The massive difference between a marketing plan and a marketing strategy
I was checking on my own marketing plan recently and decided to do a quick Google search to see what the experts had to say about where a marketing plan ends and marketing strategy begins. Do you know what I found? A lot of confusion.
And I get it – they both have the word “marketing” in them. And they do both have to do with how you portray your business to the outside world… but there are notable differences. And it would be great if we could stop using the words marketing plan and marketing strategy interchangeably.
So, if you’re like a lot of the world, and all of this sounds a little like a rainy day - super cloudy and kind of muddy - then I’m here to help.
What is a marketing strategy?
Let’s start with the strategy. This is exactly what it sounds like – a high-level overview of your company goals. A marketing strategy should answer questions like:
Who are your customers?
Where can you find your customers?
What do you offer that is valuable to these customers?
What are the industry trends to be aware of?
What is no longer a trend that used to be?
Are there new areas, niches, or customer groups that your business wants to explore in the future?
Once you have these questions answered you can move on to the next step – and this is where things start to get a little grey. It’s time to define the strategies you will use to reach these customers.
Yup. You define marketing strategies within your overall marketing strategy. (facepalm)
ie. Will you use social media? Do people read that blog you write? Do you interview industry professionals on your podcast? Are case studies the customer proof that brings in the big bucks?
These are all individual strategies, but not every strategy works for every industry. (Don't try and do all of the things - you'll burn out.)
For example, if you’re in the business of selling medical beds to senior citizens, you probably won’t start a podcast about slumber options. The senior citizens I know generally are not listening to podcasts. And they may not be on social media either… If sleepy elders are your ideal audience, it might be time to consider a direct mail campaign or a partnership with another local organization that has an existing customer base similar to yours.
Research is a big part of this strategy phase. Do it well, and the planning phase will be much, much, much easier.
What’s a Marketing Plan?
Now that you’re crystal clear on who you’re talking to, where to find them, and the easiest way to approach them, it’s time to create a marketing plan. These are the specific steps you’ll take each quarter (or month or week if you get super specific) in order to reach your peeps.
The super broad overview of any marketing funnel includes the following:
Develop brand awareness (Who are you and who do you serve?)
Create a sense of interest (What do you have that I might want?)
Turn interest into desire (You’re right, I do want that!)
Give opportunity for customer action (Here’s my credit card, take my money!)
Your marketing plan should take into consideration each of these steps – how are you reaching the brand new people who have never heard of you before? AND what opportunities are you giving to the people who are ready to hand over their paychecks?
Use the marketing strategies to execute your marketing plan and watch your marketing goals fall into place!
Should we try another example? Sure! (What else are you doing?)
For this round, let's say that my company has been selling chocolate chip cookies for three decades. It’s an old family business that’s been around longer than social media and websites and online marketing of any kind.
My marketing strategy for the year includes:
Expanding my market reach to a three-state range.
Offering oatmeal cookies in addition to the chocolate chip I’m known for.
Starting a podcast on baking techniques to highlight the process my family has used for years.
Cutting down on direct mail campaigns that don’t seem to be working anymore.
Growing my email list.
My marketing plan includes:
Researching promotion options for my new long-distance customers.
Replying to my focus group to let them know I heard them and, yes! we are now offering oatmeal cookies! And, PS, would you like a discounted batch for helping with my research?
Outlining and defining topics and guests for my podcast.
Outlining my weekly content for my expanding email list to include coupons, podcast promotions, sales, and recipes.
Marketing strategy = what and why
Marketing plan = how
Hope this has helped clear up the muddy waters and blown some of those clouds away!