketing plans.

Example: Bow-Wow Pet Park

  • Business Goals: Grow revenue by 25% this year.
  • Marketing Strategy: Tap into ancillary audience networks of current customers.
  • Plan: Create a pet owner rewards program, and market through direct mail, social media, and email.

Example: The Cupcake Bakery

  • Business Goals: Secure at least $25,000 in new business in city A
  • Marketing Strategy: Build relationships with top 20 influencers in business circles
  • Plan: Join a networking group, send targeted emails to influencers once a quarter with the latest updates, and host a VIP night with special incentives to share the cupcakes with other event planners.

Example: Bob’s Insurance Agency

  • Business Goals: Grow P&C clients by 30%
  • Marketing Strategy: Focus on growing market segments within specific verticals such as new parents.
  • Plan: Sponsor new parent packages at the local hospital. Partner with local auto dealers for SUV and minivan purchases. FB advertising based on life events.

Keep in mind that when you strategize the direction for your marketing, there are a number of other factors to consider first. If you fail to look at the whole picture, you may end up unintentionally copying a competitor’s strategy, or worse, missing the mark with your whole campaign.

Work on outlining:

  • Goals
  • Focus
  • Brand personality/brand voice
  • Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
  • Your market position (as it stands today)
  • What you’d like your future market position to be
  • Competitor analysis
  • Unique selling proposition/core differentiators
  • Analysis of your current customers
  • Analysis of the Marketing P’s – product, place, promotion, price, people process (do any of these need to be changed, improved, adjusted, etc?)

Once you have all of this information gathered, then you can begin the process of identifying the STRATEGY you want to use to build the MARKETING PLAN that will lead to the achievement of your goals.

Strategy stands. Tactics change.

Over the last 100 years, marketing tactics have changed tremendously.

But, the strategies, and the way people react, has remained fairly consistent.

For example, in 1902, if you wanted to attract customers into your store, you would create signage or activities that would invite them in to check out your sale. Now, you still create signage or activities, but you might do it on mobile, or Pokémon Go, or Instagram.

Interesting huh?

If you’re still scratching your head, not sure of the difference between the two, that’s ok. That’s what we do! So we’re happy to help - just drop us a line.

Marketing Plan Guide and Template

Posted in Marketing Strategy, Marketing Plan