Difference Between a Marketing Strategy & Plan

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If there’s one question I’ve been asked many times in my years managing digital marketing, it’s ‘what’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?’. The confusion is understandable because so often marketers use the two terms interchangeably. Some in the industry will argue that they are one and the same.

At Insourced, we wholeheartedly believe  know there is a significant difference between the two.

We know this because we’ve witnessed businesses receive excellent marketing strategies full of potential, only to see them fall short because the in-house team doesn’t know what to do with them.

For a marketing team to confidently roll out strategic, effective and measurable activity, they need to understand what the difference between a strategy and a plan is. More importantly, they need access to both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan, to successfully roll out activity.

Strategy vs plan, what’s the difference?

A marketing strategy outlines our overarching approach. It’s what we will do to be competitive in our market and meet our core business objectives. 

A marketing plan, on the other hand, is an actionable and granular guide based on our strategy but detailing exactly how we will push out digital activities and when.

Think of it like building a house: To get planning permission, we need to prepare the basic design of your house and how this will fit into the street and suburb you intend to build in, taking into account things like the land size, neighbouring properties, council regulations, and the style you like.

All being well, the council is happy with your proposal and gives you the green light to build.

What’s next?

You wouldn’t supply this broad design to a builder and expect them to be able to crack on and build the house based on this design. Builders need practical building plans that clarify all of the nitty-gritty; electrics, plumbing, stages of completion, materials, budgets, a building schedule etc. 

It’s the final plans that enable the builder to bring the initial design to life.

(If you’re a building firm reading this and any of the above is inaccurate or uses the wrong terminology, I can only apologise. You get the point, though).

With digital marketing, our strategy is the’ big picture’ idea giving us broad direction, it’s the marketing plan that provides the roadmap to roll out the strategy in a way that drives results.

What’s included in a marketing strategy?

A digital marketing strategy usually covers:

  • Audience research
  • Competitor analysis
  • Industry analysis
  • SWOT analysis
  • Business objectives
  • Marketing objectives
  • Key brand messages & value proposition
  • Future marketing channel mix
  • Top-line channel tactics

All of this allows us to get clarity on where our brand currently stands in the market, our unique offer and positioning, and the channels and tactics required for the business moving forward.

It’s the overarching vision, but it’s not detailed enough for us to jump into those channels and start publishing content, running advertising campaigns, or revamping our website.

Say you own a tourism business in Australia, for example. Your business strategy might focus on selling local experiences as a priority, due to a downturn in international visitors. In your digital marketing strategy, you might outline that you’ll do this by using select digital channels to grow awareness of the tours you offer because research shows most of your local audience doesn’t know they exist.

This digital strategy gives your marketing efforts some direction but it’s extremely difficult to then take this high-level approach and translate it into everyday marketing activities that can be measured.

This is where the marketing plan comes into play.

What’s included in a marketing plan?

With our overall strategy set, it’s time to detail how we’ll deliver on this. 

A marketing plan will typically include:

  • Recap/summary of the overarching strategy
  • Specific actions that align with the strategy for each channel
  • More detail about the tactics that will be used
  • Budgets
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Digital platforms and tech requirements
  • A calendar or timeline of activity
  • KPIs and targets
  • Reporting processes

Using the tourism business example from before, the marketing plan might contain actions such as:

  • Invest in weekly Instagram advertising to promote local tours.
  • Run Google Ads to capture those actively searching for things to do nearby.
  • Supply blog content for local online publications to increase reach. 

All of which will be accompanied by budgets, specific timings, KPIs and targets, and clear designation of who will own each action and be accountable for managing and reporting.

Should the strategy & plan be separate documents?

Not necessarily. It is sometimes valuable to create a ‘marketing strategy and plan’ single document, which means everything is in one place and is logical for readers. Newcomers to the business or external consultants and stakeholders might appreciate having all of the details together.

Then again, some may find it overwhelming to have all of the information in one long document because the strategy and plan are both extremely comprehensive. In this case, breaking it into two documents can make it easier to digest. So long as everyone understands the difference between a marketing strategy and a plan, it shouldn’t really matter if the documents are separate.

After all, a marketing strategy and a marketing plan are both useless if nobody in the business engages with them. Your aim is to make it as accessible and easy as possible for teams to align with and use in their everyday marketing efforts.

If you’d like help setting your digital marketing strategy and action plan, get in touch with us. We use our extensive experience in digital marketing to craft sharp strategies and actionable plans. And that’s just the start! Once we’ve defined your course of action, we’ll give you personalised training in the areas identified, so you can fully own the strategy implementation in-house.


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