The Difference Between Your Marketing Strategy and Your Marketing Plan (and 3 Ways It Impacts Your Bottom Line)

by blackwoodimpact

Say the word “Marketing” to any group of executives or company leaders and different images will flood their minds. Marketing is a concept and a set of activities that covers a broad business area. It is very easy for a company’s marketing initiatives to be ineffective due to poorly formulated strategies and plans.

Often times, having the wrong idea about what a marketing strategy and a marketing plan is laid at the root of poor results. These terms are commonly used interchangeably but, in reality, they are two separate concepts and functions. In this article, we at Blackwood Impact Group want to help clear up some confusion by outlining the difference between the two. We’ll also show how having a clear understanding can help positively impact your bottom line.

What Is a Marketing Strategy?

Your company’s Marketing Strategy is essentially your “big picture.” It is your road map or the approach you will take to accomplish your revenue goals. It frames your overall game plan for your business. As such, it should ultimately flow as an extension of your overall business strategy.

Your marketing strategy outlines who you are serving (your target customers) and why. It shares what you are offering (your products and services) and what makes you uniquely different. It outlays your go-to-market plan as well as summarizes your core messages, such as your brand promise or unique selling proposition.

It is important to note that the development of your marketing strategy should come after you’ve completed a market assessment (link to Article #35 – Why A Market Assessment Is The Foundation of Revenue Growth Strategies). This will ensure that your strategy will be based on empirical research and is in alignment with your business goals.

What Is a Marketing Plan?

Your company’s marketing plan is the “how” compliment of your marketing strategy. The marketing plan is goal-driven and outlines the specific steps you will take to execute your strategy. It is how you will put your strategy in motion so you can accomplish your revenue goals.

Your marketing plan should be a comprehensive document that outlines all of your advertising and message communications efforts. All of the steps, tactics, tools, platforms, and marketing channels you will use in the process go into your marketing plan. So if you intend on using social media, text marketing, blogging, trade show participation, and more, it all goes into your plan.

Your marketing plan should also include an outline of your campaigns and a calendar that specifies when distinct marketing activities will take place. It is vital that Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are built-in and that the results of your marketing activities are trackable. You must be able to establish your Return on Investment (ROI) for your marketing efforts and ensure they are effective at attracting and converting the right leads into your business.

How Your Business Goals, Your Marketing Strategy, and Marketing Plan Should Serve Each Other

To help illustrate how your business goals, marketing strategy, and marketing plan should align, here are a few examples. In each, you’ll see a summary of a fictitious company’s business goal, the strategy or approach they plan to take to reach it, and the actual steps they will execute to achieve that goal.

Southern Commercial Cleaning, LLC

  • Business Goals: Hire 5 Sales Managers this year.
  • Marketing Strategy: Implement new online recruiting process.
  • Marketing Plan: Utilize online Ads and video marketing for recruitment. Create a LinkedIn recruiting campaign and target competitor’s sales managers. Partner with local University MBA career fairs.

ATL Contractors Inc.

  • Business Goals: Close at least $900,000 in new contracts with the City of Atlanta.
  • Marketing Strategy: Raise visibility and be a local thought leader and influencer.
  • Marketing Plan: Gain speaking engagements at Metro Atlanta Chambers of Commerce.

Sponsor and volunteer with local non-profits. Network and partner with other government contractors on bids.

IT Strategy Agency

  • Business Goals: Increase clients in the Southeast by 25%.
  • Marketing Strategy: Grow market segments within specific territories, specifically The Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama.
  • Marketing Plan: Host workshops and sponsor events with TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) and other IT-focused networking organizations. Partner with local digital agencies in the major cities in target states.

As these summaries only provide briefs, they demonstrate a cohesive flow of thought. The actual marketing strategies and marketing plans will be documents that contain more extensive details.

3 Ways Understanding The Difference Between a Marketing Strategy and Marketing Plan Impacts Your Bottom Line

The terms “strategy” and “plan” are often used interchangeably because, in many contexts, they mean the same thing. But as we’ve clarified above, a marketing strategy and marketing plan are not the same. Challenges arise when business leaders want to improve their revenue by turning their attention to Marketing and try to blend a marketing plan with a marketing strategy.

