Marketing objective, strategy, plan and actions

By the end of this section you should understand the difference between a marketing objective, strategy, plan and actions.

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

When businesses think about Marketing, they often jump to the fun bit – the actions – and focus their energies on printing leaflets, tweeting or designing banners. This can produce a false start for the organisation, and sometimes a costly one, as their communications can ‘miss’ their key audience (either they never see it or the manner of communication does not appeal to them).

Good marketing requires a marketing strategy that delivers against the business objectives, a marketing strategy, a plan – then we can move onto the fun bit and design amazing pieces of communications.

Marketing Objectives and Strategy

The starting point should always be the business objectives, defined in your business plan. Your Marketing Objectives should always support the objectives of the business as a whole.

Your Marketing Strategy basically defines how you are going to support the business objectives. For example:

Business objectives

Marketing strategy (examples)

Increase sales
  • Increase sales with existing customers and members
  • Introduce a new product or service
  • Improve customer loyalty
  • Retain existing profitable customers
  • Secure new customers
Improve brand awareness
  • Secure articles in the press (paid or unpaid)
  • Encourage word of  mouth
  • Advertise
Make customers and members feel more valued
  • Exclusive offers for members and existing customers.
  • Communicating how the business aligns with member ideals.

You should set goals alongside your strategy, and these should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART), e.g. to increase sales by 50% by end of December.

Successful strategies

For a co-operative, community or social business, a successful marketing strategy is often about understanding your member and customer needs, and knowing how you can satisfy those needs and persuade them to buy your product or service.

You may have a good sense of your customers and members through day to day interaction with them, but you should also consider doing some bespoke market research, such as via questionnaires (these could be completed locally in hard copy or distributed online, depending on your audiences).

This will help you build a much more detailed picture of customer segments – what they like, where they are, willingness to travel, ways they would be willing to engage with your business.

A Marketing Plan

A marketing plan explains how to put your strategy into action. It will set marketing budgets and deadlines, and it will also tell you how to target different types of customer with different messaging, and when to talk to them so they will be most receptive.

It should also consider the longer term - following up with customers, and how you might develop your offer over time. 

Example activity

In this example, you are manging a community-owned pub in a town where there are a few other pubs, owned by chains. Your Board calculates that the business turnover is not high enough to ensure the pub’s survival.

  • Your business objective is agreed by the Board - ‘to increase turnover’.
  • Your marketing objective may therefore be ‘to drive an increase in sales’
  • Your marketing strategy might be ‘to increase sales from existing customers and members, and generate new customers’.  

Marketing Plan and Actions are then drawn up - see table below:

Example plan

Example actions

1) Enhancing the focus on existing customer and member needs
  • Ensuring that their favourite products are available at the times they come in.
  • Playing music that appeals to them.
  • Running pub quizzes or other events that suit their taste.
  • Offering a loyalty card so they get every 10th (or so) pint for free.
2) Targeting a particular new market, eg young professionals
  • Serving new products that appeal to a younger market.
  • Changes to the events programme (eg to include live music or open mic nights).
  • Special offers at key times (eg payday promotions on food and drink).
3) Make it clear that a community-owned pub is unique in that community Finding good historical stories to tell, eg by linking it to the history of the town or city

Connecting it to a sense of community – ensuring that its community ownership is understood and prominent; perhaps creating a sense of ‘opposite’ to the idea of a big brand.

Please note: The above are just ideas for the purpose of the example, and you’d need to focus on your customer needs, otherwise you could devise an incongruous campaign that alienates key audiences.

Talking in the right voice

Once you know who you want to talk to, and what about, you need to find the right voice to talk to them in – this should be based on the work you’ve done already to find out their interests and motivations. If, for example, you’re approaching two different audiences with the same product, you should adapt your messaging and presentation for them.

For example, you’re running a community bookshop and selling copies of Harry Potter. Your audiences for this promotion all age groups - below we are only discussing three. Click to see the example which discusses how you might approach the three audiences differently, even though you are selling the same product:

Marketing Harry Potter to different audiences


What we know about them

Messaging by audience


Children 7-13

Keen HP fans.

Read all previous books and know the characters.

Might like to be (or see themselves as) certain characters.

Inspired by the idea of magic.  

Be part of the magical world of Harry Potter.

Create an event bespoke for this age group (Saturday morning) including face painting, free wands with every purchase.


Keen HP fans.

Read all previous books and know the characters.

Love that the children also love the books, and it’s something to share with them.

Bring your kids to our free family event – The Magical World of Harry Potter.

Advertisng on facebook – targeting at parents.

Putting on free teas and coffees at the event for parents.

Flyering parents outside schools.

Local blogs (eg Mumsnet).

Adults without children

Keen HP fans.

Read all previous books and know the characters.

Do not want to share their HP experience with 200 children.

Don’t want to pay over the odds.

Buy your Harry Potter books from us.

Evening event, with free wine and a Harry Potter discussion group.

Multipurchase discount.

Key points to consider

  • Even if you think you have a clear marketing strategy in your head, write it down. It will help you focus your thinking over time and bring people with you. Make it understandable, realistic, and have a clear plan of actions. It will then become part of your overall business plan.
  • Be ready to change your marketing strategy, even though you’ve spent time perfecting it. Flexibility will keep you ahead of the competition.
  • Get into social media. Consider - what do you want to achieve/communicate (brand awareness, online sales etc)? What social media tools do your customers use (e.g. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc)? What strategies can you use to network and communicate effectively with these customers? Who will manage your social media presence?

Your marketing plan

We have designed a short template that should help you pull the different elements above together in one place.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing also has a more comprehensive tool, which you might find useful

HR training

Co-operatives UK offers a number of one-day training courses for co-operatives – find out more.

Updated: 26/03/2019