Marketing campaign graphic

It would be stating the obvious, during our current times, that finding ways to grow a business is a challenge.  With restrictions and guidelines constantly changing, is there any point in businesses even trying to plan for the future?    

As 2021 beckons, taking time to craft an approach that combines both a marketing strategy and supporting marketing campaigns, is imperative to making your business a success.

In this post, we’ll explain the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing campaign.  We will explain the key reasons why each is important to enable your business to flourish and thrive in both the short and long-term.  We’ll also reference a helpful model that SMEs can use to put into practice what you have learned in planning marketing campaigns in the months ahead.

What is the difference between a marketing strategy and marketing campaign and why do they matter?

Marketing strategy, according to Pestle Analysis, is “an analysis of all aspects of your sales activity which combines it in a way, so that all departments know what is going on”. It goes on to describe it as,

“the process that allows an organisation to focus on available resources and utilise them in the best possible manner to boost sales and gain leverage over competitors.”

The world-renowned expert and Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, narrows the definition down in to four core components:

  1. Which brands to promote
  2. Which customers to target
  3. What is the position to those customers?
  4. What is the objective with those customers?

Marketing campaigns on the other hand are defined by Big Commerce as:

“a series of activities linked by a plan of action which all contribute toward a larger defined business goal. These activities may be simultaneous, sequential, or both, and can encompass virtually any legal activity a business engages in.”

So, in effect, they are a way of organising marketing activities. By making initiatives “campaigns,” it can apply structure that otherwise may not be present. A campaign is not defined by any one specific activity, but rather by the larger goals to be achieved (the strategy) and the plan linking each activity to those goals.

From these two simple definitions, it is plain to see that whilst marketing strategy and campaigns are related, they are very different.  Understanding why each is essential, will enable a business to create a plan that results in greater success in both the short and long term.

Although there are many reasons to focus on both, being conversant with the following 10 reasons will help business reach greater heights.  That said, there is one overarching reason: execution [marketing campaigns] without strategy is aimless.

10 reasons to balance marketing strategies and campaigns

Marketing strategy

1 It provides a plan – Creating and tracking progress against an annual operating plan is an essential management tool for any company. What is often missing, is the relationship these plans have to the future. What happened last year and where should we go in the coming year? Without a clear picture of what you want the future to look like, it will always be more reactive than proactive. The annual plan becomes the stepping stone toward the achievement of the longer-term goals.

2 It highlights strengths and weaknesses in the business – At first glance this seems too obvious and you are saying to yourself, “Of course we know what our strengths and weaknesses are!” Agreed. No one knows your business better than you. However, are you leveraging strengths and opportunities (competitive advantages) and do you have plans to close capability gaps in your business (weaknesses and threats)? A marketing strategy provides a greater level of awareness and focuses on activities that will make your business more successful.

3. It identifies skills, knowledge and behaviours – Knowing where you want to take your business over the long term, you will have a much better idea of the kinds of capabilities you will need to achieve your goals. A marketing strategy defines and drives decisions in business design. And by proactively pursuing new skills, knowledge and behaviours, you are preparing the business for the intended future state and with it, its’ success will increase.

4. It pinpoints resource allocation – One thing is clear about any company, large and small—resources are finite. Strategy is about making choices. Mark Ritson asks the question: What products, services and markets will be a part of the future and what should we not do? The answer ensures that limited resources are being deployed to the most promising opportunities that will provide the greatest return.

5. It analyses the market landscape – It is critical to take the time to truly know the external environment that can have a positive or negative impact on performance. The question is, how thorough an analysis is being done? Jack Welch encouraged his division leaders to dig deep to understand how things might change before they really happened. So, being aware and prepared for potential shifts in your market or industry provides you with the opportunity to anticipate and respond to changes in the landscape.

Marketing campaigns

6 Campaigns bring the marketing strategy to life – In considering the fives reasons above, none of those reasons demonstrate the actual “doing”.  This is the role exclusively of one or more marketing campaigns.  The campaign will bring together many activities or tactics into a greater whole. For example a re-brand campaign or a product /service launch.

7 Campaigns focus on a singular idea or objective – Each and every campaign needs to be inextricably linked to the core objective or objectives outline within the strategy.  With this focus, the activities identified are seen as critical to the overall success of the campaign and will gain greater adoption within the business.

8 A campaign identifies HOW a business will reach the targeted audience – Linked to the campaign’s focus on the strategic objectives is a need to make sure that the campaign engages with the identified target audience. Analysis undertaken during the development of the strategy will have identified not just the target audience but also what that person is like, their motivators to engage with your product or service and how your brand helps them realise their desire to use it.  The “HOW” of the campaign will play to this understanding, ensuring that finite resources are invested effectively to deliver the return on investment needed.  

9. A campaign determines the desired action to be taken by the target audience  – Part of the “How” includes the need to consider the actions you want the audience to take and to develop the process and assets to support that.  Do you want them to place an order or buy the product? If you are in the B2B space perhaps signing up for a newsletter, completing an audit or requesting a brochure, white paper or demo might be a good first step.  Whatever it is, mapping out the customer journey will help you to define how the campaign enables you to achieve your strategic goals.

10. A campaign makes a brand/company or service memorable – A Forbes  article on this subject highlighted that “It’s hard enough to stand out. If I don’t know or remember that the brand exists at all, I’m never going to find out whether the experience is amazing or terrible”.  A campaign that reminds people of your presence by giving them something to latch on to is critical.  This is brought to life by all the hard work that has gone in to crafting your marketing strategy.

Balancing the marketing strategy with the campaigns in the time ahead.

One leading model that brings these two sides of the coin together is PR White’s SOSTAC® Model.  This model helps businesses to understand ways to define both the strategy and campaigns.  It helps to show how strategy answers the question ‘How do we get there?’ while the campaigns with the associated tactics are ‘the detail of strategy’:

So, in concluding, there is a huge opportunity for small business owners to excel in performance with a well-crafted strategy.

Whilst marketing strategy and campaigns are related, they are different and serve different purposes.  Put simply strategy is the planning to gain competitive advantage whereas a campaign is the “doing” or tactical side of marketing.

Utilising the SOSTAC® model to bring to life the key reasons these two elements are essential highlighted in this blog will enable you to achieve your goals and with it, the business success you desire. 

What do you think?

Bottom line, execution without strategy is aimless, as Sun Tzu said it “is the noise before the defeat”. Let us know what you think of these reasons marketing strategy alongside marketing campaigns are important and share with us some of your own experiences. We would love to hear from you.

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Fiona is Opportunity Marketing’s consultant covering the South and has over 20 years’ experience in strategic marketing, covering brand management, service development, marketing communications, product life cycle development, and market intelligence. Vastly experienced and respected consultant, offering significant strategic management experience with a passion for marketing strategy and a keen eye for detail and a solid focus on return on investment.