A plan is presented to work colleagues in a conference room

Strategic Plan, Marketing Plan, Communications Plan: What’s the difference?

A plan is vital for an organization to evolve from an entity made up of individuals completing tasks to an organization that works together to achieve common goals and objectives. There are three types of plans typically created by organizations: a strategic plan, a marketing plan, and a communications plan.  But, what’s the difference, and what plan is best for your organization?

Strategic Plan

A strategic plan describes an organization’s overall vision and goals; strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; and provides direction for the organization’s executives and administration to move the organization forward.  A strategic plan is regularly revisited by leadership and evaluated.  A strategic plan defines the organization, sets organization-wide goals, and serves as a foundation for marketing and communications plans.

Marketing Plan

A marketing plan further defines an organization by identifying key differentiating factors and describes research-based approaches to meeting the needs of customers and stakeholders.  A marketing plan builds on the strategic plan by detailing the organization’s audience or ideal customer.  The description of the organization’s target audience in a marketing plan is based on market research, focus groups, surveys, and other detailed analysis of the organization’s customer such as their needs and desires related to the organization’s product or service.  It also describes where the customer is most likely found and what organizational messages will most likely garner appeal.  Most importantly, market research reveals gaps in products or services that could serve as opportunities for an organization to gain a competitive edge.  As a result, organizations often develop new products, services, and programs identified in market research.  In a university setting, marketing plans can inform the development of new academic programs for students or identify research areas that may differentiate the university from other competing universities.

Communications Plan

A communications plan describes how organizations plan to get their message out to the world.   A communications plan typically comes after a marketing plan and integrates all forms of communications into one plan.

What plan is best for my organization?

Today, many approach communications and marketing as one in the same.  If your organization is clear about who they are and where they are going, you may only need a communications plan.  On the other hand, if your organization is interested in learning more about your organization’s audience or your organization is curious about potential untapped opportunities, consider creating a marketing plan that describes the organization’s target audience in more detail and clearly defines the audience’s needs and desires for your product or service.  Regardless of whether your organization is a private entity, serves the public, or acts as a non-profit, all organizations can benefit from knowing more about their audience in order to remain relevant and competitive.

Knowing your organization’s audience is key.

The traditional roles of the communicator, marketer, public relations officer, social media manager, and visual communicator are becoming more blurry.  Traditional communications professionals have relied upon the power of the news media to share and disseminate information.  Today, the people your organization is trying to reach have the ability to select their preferred information source. This changing media landscape makes it even more vital for organizations to know their audience and spend time identifying the best ways reach them while utilizing all the modern communications tools at the organization’s disposal.

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