Marketing Plan vs. Marketing Strategy

Why you need a marketing strategy before you create a marketing plan

Business people looking at paper in meeting room
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Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, your marketing plan and marketing strategy are two separate elements of your business. Your marketing strategy is what you need to achieve with your marketing efforts, and it's shaped by and should reflect your business goals. Your marketing plan is how you are going to achieve those marketing goals, and it's the practical implementation of your marketing strategy. Both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan are necessary because they work together to promote and grow your business.

Why You Need a Marketing Strategy and Marketing Plan

If you try to achieve the "how" of your marketing without first knowing the "what," you risk wasting both time and money. Once you understand what you are trying to achieve (strategy), you are better able to decide how to reach those goals (plan). For example, consider a business that creates communication apps and wants to increase its revenue. The company decides that it needs to reach a new market segment. To effectively reach new customers that would be interested in purchasing its app, the company needs both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan.

  • Objective: Reach new customers and persuade them to adopt App A
  • Marketing strategy: Appeal to older consumers by showing that App A is easier to use than competitors for keeping in touch with relatives
  • Marketing plan: Develop commercials showing how easy it is for grandparents to use App A when video chatting with grandchildren
  • Implementation: Create a series of commercials, then air them during TV time slots with a high percentage of viewers over age 55

Without a marketing strategy, the company might choose forms of advertising, such as printed advertorials or radio spots, that can't effectively demonstrate how easy it is to use App A compared to competitors' apps. Or, it might create a video ad but air it online in a way that doesn't effectively reach older consumers. Either of these errors would prevent the company from achieving its goal of expanding into a new market segment. By creating a marketing strategy first, the business can create a marketing plan that effectively reaches and persuades a new market segment to trust and use its app.

What a Marketing Strategy Looks Like

When creating your marketing strategy, you should identify your:

  • Goals: Identify the short- and long-term objectives of the marketing initiative and how they interact with your overall business goals.
  • Target market: You should know what customers you're trying to reach, their perceived values, what drives their decision-making process, and the problem they're facing.
  • Competitors: Make sure to know who your competitors are, their market position, and their strengths and weaknesses.
  • External marketing message: Think about how you will solve your customers' problems in a way that aligns with their values.
  • Internal positioning goal: Identify what makes you different from competitors and why customers should believe in you.

If you don't have a good sense of your position in the market in relation to your competitors, you may need to perform a situation analysis. This will help you understand your business' strengths and weaknesses, as well as any opportunities or threats that could undermine your business goals. Understanding how your brand is perceived relative to competitors will allow you to create a more complete and effective marketing strategy.

Using Your Marketing Strategy and Plan

Once you have your marketing strategy completed, you can use it to create a detailed marketing plan that will achieve your specific goals.

As you map your marketing strategy into a marketing plan, be specific when deciding what, how, and why you will communicate with your customers. The more specific you are in your planning, the easier it will be to follow through with effective implementation.