Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Plan? (The Difference)

A company’s success relies heavily on the right marketing strategy supported by a robust marketing plan.

That said, beginning marketers often confuse these two concepts and consider them to mean the same thing.

But they are very different. Here’s how:

  • A marketing strategy answers the “why”.
  • A marketing plan answers the “how”. 

What Is the Difference Between a Marketing Strategy and a Marketing Plan?

A good exercise to think clearly about the differences between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan is to compare a SWOT analysis against the Marketing Mix.  A SWOT analysis is a structured review of the organization while the marketing mix plans the activities to bring your product or service to market.

A marketing strategy and a marketing plan are different in three distinctive ways:

  1. by definition,
  2. purpose, and
  3. focus.

A business strategy informs what goes into a marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy explains why you intend to perform specific marketing actions. 

For example, if your startup wishes to scale up, the marketing strategy you develop will help you reach this goal, perhaps by building a customer base or through social media marketing.

On the other hand, a marketing plan describes how you intend to implement the actions laid out in the marketing strategy. 

It provides the specifics regarding branding, scheduling the communication channels you intend to use.

A marketing plan comes after a marketing strategy.

Moreover, one of the main focal points of any good marketing plan is monitoring the success of your marketing actions using key performance indicators (KPIs).

These KPIs are crucial not only for measuring progress but also in ensuring the marketing plan lines up with the marketing strategy. A regular SWOT analysis is also a helpful activity to help you with your marketing strategy.

How Do You Develop a Marketing Strategy?

A marketing strategy consists of the following practical steps.

1. Develop a marketing plan

Building a robust marketing plan will include the following components:

  • Branding. How you sell the company matters. You need to determine the brand voice and incorporate this element in marketing campaigns.
  • Timeline and budget. These two components are essential, particularly for small businesses that have limited funds.
  • Roles. The success of a marketing plan requires that those involved in the execution understand and perform their functions.
  • Content strategy. This strategy describes the schedule for dispensing the content, the communication channels, and the type of incentives you intend to use.

2. Identify buyer personas

A buyer persona is a company’s depiction of an ideal customer. When developing this persona, an organization  must consider several aspects, including:

  • Goals
  • Demographics like age, income, and gender
  • Psychographic factors such as interests and lifestyle

For instance, Netflix and other streaming services use behavioral segmentation. Here, the company knows which content to recommend based on watch history. Another example would be to look at fashion brands’ buyer persona. Zara’s buyer persona is a fashion-forward customer with mid-range income who lives in an urban area.

3. Determine marketing goals

As mentioned earlier, you should typically model your marketing strategy after your overall business goals. Plus, such a strategy will remain consistent. And will only change if your team meets its marketing goals.

Moreover, you may also need to revise these goals if there are any significant market changes, for instance, new technological trends or if you launch new products/services. Standard marketing goals include:

  • Market development
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Wider customer base
  • Increased sales

4. Understand the market

Market research is one of the essential elements of a marketing strategy. It helps you build the right buyer persona, stay updated on market changes and boost your business performance. Like other steps mentioned earlier, it would be wise to set clear goals for market research. Doing so reduces the scope making it easier to get accurate and relevant results.

Market research involves gathering information such as the market size, demographics, trends, and growth. Pay attention to specific matters like data availability and credibility when undertaking this process.

5. Competitive analysis

The competitive analysis provides valuable information about your competitors, including their pricing, advertisement strategies, plus strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, this process lets you in on your unique value proposition.

To understand your competitor’s strategies, ask yourself the following questions. Are your competitors:

  • Attempting to create new markets?
  • Trying to expand their market share?
  • Bringing in technologically advanced products?

Once you’ve made a competitor profile, here’s how to go about the analysis.

  • Examine the competition’s offerings. Start by examining your competitors’ products and their unique properties.
  • Establish your competitor’s market share. A comprehensive market share can influence consumer perception and benchmarks for the product/service.
  • Identify your company’s competitive position and develop appropriate strategies. Some potential ones include lowering prices, ramping up advertisements, or buying out the competition.

Examples of Successful Marketing Strategies

Here are two notable successful marketing strategies.

1. Spotify

Spotify, a music streaming service, found a way to provide its listeners with a unique user experience, setting it apart from other providers. Besides the standard genre filters, Spotify offers users a chance to select music based on their current mood.

spotify mood booster

2. Sephora

Sephora introduced a “Beauty Insider” loyalty program that rewards shoppers based on their spending levels.

  • Beauty Insider (no minimum costs)
  • VIB (at least $350 spent)
  • VIB Rouge ($1000 minimum purchases)

This strategy has helped get more customers to shop to enjoy the significant discounts and offers.sephora beauty insider loyalty example

Effective Marketing Strategies and Plans Equal Successful Business Strategy Goals

The success of an organization’s marketing actions requires a great marketing strategy and a good marketing plan. While different, a marketing strategy and plan mesh together to improve brand awareness, facilitate customer acquisition, provide a competitive edge, boost sales performance and ultimately gain a customer and keep a customer.

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