Marketing strategy or marketing plan

What is the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?

This is something that causes confusion. Here at Cutthrough Marketing people ask us for a Marketing Strategy but then want to know why the marketing calendars do not define every detail of the campaigns.

Put simply, the marketing strategy is your long-term path definition, typically 3-5 years. It has the starting point and end point of each objective, which should be aligned to your business objectives.

The marketing plans are the short to medium tactical implementation plans, typically annual, possibly half-yearly. A list of actions with dates, audience and method of communication defined that when completed will deliver the marketing strategy.

So, if this were a journey where the over-arching aim is to move from London to Edinburgh that would be the strategic definition covering when the move has to be completed by and why the move is necessary. The tactical implementation plan would determine the method of getting there (road, train, flight). Who is going (just the end customer, other elements of the decision making unit, alliance partners)? How it is going to be funded (cash, credit card, bank transfer)? Will the journey be split into sections with breaks along the way and so on.

The marketing plan is more dynamic and flexible so that it can reflect changes on the ground whilst keeping going in the overall direction that the strategy has set. So, if there is a recession then the tactics will change, the strategy may have lengthened timeframes, but the road will still be defined.

Sometimes though things happen which mean that strategic changes are forced on a company. For example, Covid-19 forced companies to pivot – restaurants becoming take aways, retail becoming e-commerce, spirit distillers making hand sanitiser.

But the announcement that new petrol and diesel cars and vans will no longer be available for sale from 2030 means that the automotive sector may have to revisit their strategy with the comfort of a little more time. Can the car manufacturers achieve all the technical changes in time? Will there be some markets where petrol and diesel will still be needed (for example, Land Rover in Africa, or the vans that do long trips across the Australian outback where the charging infrastructure is not available – additional fuel can be carried in jerry cans whereas spare batteries would be large heavy and swapping out cumbersome – even dangerous for the untrained). These questions may change strategy, especially around new model launches or the number of different models available.

This is why the PESTLE analysis is a key part of the strategy as legal changes, as well as any of the others, can have an impact on the future direction of the company. Maybe if Eastman Kodak hadn’t pushed to one side the digital camera that they were the first to develop back in 1975 (a massive technological change), they would have survived as a company. Their rationale was that people will always want physical photographs from film, well that hasn’t proven to be the case with film camera sales falling off a cliff and phones taking over.

Taking care of your strategy is more important than getting the tactical implementation plan right. If you are going in the wrong direction, but implement effectively and you will just get to the wrong destination quicker. If you have the right strategy in the right direction, and your tactics are not delivering, then they can be examined and corrected.

Of course, you should aim to have the right strategy AND the right tactical implementation plan from day one. That is where working with a Fractional CMO can help you deliver for your organisation by leveraging their experience. Give us a call today to learn more.

[originally issued 26/11/20; edited 18/3/24]