Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Planning: What’s the Difference?

+ Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Planning: What’s the Difference?
Black yellow and red background with grids that tells a story about the difference between marketing strategy and planning

All too often, marketing strategy and marketing planning are used interchangeably, but the two are very different and in-fact cannot exist without one another.

Marketing strategy is always the first step, and the marketing plan(s) follow. Continue reading for an in-depth look at the differences and tips for creating an actionable marketing plan.

Marketing strategy defined

A marketing strategy is a document that represents your company’s essence; why you’re here, who you are, and where you’re going. It defines your target customer, your market and positioning, and all marketing plans and activities ladder up to this strategy. Marketing strategy is usually driven by the CMO or senior marketing leader, and signed off by a collective senior leadership team. It is backed by substantial market research and a brand strategy.

Example: An accounting firm’s marketing strategy is to acquire 100 new clients within the calendar year, focusing on retiring business owners and providing them with succession planning for their businesses.

Marketing plan defined

A marketing plan is the practical implementation of a marketing strategy. It outlines the channels, KPIs, and critical dates of executing the marketing strategy. A marketing plan is executed by many different people but usually managed by a marketing manager or a coordinator. A marketing plan involves leveraging various media, channels, and messaging frameworks to ladder up to the larger business objectives.

Example: For the accounting firm targeting retiring business owners, the plan is to launch a brand campaign that highlights succession planning services, to initiate a referral incentive program for existing customers, and to host a series of webinars on the topic that will be distributed within target markets.

How a marketing strategy and plan work together?

If your strategy is the overarching goal, the plan is how you’ll tactically execute it. A simple way to think of the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan is that the strategy outlines the why, what, and who, whereas a marketing plan determines the how. One cannot exist without the other. A strategy will only come to life when there’s a plan to support it and a plan without a strategy runs the risk of failing completely. Always start by developing a strategy first and following with a plan that is both realistic and data-driven.

6 Tips for creating a marketing plan

1. Lay out your plans in a high-level calendar

Bring your plan to life in the form of a high-level calendar outlining your media mix, key milestones, and KPIs. Make this the single source of truth for all marketing activity and delegate and owner responsible for maintaining the calendar (typically a marketing manager or marketing coordinator.

2. The devil is in the details (but save these for weekly or bi-weekly sprints)

Your calendar is the bird’s-eye view, but it’s easy to want to include every small detail. Instead, plan the “Small stuff” , the ad copy you’ll run, the email template design, the article topics, for your weekly or bi-weekly sprints. Your plan is always evolving and changing as the business and market informs it, so you don’t want to waste time mapping out the minutia when it might change. For example, you might have a branded PPC campaign in your marketing calendar, but you would determine what the copy and creative should be for those ads in your weekly sprints.

3. Establish tracking and testing tools

For a marketing strategy and plan to be successful, it needs to be measurable. Your strategy should identify the overarching objectives while your plan gets down to the incremental changes needed to reach said goal throughout and how each channel will contribute to that. In addition to tracking, you’ll want to test channels, creative, messaging and more to adjust your strategy over time. Create a log of hypotheses you want to test and schedule them throughout the course of your marketing plan. We recommend testing monthly and iterating quarterly.

4. Build a team

You can’t do it all by yourself. Build a team of people who have skill sets in areas that you don’t, whether that be internally or externally. Bring in key stakeholders within the business into the fold when it comes to hiring.

5. Assign KPIs and channels to your team

Give your team ownership of a channel and/or the execution of a campaign. When you do this, you give them the responsibility and ownership of that performance. Again, back to point 4, you want to choose your team wisely and with confidence that they have the skill to own said channel’s performance. If something isn’t working, will that person be able to explain why or why not? Will they be able to course-correct?

6. Find a good project management tool

The absolute last reason you’d ever want your marketing plan to fail, is because technology and tools let the team down. Be purposeful about how you want to keep track of your work and choose a project management tool that will support both online and offline, internal and external communication.

If you’re looking for support developing either your strategy or plan, we’d love to talk about how we can help you bring your brand and business to life.