For most people, these two terms mean the same thing and are often used interchangeably. We speak of our strategy and describe our plan, and we're talking about one thing. However, it's critically important for a successful digital marketing effort to understand that a strategy is not a plan. So, what's the difference?
This contention might sound a bit pedantic or even a case of splitting semantic hairs. Perhaps. In most business scenarios, muddying up the distinction between a strategy and a plan is not a big deal.
And, at the end of the day, the real test is whether anything in the plan actually gets done!
But when it comes to marketing your business, it can make a huge difference. You are investing money, time and resources into an effort to generate leads, increase sales or expand awareness for your brand. And that is not something you want to fumble your way through with a lack of clarity and vision.
Line Up Your Digital Marketing Ducks!
Once you decide to launch a marketing initiative you need to "get all your ducks in a row" as the saying goes. But in what order? Which ducks do you need? And do you know where they're supposed to be going? Lining up ducks requires more than a plan since a plan in and of itself is nothing more than a list of steps to take.
So, let's drill down to a more granular level for a moment and look at the very real - and critical - distinction between a "strategy" and a "plan."
We want to keep this simple, so here are a few great "definitions" to un-muddy the marketing waters:
Cherissa Newton, writing at cmoe.com, offers this insight,
"A plan is an arrangement, a pattern, a program, or a scheme for a definite purpose. A plan is very concrete in nature and doesn’t allow for deviation. If “Plan A” doesn’t work, you don’t alter “Plan A” and try again. Rather, you move to “Plan B;” something totally different.
A strategy, on the other hand, is a blueprint, layout, design, or idea used to accomplish a specific goal. A strategy is very flexible and open for adaptation and change when needed. A strategy is most useful when creativity, collaboration, and innovation are of the utmost importance."
Then we have George Konetes, Director of Digital Media at Infinity Concepts,
A strategy is bigger than a plan. Strategy tackles the question of why? It has a large scope and looks at the end result as well as the many paths to the desired outcome. A strategy looks at every possible influencing factor, both seen and unforeseen and comes to terms with the whole situation, not just one end result.
Plan vs. Strategy
A plan says, “Here are the steps,” while a strategy says, “Here are the best steps.” Strategy speaks to the reasons why, while the plan is focused on how. In a perfect world the strategy always comes before a plan and shapes the details of the plan. A strategy is the overarching wisdom that coordinates all of the plans in order to effectively reach the goals."
And, just to put an extra helping on our "strategy and plan plate" we look to Key Differences,
"Definition of Planning
Planning is an organized process of thinking in advance about a future action. It means the preparation of the plan, i.e. the sequence of steps which will help in achieving organizational objectives.
Definition of Strategy
The strategy is a master game plan designed for achieving the objectives of an organization. It is a mix of competitive moves and actions made by the top level management for the accomplishment of goals successfully."
Putting a Bow on It
We can sum up the meanings and distinctions between your strategy and your plan with a concise statement:
"Your strategy is what you want to achieve and why. Your plan is how you will achieve it and when."
While we understand that there is much more involved with both tools, this should suffice to clarify the difference between the two.
"But what about tactics?" you might ask.
Well, don't. Not here in this post, anyway. We do cover that topic here, and suffice it to say that a tactic is not a strategy nor a plan, but tactics are incorporated in your plan. And, without a plan, you will quite likely never achieve the objectives laid out in your strategy.
So, what does a digital marketing strategy look like? You need to ask yourself first, what it is you want to accomplish with your marketing efforts. Here are the fundamental elements that should be included in your digital marketing strategy:
Research is essential for formulating your marketing strategy. You really don't want to be flailing about in the dark, or launching off on an expensive marketing expedition based on faulty assumptions. As much as possible you should identify your customer's buying habits, the size of your market, and any current trends.
Your Target Market
Know and describe your most likely customers. This is also where you want to create any segments you identify in your customer base. In addition, you should know as much as possible where your customers hand out online, what social media platforms they frequent, and everything else you can learn about them.
Positioning of Your Brand
Do you know what the perception of your brand is in the marketplace? How your target market perceives you is your positioning and you can reinforce the way you want to be seen by establishing compelling branding and marketing messages.
Know Your Marketing Budget
This is critical for developing a monthly marketing plan so you can schedule what you can spend on your tactics each month. A post at Inc.com points out that you should, "Also include a 'red light' decision point. For each activity, establish a metric that tells you to stop if it’s not generating sufficient return on investment (ROI)."
To sum this part up, you can think of your digital marketing strategy as your path to your marketing goals. It is your document that explains who your customers are, where they are, and how to best reach them and generate brand awareness, leads, or sales.
So, What About the Plan?
Good question. Because without a marketing action plan a strategy is simply a nice idea. A strategy doesn't explain how you'll try to achieve your objectives. But a plan will.
A marketing action plan will include a timeline, tactics and accountabilities. It will also have budget specifics, identify metrics to be monitored and measured, and reporting check-points. When it comes to tactics, it should specify what actions will make up your marketing campaign such as social media, email, direct mail, content marketing tactics, webinars, and any other activities that can put your brand and your offer in front of prospective customers.
We won't dive into all of the specifics of a good marketing plan here as we've done that elsewhere. But we do want to make note of some critical elements that must be in place in order to have a chance for success.
You may have noticed that we used the term "action plan" a few times. That's not just semantics. It means something. It means that a plan is meant to be executed. It is meant to be implemented. In short, an action plan is plan for what someone is going to DO!
Why is this important? Because far too many businesses are littered with well-meant plans that somehow just fall down between some figurative file cabinets and marketing efforts fizzle out or get implemented only in part. Which brings us to a second critical element: accountabilities.
What does "accountable" mean? This is just a fancy word for "a specific person is responsible."
Delegation of tasks and scheduling these in the action plan timeline is crucial for any chance of real success. An overstatement? Not really. How many businesses launch any number of initiatives, marketing and otherwise, only to see them fall by the wayside? It is inherent in the nature of any organization: When it comes to execution of any task it's not "us" - it's always "him", "her", "you" or "me."
Along with accountabilities you must be clear on metrics. There's an old saying that goes, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." And if you don't track it, you can't fix it. Your metrics will be specific to the activity or tactic involved, and there are almost always a number of tools that can be used to make this happen.
Let the Planning Begin! (After Strategy...)
Developing a solid digital marketing strategy will allow you to effectively boost your business. In fact, because of digital marketing, reaching your ideal audience is in many ways easier than ever before.
But achieving your marketing objectives with a digital marketing strategy does take time and it won't happen with a few random digital marketing tactics like blog posts or a few great videos.
For example, your audience will likely need to see, hear, and read your content for a while before they contact you. And only quality, relevant content will drive your organic search traffic and boost your SEO results. In fact, without your content compelling them to contact you, your goals may never be met.
The good news is that you don't have to figure out alone. In fact, one of the best investments you can make with your marketing budget is to partner with a solid firm like BroadVision Marketing.