Whether your brand manages its content operations in-house, outsources it to an agency, or works with a hybrid model of internal and external team members, the ability to communicate effectively and collaborate efficiently is always going to be critical to your marketing success.

But when the people, plans, and standard practices used to execute on your content strategy are subject to change at any given moment, it can be a struggle for everyone on the team to get clear direction, let alone consistently produce content that’s high quality and highly valuable to your audience.

A great technique our agency has used to tackle this challenge is to create a campaign playbook.

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, how it can serve as a multipurpose informational resource, and how to get started building one for your business.

Playbooks are an underused gem for managing all the ongoing activities that contribute to long-term content marketing success, says Pace Creative Group’s Stefanie Curtis via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What is a playbook?

A playbook is essentially a detailed, historical account of a specific brand marketing initiative (or set of initiatives). Think of it as a documented strategy that sets the standards for effective cross-team collaboration, optimal strategic alignment, and efficient campaign execution, and which 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 that were in play during the initial campaign – and the assets, templates, and tasks that were involved.

When done right, a playbook also brings added clarity to team roles and responsibilities by outlining how each player’s efforts serve to:

  • Align specific 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, it makes collaboration easier to manage going forward because everyone receives the same set of insights derived from that campaign and a clear view of the actions that were taken previously. By putting all this information in a practical and easily accessible context, it establishes a unified vision of the direction everyone needs to head in, moving forward.

All content teams can benefit from a unified playbook

The dynamics of marketing team relationships are changing. Increasingly, brands that once fully relied on their agency partners to manage their content campaigns are moving those functions entirely in-house or are implementing a hybrid approach. In fact, in 2018, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) reported that 78% of its client-side marketers now have an in-house agency – almost double the rate (48%) of the previous decade.

While there may be many short-term cost and communication efficiencies to be gained when brands take greater control of their content marketing efforts, it can also increase the potential for marketing team productivity and performance to break down over time.

One reason is that relatively few companies can build a full-service internal agency that has access to the right talent, tools, and workflows right off the bat. This means they may not have the technical expertise in place to swiftly execute on certain tasks or full clarity on what it might take to coordinate the marketing team’s work with other functional departments across their organization.

Poor marketing collaboration can lead to wasted budgets, confusion around roles, and lost legacy knowledge, says Pace Creative’s Stefanie Curtis via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

And even if in-house and/or agency-led content operations are stable and high-functioning, unforeseen issues can arise and interrupt collaborative rhythms. For starters, the dynamic nature of digital marketing means a brand’s top priorities are often in flux, and campaign direction can suddenly shift as new audience trends and insights emerge. Additionally, team members might come and go, leaving remaining personnel to execute on initiatives without the legacy knowledge gained from prior campaign experiences.

Broader organizational issues can also stem from poor marketing collaboration, including:

  • Reduced cost efficiencies as time and budget resources get focused on the wrong priorities
  • Loss of process control when working with other functional departments – like IT, analytics, legal, and sales – on content initiatives
  • Misunderstandings around roles, responsibilities, and overall goals.

A documented playbook is a great way to help everyone work smarter, bring new team members up to speed more rapidly, and avoid the little trip-ups that can lead to work slowdowns, inflated costs, and flagging marketing performance – no matter how your content team is structured.

Creating your playbook

Creating a playbook involves outlining the collaborative processes, team requirements, and tactical decisions that led to successful execution. Brand and/or agency teams can all refer back to this document when working on new campaigns, making it easier for everyone involved to continually build on the positive outcomes that resulted.

In general, this resource should include the following components – though you may need to make adjustments, depending on the specific goals involved and/or any conditional circumstances that may have been in place:

  • A brief overview. Make note of the challenges the campaign was designed to address, the audience/personas it was meant to target, and the results you expected to achieve. For some of our clients, we’ve also included notes for the sales, branding, communication, marketing, operations, and IT teams, to build their understanding of the brand’s marketing purpose and the key phases of the initiative.
  • Key messages and campaign goals. This gets all team members on the same page and establishes a shared vision of success for use on future campaigns.
  • 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.
  • Roles and responsibilities. In this section, include technical instructions, notes on direction, and a definition of the roles each team/member plays. It can also be helpful to note where certain teams took the lead on specific tasks and how they engaged the other players involved.
  • Specific skills required and who provided them. 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.
  • Standard processes and workflow. The more clarity provided here, the easier it will be to ensure that everyone follows the same governance standards and production procedures, which will minimize redundant steps, misalignments, and missed deadlines.
  • Communication guidelines. Marketing content needs to maintain a consistent brand voice and tone across all channels involved in a campaign. If the brand already has a style guide in place, a summary can be included here; if not, a few key characteristics can be jotted down and elaborated on, over time.
  • Scripted email and social media replies. Message consistency is also important when communicating with those who engage with your campaigns. If preferred verbiage has been established or templates for responding to feedback on email or social media were developed, this information should be noted in the playbook.
  • Your “playbook champion.” In addition to the above details, it’s also 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.

How it changes the game

One scenario where marketers can really benefit from having a playbook is when implementing a successful local campaign across additional market regions around the world.

Here’s an example: For our client Aggreko, my agency was tasked with delivering ready-to-close leads to the sales team. Pace Creative produced content for multiple channels around four stages of the customer journey and defined key messaging for each stage.

Before launch, we developed a stylized playbook for Aggreko’s global sales team to help get them on board with the campaign. As you can see in the images below, we included pertinent information like the content assets that were created (and the platforms and channels we used to deploy them) and the leads we targeted in the initial campaign, along with a few key messages that might align with their own campaign goals.

Sharing these process details helped improve team collaboration at all stages of the sales cycle and enabled Aggreko to close high-value deals more efficiently and effectively.

Putting 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. As I mentioned, many unpredictable factors can impact the flow of communication and interrupt the smooth collaboration that had initially been established.

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

  • 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 that were required across strategy, graphic design, development, production, and other functional departments involved in your campaigns, you’ll get an idea of where gaps may need to be filled.
  • Production resources. Did your teams have access to all the right tools, technologies, and workflows they needed? Were there omissions discovered in your original plans or unexpected issues that emerged 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 that leadership support was lacking at any point in the process, make a note of it as an issue that should be addressed before it impacts ongoing work quality and team collaboration.

Use playbooks to scale campaign success and strengthen team collaboration

Providing a road map in the form of a playbook adds value to an agency’s service offerings, 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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