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

Marketing is super confusing. There are a ton of concepts to understand. In this article, we’re going to break down the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan. We’re going to go over a few examples of the two.

By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how to create a marketing strategy versus a marketing plan for your work or business.

What is a Marketing Strategy?

The first thing you review is what even is a marketing strategy. Strategy is what helps answer the overarching questions of what marketing is as a function in a business. This means being able to answer questions like who are we trying to target or who is part of our ideal customer profile? Marketing strategy aims to answer questions like why somebody cares about our product or why should somebody care about our product?

This is the part of marketing where we answer broad statements as to where we might go to find our ideal customers. We might also ask ourselves when our marketing might aim to engage with their customers as well as how we might position ourselves from a marketing lens when our customer interfaces with our brand. Within positioning, there’s a whole nother side of marketing strategy as well that covers things like what tonality we might use with our ideal customer profile.

Overall though, the key thing to remember with marketing strategy is that it tries to answer the overarching questions behind marketing as a function.

What is a Marketing Plan?

Now that we’ve covered marketing strategy, we can talk about what a marketing plan is. A marketing plan is the actual how to our marketing strategy.

In other words, this aims to answer what we’re actually going to create for marketing, or what’s going to go on our content calendar. This is the part where tactical decisions like what social media platforms we want to be marketing on come into the picture. You might also answer questions around the frequency in which we’re posting on these different social media networks.

When it comes to your standard operating procedures or your SOPs this is where they will be solidified and teams are scaled around these marketing plans.

Example 1: Peloton

For our first example, we’ll take a look at Peloton. In this example, Peloton might have a marketing strategy, which is to form new partnerships with brand name artists in order to leverage their audiences and attract new subscriptions.

Fun fact, we can see this in their recent partnerships with brand name artists like Beyonce or The Beatles. When it comes to an actual marketing plan behind this strategy, Peloton might first identify the brand name artists on their platform, then reach out to their brand managers before figuring out next steps of forming this sort of collaboration.

So in this example, the strategy encompasses the overall thought behind what we’re trying to achieve as a business whereas the plan is the execution steps that we take to bring that strategy to reality.

Example 2: Local coffee shop

For our second example, we might be a local coffee shop that believes that we can better leverage network effects from our existing customers. In other words, we think that customers that already visit our coffee shop will be more likely than other customers to share us with their friends and family. So with this marketing strategy in place, we might form a marketing plan that would include things like creating loyalty cards, so that the next time that your existing customers come into the shop, they have more incentive to share us with another friend.

Or we might come up with some sort of VIP club in which if they bring in two new customers to this shop, they would join this club for the next three months. As a final part to this marketing plan, we might come up with some sort of test of a double-side referral program in which both the referrer and the referral would get some sort of incentive for mentioning that they had heard about the store from the existing customer.

Can one live without the other?

So at this point, you might be wondering if a marketing strategy can live without a marketing plan, or if a marketing plan can live without a marketing strategy. And the answer to that question is honestly no. And the reason why is because without a strategy, you can’t really form a meaningful plan and without a marketing plan, you can’t really meaningfully bring a marketing strategy into reality.

So both of them have symbiotic relationship in that they have to be aligned in order for a marketing team or a company to see success. I’ve had a personal experience in which the marketing plan and marketing strategy were not aligned. A few years ago, we had a marketing team that wanted to build up our PR and build more relationships with existing reporters and outlets in order to get attention on our brand.

However, this marketing plan to build out these PR relationships weren’t well aligned to the marketing strategy that we were implementing at that time, which was creating a ton of helpful content for educators to get interested in our product. As a result, the plans around public relations really never materialized anything because it couldn’t connect back to the overall marketing strategy of our organization.

In other words, our marketing team’s thoughts that PR could be an avenue for growth and part of our marketing plan never materialized because it was the equivalent of cold emailing a ton of different journalists and hoping that our business would be interesting. There wasn’t anything behind that plan or an alignment to the marketing strategy that we’re executing.

Big takeaways

There are two things I want you to remember from this article:

  1. The first one is that your marketing strategy will encompass the overall broader intent of marketing at your company whereas your marketing plan is going to answer the questions around the how of your marketing.
  2. It’s really important that you understand the distinction between these two things and also how they have to interact with one another and align in order for marketing to be successful.

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