What’s the difference between a marketing plan, budget, and strategy?

To some, this may seem like an obvious question, but there seems to be a lot of confusion about these important marketing planning concepts. See the illustration below for a reenactment of a conversation that I have had many times over the years (the names were changed to protect the innocent).

What is the difference between a marketing plan, budget and strategy?

The marketing plan, documenting your overall marketing operation.

It turns out that many people think of their marketing budget as their plan. A good marketing plan is the operating document that the marketing team uses to guide their decisions, define their strategies, select their target market segments, and much more.  Ideally, your marketing plan is an online system, not a static electronic document or even worse, a printed document in a binder gathering dust on your shelf.

Budgets are part of the plan and define how you will spend.

The budget is an important part of the marketing plan that defines the amount of spending over time by segment of your budget.  A good marketing budget defines campaign-level investments, accountability for your organization, and an integrated capability to track marketing expenses mapped to your budget segmentation and campaigns.

The marketing strategy defines the “how”, not the “what”.

A marketing strategy is part of your overall marketing plan and defines the way (or ways) you will achieve your marketing goals. For example, you may have a goal to generate $1M of pipeline from demand generation. Your strategy to develop demand could be “content marketing targeted at financial decision makers”, “digital demand generation with inside sales nurturing”, “account-based marketing”, “indirect channel enablement”, or some combination of those (or other) strategic approaches.

Start with the plan.

As you can see, these are three very different, yet interrelated, concepts. The best practice is to start with the overall plan, which will help you define the right approaches to strategy, and ultimately to budget.


Planful is a marketing performance management solution that helps marketers build detailed plans, campaigns, activities, and budgets to accomplish key marketing goals. Learn more about our marketing planning software.

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