What’s the difference between a marketing plan and a business plan? Doesn’t a business plan include a marketing plan? Why would anybody do one without the other?
Good questions, and since I get them a lot, I decided to answer them here:
- A business plan covers the entire business, including overall strategy, financial plans, target markets, sales, products and services, operations, and how they all relate to each other. A marketing plan, in contrast, focuses on the marketing: marketing strategy, target markets, marketing mix, messaging, programs, etc. Cash flow is vital for a business plan, but not usually included in a marketing plan
- Yes, a business plan almost always includes the marketing portion. Emphasis varies, and I’ve seen some plans that focus much more on product or service than on marketing. But those are unusual.
- Lots of people do marketing plans rather than business plans because their job or their attention or their focus is on the marketing, not the whole business.
I wrote 5 steps to creating a marketing plan in one of my columns for entrepreneur.com. I’m including a summary here:
Step One: Your identity as a business.
Create separate lists that identify your business’ strengths, weaknesses and goals. Put everything down and create big lists. Don’t edit or reject anything.
Then, find priorities among the bullet points. If you’ve done this right, you’ll have more than you can use, and some more important than others. Kick some of the less important bullets off the list and move the ones that are important to the top.
This sometimes requires input from your managers as well. For example, your management team thinks being conservative on spending is a weakness but you don’t. That might be something to drop off the list.
Step Two: Focus on markets.
The next list you’ll need to make outlines your business’ opportunities and threats. Think of both as external to your business — factors that you can’t control but can try to predict. Opportunities can include new markets, new products and trends that favor your business. Threats include competition and advances in technology that put you at a disadvantage.
Also make a list of invented people or organizations who serve as ideal buyers or your ideal target market. You can consider each one a persona, such as a grandmother discovering email or a college student getting his or her first credit card. These people are iconic and ideal, and stand for the best possible buyer.
Put yourself in the place of each of these ideal buyers and then think about what media he or she uses and what message would communicate your offering most effectively. Keep your identity in the back of your mind as you flesh out your target markets.
Step Three: Focus on strategy.
Now it’s time to pull your lists together. Look for the intersection of your unique identity and your target market. In terms of your business offerings, what could you drop off the list because it’s not strategic? Then think about dropping those who aren’t in your target market.
For example, a restaurant business focused on healthy, organic and fine dining would probably cater to people more in tune with green trends and with higher-than-average disposable income. So, it might rule out people who prefer eating fast-food like hamburgers and pizza, and who look for bargains.
The result of step three is strategy: Narrow your focus to what’s most in alignment with your identity and most attractive to your target market. In other words, focus on the area that is shared by all three lines in the diagram here.
Step Four: Set measurable steps.
Get down to the details that are concrete and measurable. Your marketing strategy should become a plan that includes monthly review, tracking and measurement, sales forecasts, expense budgets and non-monetary metrics for tracking progress. These can include leads, presentations, phone calls, links, blog posts, page views, conversion rates, proposals and trips, among others.
Match important tasks to people on your team and hold them accountable for their successes and failures.
Step Five: Review often and revise.
Just as with your business plan, your marketing plan should continue to evolve along with your business. Your assumptions will change, so adapt to the changing business landscape. Some parts of the plan also will work better than others, so review and revise to accommodate what you learn as you go.
2 thoughts on “Marketing Plans vs. Business Plans: What’s The Difference, and Why Do You Care?”
Thanks for sharing your valuable experience Tim.
Creating, implementing and reviewing business plans should definitely be an essential part of every company. However, marketing is a core element of a business and should be treated as such. While focusing on the market & customer behavior, a marketing plan misses ‘cash flow’ as a key ingredient. This is why a marketing plan should go hand in hand with the business plan. Personally, I’m a huge fan of doing both 🙂
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