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5 Questions: Strategy vs. implementation

In July 2018, the pros at 5 by 5 Design and I explored the connection between strategy and implementation with their “5 Question” feature. Here’s the results of our discussion.

1. What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?

A strategy is different than a plan.

Strategy answers the question, “Where do you want to go next?” with “next” being anywhere from 12 months to five years in the future. Strategy should stay consistent for a period of time—just like your brand.

Strategy should stay consistent for a period of time—just like your brand

Your marketing plan supports the strategy. It answers the question “How will you get there?” and has the specific, step-by-step details, including budget and resources required, and list of activities you’ll implement.

You put your strategy together no more than once a year and only adjust it when organizational direction or your market ecosystem changes. For example, you launch a new product, move into a new region or face a new competitor. Your marketing plan gets an overhaul more often. Annually at a minimum, and in some organizations, every 60-90 days.

2. What’s the best way to keep strategy on track as you implement ideas?

The best way is to make the strategy simple and highly visible. It needs to be easy to talk about and communicated well beyond the marketing department.

Share the key points of the strategy regularly. If there’s a weekly or monthly report, make sure the main strategy statement appears in it, every time.

The best strategies are simple and memorable. You can sketch them on a cocktail napkin.

Make sure there are metrics tied back to the key points of the strategy, and that you’re measuring and communicating progress often. If you can embed the strategy into organizational culture, that’s even stronger. For example, a line item in an employee’s annual performance goals that’s tied back to the strategy; that provides a personal stake in making implementation successful.

3. What are some of the common reasons companies have a hard time connecting a strategy to practical implementation?

The best strategies are simple and memorable. You can sketch them on a cocktail napkin or write them on the real estate of a T-shirt. The more bullet points and pages it takes to explain your strategy, the harder it will be to engage your audiences (internal resources, agency partners, customers and prospects) when it’s time to implement.

4. How do you keep a team engaged throughout the process?

Great question! This is where a lot of my work comes into play, in helping organizations inject more discipline and speed into their planning.

First, use an inclusive planning process

It’s fine for one person to write or “own” the plan, but stakeholders need an opportunity to voice their ideas, share their concerns and provide a “wish list” of marketing activities before the final plan emerges. The more you can involve the broader organization during strategy development, the more support and engagement you’ll have during implementation.

That doesn’t mean marketing turns into an order-taker where every idea from sales or product gets a line-item in the plan; it does mean digging into those requests to understand what’s really driving them.

For instance, “I need a flier each quarter” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll produce four sell sheets for sales; it usually means “Help me cultivate more awareness in my territory” and marketing should recommend how to accomplish this.

Second, have a planning process

You’d be surprised how many organizations do not, and that’s frustrating for the team. It’s a black box and wastes their time.

Third, be as quick as possible

Planning does take time, but if you’re spending more than 2 – 3 weeks figuring out the strategy or getting organizational buy-in for those goals, it’s time to re-engineer and streamline.

5. What trends have you seen in developing and implementing marketing plans?

Marketing plans are shorter, in three ways:

  • How much information goes into the plan
  • The timeframe the plan covers
  • How long the organization spends developing the plan

The digital world moves so fast; most organizations need a more flexible, agile approach—90-day or six-month increments, for example. The exception is pulling together the annual budget, which requires some sense of the next 12 months’ activities in order to allocate funding.

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