A new consulting client, who started and is operating a successful e-commerce business, asked me the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan. She had Googled the terms and discovered a mixed bag of conflicting explanations. Being in marketing for more than 18 years, I fell victim to the curse of knowledge by not explaining the difference between the two in my discussion with her. Like many of my clients, she isn’t a marketer so it prompted me to step back to provide an explanation to help her understand the two terms.

What is a marketing strategy?

A “marketing strategy” comes first, as a component of a broader business strategy and becomes the foundation from which you develop your marketing plan. The marketing strategy defines who your target audience is, what value you’ll offer to this audience (and how you’ll communicate it) and how through the offer exchange, you’ll generate first-time and repeat revenue. A marketing strategy considers the four P’s of marketing which are (1) product, (2) place, (3) price and (4) promotion. You could also add a fifth “P” for people since any strategy requires deliberate execution by people. Marketing thought leader, Philip Kotler, stated that a marketing strategy includes many elements including:

  • Differentiating and Positioning the Market Offering- how to communicate value to the needs of the target audience
  • Managing Life-Cycle Strategies – how to attract various buyers
  • Designing Competitive Strategies – how to carve out your place in the market
  • Product related programs – product fit to target market needs
  • Pricing decisions – determining value exchange within the target audience
  • Marketing channel decisions – how to reach your target audience)
  • Promotion decisions – how to generate awareness and interest in the offer

A good marketing strategy is drawn from initial market research and focuses on the product mix in order to achieve the maximum profit and sustain the business long-term. A marketing strategy is NOT about tactics. It establishes the primary marketing goals connected to the larger business goals and specific to the responsibilities and accountabilities placed on the marketing function by the business owner or CEO.

So what is a marketing plan?

Once the market strategy is established, your next step is to develop a marketing plan to execute the strategy. The plan should provide clear guidance to the team for how the market strategy will be put into action and measured in order to achieve the stated goals. A marketing plan should include these elements (at minimum):

  • Campaigns specifically tied to your marketing strategy goals
  • Target audience (typically your personas that the campaigns are targeting specifically)
  • Message that resonates with your target audience
  • Offer that resonates with your target audience
  • Marketing channels selected based on how they can reach your target audience
  • Marketing channel metrics to know whether the channel is effective and efficient
  • Budget required to execute the campaign including technologies, tools, media buy, etc.
  • Creative requirements including landing pages, ads, micro-site, etc.
  • Expected results which are the marketing goals tied to your marketing strategy

A marketing strategy should remain consistent while your marketing plan may bend and flex as you execute and gather feedback between expected results and actual results. This “agile” approach keeps you focused on achieving your goals and learning how the target audience responds to your messaging, offer, marketing channels and creative. Typically, your marketing strategy only changes if external market movements gathered through an environmental scan or internal shifts occur that require a strategic revision. In most cases, an annual assessment should occur to validate and, if necessary, to update the current marketing strategy.

The marketing plan puts into action the marketing strategy. And, reflected in one of my favorite quotes, “Without strategy, execution is aimless; without execution, strategy is useless.” So take your time to plan an effective marketing strategy and more time planning out how you’ll execute it through a comprehensive marketing plan. Not to overdo the quotes, but recall the adage, “plan the work and work the plan.” An effective marketing plan lays out specifically what to do, how to measure success and provides a base to troubleshoot and optimize moving forward to achieve your goals.


Looking to increase your business sales? Kevin Gold, executive consultant at Next Leap Strategy and co-founder of FindYourNextCustomers.com, helps business owners and sales leaders develop and execute effective marketing growth strategies and plans to generate more sales leads and profitable customers. Get started by contacting Kevin at 513.601.8893 or visit www.NextLeapStrategy.com.