The Difference Between a Marketing Plan & a Business Plan: How to Distinguish Between the Two (& Use Both to Accelerate Your Success)

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Planning to succeed

They say that ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ This is a major factor in why 9 out of 10 businesses never make it past the 5-year mark. So if planning is on your mind, you are already ahead of the game.

But when you start to look at possible plans for your new enterprise, it gets confusing very quickly. You may have heard people talking about both business plans and marketing plans. Are these the same thing, or are there differences? If so, which should you choose—or do you need both? 

In this article, I’ll take a close look at business and marketing plans, discussing how they fit into your overall success strategy. I’ll clarify what each plan is for and explain how to leverage them to your advantage.

Business plan vs. marketing plan

Business plans and marketing plans are distinct and have different purposes. Yet they both play a vital role in ensuring business success. So how are they different?

Business plan

A business plan sets out the overall strategy for your business. It defines the company’s overall aims, and objectives then maps out a course for achieving them.

This plan keeps the executive team focused on the right goals, ensuring that everyone works together to achieve success. It also plays a crucial role in helping the start up and small business raise money. Banks and other investors will expect to see a business plan that clarifies how their money will be used—and how they will achieve a return on investment.

A sound business plan will typically include:

  • Market research data
  • Competitive analysis
  • A mission statement
  • Financial projections
  • A sales and marketing strategy
  • An operating plan

Marketing plan

A marketing plan is much narrower in its focus. As the name suggests, it is only concerned with how you will achieve sales. Of course, every business needs healthy sales to survive, so marketing deserves special attention.

A typical marketing plan might cover:

  • The target market
  • The value proposition of the brand
  • The sales targets for future quarters
  • Campaigns to be executed
  • A timeline for completing campaigns
  • The metrics used to measure success

A marketing plan is essentially a sub-set of a business plan, providing extra detail on one critically-important area of operation.

Creating your business plan

There are many ways to write your business plan, but the two most popular options are:

  • Traditional business plan format
  • Lean startup plan format

Let’s examine how you should structure each of these:

Traditional business plan

Conventional business plans are more comprehensive, including a lot of detail. This format is a good choice if you’re aiming to raise money from banks or financial institutions. Your plan is likely to include these elements:

  1. Executive summary: a top-level overview of what the business will do and why it’s likely to be successful
  2. Company description: detail about the problems your business solves and why your company is qualified to provide solutions
  3. Market analysis: insights into the current state of the market, strengths and weaknesses of competitors, and opportunities to innovate
  4. Organizational structure: details concerning the legal structure of the business and the executive team who will lead operations
  5. Products and services: explain the offers you will present to the market and how you will gain a competitive advantage
  6. Marketing and sales: your strategy for reaching potential customers and achieving sales
  7. Operating plan: outline how the business will operate in terms of locations, number of employees, etc.
  8. Funding requirements: detail the financial requirements of the business and how you expect these to be fulfilled
  9. Financial projections: show your forecasts for revenue and expenses in the quarters ahead
  10. Appendix: add any additional supporting documents that strengthen your case

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Lean startup plan

If you’re looking to raise money from venture capital companies or angel investors, the lean startup plan might be the right choice. This format is designed to be a quick read, giving busy investors the critical info they need to make a decision.

 Core components of a lean startup plan typically include:

  1. Business overview: provide a clear overview of what your business will do and how it will operate
  2. Key partnerships: list the manufacturers, suppliers, subcontractors, and other strategic partners critical to your success
  3. Key activities: describe how your business will gain an edge over competitors (from innovative technology to a more efficient sales system)
  4. Key resources: explain how intellectual property, staff, capital, or other assets will help you succeed
  5. Value proposition: provide a compelling statement that shows how your company is different and what this means to investors and stakeholders
  6. Customer relationships: show how your business will interact with prospects and clients (define the entire customer experience)
  7. Customer segments: demonstrate a clear understanding of who your most important prospective customers are
  8. Channels: define the key channels you will use to reach people in your target market
  9. Cost structure: explain whether you will prioritize reducing costs or maximizing value to customers
  10. Revenue streams: break down all the income streams your company will use to generate sales and profit

Creating your marketing plan

Once you’ve achieved any funding required and gotten your business off the ground, it’s time to focus on your marketing strategy. You can use the ‘Marketing & Sales’ element in your business plan as your starting point, expanding as necessary to create a comprehensive and detailed marketing plan.

You may include any or all of the following elements:

  1. Business objectives: it’s essential that your marketing plan stays aligned with the overall business targets, so this is an excellent place to start
  2. Marketing goals: define exactly what you want to achieve in terms of increased sales, higher margins, improved average order value, etc.
  3. Market research: provide informed insights into the size and growth of your intended market, together with the opportunities it presents
  4. Target audience: identify the demographics of your intended audience, and describe your ‘perfect customer’ avatar
  5. Messaging: describe the brand messages, unique selling propositions, and competitive advantages you intend to convey
  6. Pricing and positioning: determine whether you will be seeking volume sales with lower prices or higher margins with premium positioning
  7. Budget: outline the spending requirements for your proposed campaigns, ensuring that all likely costs are included
  8. Timing: set out a timeframe for executing the marketing plan, including timescales for all advertising and promotional campaigns
  9. Roles: clarify who will be involved in putting the plan into action, including managers, employees, agencies, and suppliers
  10. Key Performance Indicators: define what success will look like in terms of metrics that move the needle in your business

Get the right plan

Whatever the nature of your business, you should have both a business plan and a marketing plan in place. These will be the guides that keep you firmly on track for success.

 But putting these plans together from scratch can be daunting. That’s where I can help. As a marketing broker with over ten years of experience, I’ve helped countless businesses get their startup off the ground.

 If you need help turning your new venture into an unstoppable success, be sure to get in touch. We can talk through your business and marketing needs, keeping you on track to grow sales and profits.

 With the right plan to follow, there’s no limit to how much you can achieve. Let’s make it happen!

Written By
Picture of Behdad Jamshidi
Behdad Jamshidi
Behdad Jamshidi started CJAM Marketing after realizing that most business owners don’t know how to evaluate the value of a marketing agency or assess their own needs. Since every business is different not only in their needs but where they are at in the growth process, it isn’t a one size fits all. In the past 5 years, Behdad (or Bee) has met with and assessed 800+ marketing agencies and vetted them down to a lean 100 preferred partners across all marketing niches. After pairing hundreds of businesses with the right partners, he’s found his skillset lies in the matchmaking process. Featured in MarketWatch, Bloomberg, National Post and the Financial Post, Bee’s unique background in marketing, engineering, consulting, leadership, sales and strategy, has allowed him to serve as the conduit between business owners and the marketing teams they need.
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