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How to Create a Content Marketing Playbook

This post is an excerpt from an article that ran in CCO earlier this year.

Playbooks are an underused gem for managing the ongoing activities that contribute to long-term content marketing success. Any marketing team – no matter who’s in charge of output – can benefit from a researched and well-written playbook.

Let’s look at what a playbook is and how to get started building one for your business.

What is a playbook?

A playbook is essentially a detailed, historical account of a brand marketing initiative (or set of initiatives). Think of it as a documented plan that sets the standards for cross-team collaboration, strategic alignment, and campaign execution. It also serves as an informative resource for future campaigns.

Playbooks extend beyond creative teams, giving all stakeholders a clear view of the main objectives and key messages in play – the assets, templates, and tasks involved.

A playbook also brings added clarity to team roles and responsibilities by outlining how each player’s efforts serve to:

  • Align business goals across departments
  • Increase understanding of the brand’s marketing priorities and key messages
  • Maintain content quality and consistency across all your marketing activities

In short, a playbook makes collaboration easier by putting the information in a practical and easily accessible context that establishes a unified vision of the direction everyone needs to head in.

A playbook establishes a unified direction in an easily accessible context, says Stefanie Curtis via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Create your playbook

A playbook requires outlining the collaborative processes, team requirements, and tactical decisions that led to successful execution. Brand and/or agency teams working on new campaigns can refer to it, making it easier to build on its positive outcomes.

In general, this resource should include:

1. Brief overview

Note the challenges the campaign was designed to address, the targeted audience/personas, and the results expected. For some of our clients, we include notes for the sales, branding, communication, marketing, operations, and IT teams to build their understanding of the brand’s marketing purpose and the initiative’s key phases. 

2. Key messages and campaign goals

Detailing the messaging and what the campaign is expected to achieve gets all team members on the same page and establishes a shared vision of success for use on future campaigns.

3. List of relevant assets

Details here should include the asset types developed, the channels on which content was deployed, and how the individual pieces fit together and align within the customer journey.

Playbooks should list how relevant assets align with customer journey, says Stefanie Curtis via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

4. Roles and responsibilities

In this section, include technical instructions, notes on direction, and a definition of the team members’ roles. It can also be helpful to note where teams took the lead on specific tasks and how they engaged the other players involved.

5. Specific skills required and who provided them

Campaigns often have unique needs or arrangements. For example, if a campaign was executed by an internal team but monitored and optimized by the agency, this is a detail worth noting here.

6. Standard processes and workflow

The more clarity provided in the workflow documentation, the easier it will be to ensure that everyone follows the same governance standards and production procedures. That will minimize redundant steps, misalignments, and missed deadlines.

7. Communication guidelines

Marketing content needs to maintain a consistent brand voice and tone across all channels involved in a campaign. If your brand already has a style guide, a summary would be sufficient here. If not, jot down a few key characteristics and elaborate over time.

8. Scripted email and social media replies

Message consistency is also important when communicating with those who engage with your campaigns. If preferred verbiage and/or templated feedback for email or social media responses has been established, noted it in the playbook.

9. Your “playbook champion”

Though not a documented aspect of your playbook, it’s useful for teams to designate a leader to be in charge of updating the playbook as new insights emerge, upholding its standards, and making sure that anyone joining the team down the road gets a copy as part of the onboarding process.

Designate a playbook champion to update it as new insights emerge, says Stefanie Curtis via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Put it in play

Of course, documenting all the details of a prior campaign isn’t a guarantee that the same results will be achieved simply because the process was repeated. Many unpredictable factors can impact the flow of communication and interrupt the smooth collaboration initially established.

Fortunately, the process of revising campaign details while creating the playbook can bring to light many (seemingly) small issues that could inhibit optimal performance on future campaigns, such as:

  • Technical expertise – Did your teams have the agility and know-how to adapt to all communication and marketing challenges they encountered? As you identify the specific skill sets required across strategy, graphic design, development, production, and other functional departments involved in your campaigns, you get an idea of where gaps may need to be filled.
  • Production resources – Did your teams have access to all the right tools, technology, and workflow? Were omissions discovered in your original plans or did unexpected issues emerge as a result of insufficient resources?
  • Team leadership – The BOSS Group and Cella Consulting’s In-House Creative Industry Report for 2018 shows that 71% of leaders do not have enough time to invest in their team members. If your campaign team found leadership support lacked at any point in the process, note it as an issue to address.

Scale campaign success and strengthen collaboration

Providing a road map in the form of a playbook brings an added value for future work, facilitates smoother transitions and collaboration between internal and external content marketing partners, and can deliver better quality content and a more consistent brand experience for customers.

If you work for a brand or an agency in transition – between team structure or between campaigns – a playbook might just save you from the headaches that result when key processes, knowledge, or collaboration efficiencies get lost in the shuffle.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute