What is the Difference between a Strategy vs. Strategic Planning?

Starting this off by stating; A strategy is NOT producing a plan. However, to achieve a successful strategy, you will need a plan.

How many times in your week do you hear ‘so what is the strategy?’ or worse, ‘…they don’t even have a strategy’. 

In my experience as a B2B marketing director for over 10 years, the word strategy is a widely misunderstood, misused, and simply not known. I think the problem arises when management doesn’t unilaterally agree or understand the company’s strategy. It’s from that single strategy that they build strategic plans.

Strategy vs. Strategic Planning

So much time goes into creating plans in the absence of strategy. A plan is not a strategy, and a strategy is not a plan. If the why or the outcomes are not clear, the plan has no chance of achieving the business goals. The business strategy comes at the highest level of an organization for the business, and the leaders within the business define their line of business strategies to contribute to this.

According to research by Digital Marketing, 53.8% of marketers have not studied marketing related academics or have professional qualifications of any kind. That’s a lot of marketers that surely would not understand the difference between strategy, being strategic, and strategic planning. 

There are many great resources to explore this topic. Some definitions I have read I don’t fully agree with. I wanted to share what I have gathered to better understand, and hope by sharing this it will help other marketers within their organizations to grow as leaders.

We often hear, ‘what is your strategy’ and the response is ‘here is my plan’, which is not a strategy. So often, marketing teams get pulled into the endless cycles of building and presenting plans without EVER prioritizing and focusing on building strategy. 

Let’s dig into the difference between a strategy and strategic planning.

What is a Strategy? 

We can define strategy as a theory, a way to be better for your customers to choose your brand over your competitors. Lay out the logic to define how you will win vs. being one of those organizations that just plan and are stuck just playing to play.

Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and one of the world’s leading thinkers on strategy, defines strategy as ‘an integrative set of choices that positions you on a playing field of your choice in a way that you win.’ He says developing strategy means going outside an organization’s comfort zone and escaping the common traps of strategic planning. In this short video, he does a great job of breaking the definition of this down.

Roger Martin

So strategy is the why in what you decide to focus on and what not to do. 

It’s about what, where and how your organization will create value uniquely. It creates a different way to win, creating a competitive advantage.

And how is strategy different from strategic planning?

Strategy is your game plan. It is a theory that describes how you will win customers.  It defines the desired outcome of what success looks like for a business. 

Gartner provides a simple graphic to describe the strategy process within an organization. A strategic plan defines the actions to take based on the goals. It is an iterative process for internal audiences to understand what will be done to get the organization moving forward toward achieving its goals. 

Strategy Process from Gartner

 

Organizations should have a business plan AND strategic plans that assess the state of a business both internally and externally. A business plan describes the business itself, how it would operate and its capabilities. You can learn more about it here. Both require a strategy to win.

Strategy vs. Tactics

One analogy that resonated with me I found on Dictionary.com  ‘A distinction is made between strategy and tactics in military usage’.  

A strategy is the long-term plan for using one’s military force to win peace or maintain security, while tactics are the specific movement of troops and resources during a battle.’

Therefore our strategy is your long-term plan (vision) to focus on key advantages to win market share, while tactics are the specific content and channels used to achieve the goal.

Strategy at a functional level can be a part of the planning process.  You can have a theory about how to out market, out sell, out solution your competitors but those efforts not integrated into a business strategy won’t get you to your business goals. 

To prove your strategy has worked you need a well planned out strategic plan which includes the tactical plans to achieve the goals within shorter timeframes like quarterly plans or semi annual.

As stated in this article by Harvard Business Review, ‘That strategy is a singular thing; there is one strategy for a given business – not a set of strategies. It is one integrated set of choices.’ A set of integrated choices becomes your strategic plan.

Strategic Planning 

Is a process to define a roadmap for how your company is going to create value to achieve business goals over the next 2-5 years. With the business goals in mind it is the internal functional plan and process to realize the cumulative goals across the business to reach the ultimate goal.  Strategic planning defines who is accountable. It is a planning process that defines the details, updates performance, review opportunities and challenges. 

Strategic planning is where strategy meets execution and the tactical plan that is essential to support your strategy. This is how strategy is implemented.  

Leaders and management across an organization are responsible to define their goals and specific strategic objectives for key areas of your business, THAT integrated/rolls up to the business strategy;

  • IT has a strategy with a strategic plan
  • Sales and Marketing have a strategy with a strategic plan
  • Finance has a strategy with strategic plan
  • HR has a strategy with a strategic plan
  • Operations Strategy

Strategic planning is a defined process to build a plan to achieve your highest level goals as an organization. At the highest level of your organization, leadership defines and articulates the strategy: value to your stakeholders over a 2-5 year timeframe and articulates the vision and mission.

A strategy is not ….a plan with a list of tactics.

Being Strategic. 

For me, just like anyone can show leadership within an organization, anyone can be strategic in and contribute their unique point of view and thinking. Vision is what you want to achieve, your desired outcome whereas strategy is the journey roadmap of choices you will make to get you to your winning outcome.

A strategic leader has a vision and is therefore a strategist because they foresee options on how to win. They also embrace the value of experts within their organization and prioritizes time to strategize as a team.  

In Summary a Strategy is…

  • A high level statement that describes what you will do, not how you will do it
  • Needs a plan to be executed for it to be a successful strategy
  • Classic Approach 
  • Adaptive Approach – not predictable iterative process
  • Visionary Approach – predictable and shapeable

Are you avoiding the comfort trap of just planning? 

What are the values that define your organization? 

What is strategy in your words? 

So don’t get caught in the planning cycles without a winning strategy. Investing in marketing without a clear and focused strategy is risky.  Book a call with Coach Kelly for expert guidance on how to win with your digital marketing strategy.

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