Business owners often jump the gun by immediately executing marketing plan tactics (i.e., paying for PPC ads, hiring an SEO firm, participating in trade shows, engaging in video marketing, etc.). But they’ve done so before clarifying their goals or setting a well-researched strategy in place. Here’s how both the wrong and the right approach can impact your bottom line.

Impact #1 – Your Time and Resources

Executing a marketing campaign before a strategy is in place is a recipe for wasted time, money, and people resources. Small businesses, in particular, can sometimes feel the pressure of needing new clients fast, so they try to initiate new campaigns quickly. Leaders at larger companies sometimes hastily implement the latest marketing trends because they don’t want to feel as though they are behind the curve. They may rush onto the newest social media platform, hurry to produce videos in hopes of going viral, or pay hefty retainers to work with a Public Relations or Pay-Per-Click Ads firm.

Without a strategy, it is easy to pay for services that may not be right for your business. Initiating marketing tactics that are not aligned with your business goals can produce unwanted or underwhelming results. At times, Blackwood Impact Group’s clients have admitted to not understanding the marketing services and products they’ve paid for and felt frustrated with the service provider.

Internal staff, such as the Sales team and even the Marketing team can also feel frustrated when campaigns aren’t profitable. The marketing team might even feel burned out when they are continually tasked with devising new campaigns. The finance team certainly won’t be happy about increasing the marketing spend.

But with the right strategy in place, selecting the optimal marketing channels and tactics for your business becomes evident. You will increase the effectiveness of the campaigns by attracting more high-quality leads which convert easier into paying customers. Increased efficiency will bring your marketing costs down and keep your teams happy with their productivity.

Impact #2 – Your Lead Generation and Brand Reputation

At its core, marketing is placing messages about how your company can fulfill a need or desire in front of the group of people who are most likely to respond with a purchase.  When a company puts messages into the marketplace before having a clearly defined strategy, it will impact the quality of leads you attract as well as your brand’s reputation.

Messages that are not precisely targeted for your ideal audience will not capture their attention. You run the risk of your perfect prospects not understanding that your company has a solution for their challenges worth considering. Without a strategy in place first, you can also run the risk of putting the right message in front of the wrong audience; it will not yield the quality and quantity of leads you might be looking for.

In fact, one of the most significant pain points Blackwood Impact Group’s customers express is not attracting the right leads from their marketing efforts. They may be bringing in leads, but they are not the right types. As such, a small amount of the leads convert into clients. Sometimes those clients experience buyer’s regret because they didn’t understand what they were purchasing from our clients.

Indeed, time, money, and people’s resources are wasted sending the wrong messages to the wrong people at the wrong time. Furthermore, consumers might think your company’s products or services solve one type of problem when, in fact, you help with another. When there is confusion in the marketplace about your brand, it is difficult to attract the right clients and grow your revenue. Additionally, if you bring in ill-fitting customers into your business, their negative experiences with you can damage your reputation.  It will cost to rebrand, rebuild consumer trust, and finally go after the right clients. But the investment in getting it right usually pays off in the end.

Impact #3 – Your ROI (Return on Investment) and CPA (Cost Per Acquisition)

As we mentioned above, your marketing plan should contain trackable KPIs (key performance indicators) so that you can measure the effectiveness of your campaign results. The information you need to know includes how many leads you are generating, the speed with which you are creating those leads, how many of your leads convert into paying customers, and how much it cost you to acquire each customer (CPA). With this and other related information, you can determine the return on investment (ROI) of your marketing endeavors.

When your marketing plan, marketing strategy, and goals are misaligned, you will unintentionally spend more money on less than stellar results, as we’ve already established. With alignment comes increased lead attraction and budget efficiency. Although it is an investment to conduct market research and develop an effective strategy, it will ultimately lead to lower CPAs and a higher ROI.

If you find yourself needed to develop a new or revise an existing marketing plan or strategy, a great place to start is by downloading our Marketing Strategy Template. It will help you answer critical questions that will bring your business goals into focus. It will also help lead you into the process of developing a strategy that will help you achieve your revenue goals.