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Marketing Plan vs Marketing Strategy: What's the Difference?

Written by Cristina Miller | April 23, 2018

You’re posting on social media, you have blog posts but you’re not seeing any results. What’s the deal? The problem isn’t what you’re doing, it’s why you’re doing it. If your marketing efforts are not backed up by a strategy then that’s probably why you’re not seeing results. Before posting content, you should always start with your marketing strategy and then use it to support your marketing plan and efforts.

What is the difference between a marketing plan and marketing strategy?

Sometimes these words are used interchangeably but they actually mean two different things. I’ve found that the simplest way to explain the difference is:

Marketing Strategy - Shaped by your business strategy, your marketing strategy is your purpose; it's the offering you deliver, how you will deliver it and why your marketing efforts will help you achieve your company’s mission and strategic goals. Once you have your strategy, only then will you be able to develop an effective marketing plan.

Marketing Plan - Driven by your strategy, your marketing plan is the execution; the roadmap of tactical marketing efforts that help you achieve your marketing goals. Your plan is your detailed campaign of what you will do, where you will do it, when you will implement, and how you will track success.

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What’s included in your marketing strategy?

  • Executive Summary - The outline of your marketing strategy.
  • Background - The background describes your business goals, marketing goals, and challenges.
  • Market Analysis - Your market analysis describes the opportunity, market sizing, market segments and impacts that could affect your market (trends, economic, seasons).
  • Target Audience - The detailed version of your market segments and their characteristics (from their demographics to psychographics, goals, pains, buying patterns, and positioning of benefits and unique selling proposition). In this section, you will also want to include the examples of segments you are not targeting and how your offering is better than competitors.
  • Competitive Analysis - The different categories of competitors and their characteristics including threats, market share comparison, differentiation, barriers to entry, etc.
  • Offering - This includes what you deliver or offer to the market, what the need is, the feature and benefit for each segment, and how you intend on delivering those features or benefits.
  • Message - Uncover what the audience knows or believes about your company today. Determine the most important message to all segments and provide evidence of supporting that claim. This is great opportunity to provide information from happy clients - what do they say that supports your message? Why are they happy?
  • Selling - Write down the channels you sell through, who is involved in selling through each step of the sales process. This is a good place to document whether this is an impulse or planned purchase. Additionally, describe the steps they take through each stage of the buying process and understand their buying criteria, this informs the content you can create and use in your marketing materials.
  • Pricing - Every customer has unique needs. In some cases, price may not be an important criterion in the process. Is this true for your segment? What is your pricing model? Is it tiered? Are there discounts? Make sure to include competitive pricing, the perceived value of your product or service compared to price, services that you include in the price, and how the consumer trends could drive the price up or down.
  • Communication and promotion - What is the communication pattern with customers? Can we add any marketing activities from that? What other materials could help them? How else would they like to hear about us and our services? What key channels are useful and relevant? What are the most effective channels?

If you have your marketing strategy, are your plans implementing to meet those goals? If not, this may be the reason why you’re not seeing results.

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Now let’s take a look at a marketing plan. Unlike your marketing strategy, you will use the marketing plan more frequently; referring back to it as you implement your plan and monitor your findings. (Blog: 5 Steps for Successfully Reviewing Your Marketing Plan)

What’s included in your marketing plan?

  • Executive Summary - Provide a brief overview of the marketing plan.
  • Target Market - Provide an overview of your target market, their pains, goals, buying patterns, and messaging.
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - Your KPIs measure the success of your marketing campaign. Here are some examples of KPIs for your marketing campaign
      • Sales Revenue
      • Cost Per Lead
      • Client Value
      • Inbound Marketing ROI
      • Website Traffic-to-Lead Ratio
      • Lead-to-Client Ratio
      • Landing Page Conversion Rates
      • Organic Traffic
    • Situation Analysis - Describe your goals, strengths, weaknesses, environmental factors, and market analysis to clearly articulate your challenges and impacts on your business moving forward.
    • The 4 P's of Marketing
      • Product - What you are offering in the marketplace and how it is different than competitors.
      • Price - How is your pricing model different? What is the dollar amount and structure? Why will customers choose your product or service over others? 
      • Place - Today's digital environment demands a shift toward online sales. Is online the first place that your buyers will see your product? What other avenues will you sell your product?
      • Promotion - Where will you be promoting your product? Through online advertising? Email marketing? Blogging? Ensure that each avenue selected will truly impact your revenue.
    • Plan - From your website to social media, to content and the channels you will engage on with potential clients, your marketing plan is a critical component to achieve your business objectives and produce results for your company.
      • Website and Branding - Does your website messaging resonate with your personas? Is it set up to generate leads for your business? Even if a potential buyer isn't ready to purchase your service or product today, doesn't mean they won't later. Establish yourself as a thought leader, providing helpful content on your website to bring leads in until they are ready to buy from you.
      • Content Strategy and Plan - What content do already exists? Does it make sense for your marketing campaign? Do you need to update the messaging so it captivates and engages your audience? (If you need to review content marketing basics, check out this blog.)
      • Channels - What channels will you use to reach your audience? Where are they most active? Ask your personas which channels they are on. 
      • Social Media Plan - How are you using social media? Are you engaging with thought leaders? Replying back to happy clients? What is your posting frequency? What KPIs are you tracking to measure success?
      • Timeline - Ensure that you have a timeline for your campaign. Over time this will help you measure the overall success and effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
      • Resources/Budget - What is the amount you will allocate to advertising, digital, website, event marketing, etc.?
      • Responsibilities - Identify who is responsible for each part of implementation. Is one person creating all the designs? Do you have a content writer that is responsible for blogging, social media posting, etc.?

    In Summary

    Your marketing plan acts as your roadmap, clearly identifying the plan of action for your marketing efforts. Your marketing strategy on the other hand, describes the overarching reason for how your marketing efforts will help you achieve your goals. Remember, to be successful and generate results, you must ensure that your team is executing a plan that backs up your strategy.

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Cristina Miller
Cristina Miller

One part artist, one part curious, two parts strategist, three parts results-driven. Cristina is a team player who believes that a little encouragement, transparency, and hard work goes a long way. As Digital Marketing Manager with Laire Group Marketing, she leverages her love of learning and passion for design, marketing, and business strategy to help companies produce quality leads and achieve success.