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Playbooks - Yes or no?

Posted by Evelyn Wolf

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24-Nov-2015 13:04:57

Let’s take a closer look at playbooks. What are they? What are the benefits? And do you really need them when you are just starting off?

What is a playbook?

When you google exactly that term you’ll get the following explanation:

When we think of these for business, they sit in with your strategy and your plan. Your strategy will define the overall direction of play and goal; where you want to take your business. The plan, on the other hand, outlines all the things that will take you towards that goal. The playbook fits in by showing how individual marketing activities are laid out.

A playbook can be set out for how case studies are written, how the blog writing process should look like, how you go about setting the plan for a campaign and many other activities. Think of these as hands-on steps to follow.

Why have a playbook?

I’ve worked in many organisations that have playbooks coming out of their ears. A direction for any possible play laid out in folders or on intranet solutions. They can be stifling as team members may feel that they have to follow these step by step and cannot venture out of the mold created. This can be a real downfall of playbooks.

On the other hand, they do set guidance and allow you to have rules to follow and measure against. The key is really around keeping them flexible. Just like a play in sports, you may have the ideal play set out, but you always need to keep things flexible as the opposing team is an unknown. I believe playbooks should be similar. Provide the guidance needed, but allow for enough wiggle room to ensure your play can react to outside factors.

Playbooks are also a great way to allow people outside of marketing to look in and understand how things are done and why. Many marketers complain that there is little understanding as to why it takes time to set up a particular activity. A playbook can simply show all the steps involved. Taking a nurturing campaign, it can show why it takes X number of weeks for a new contact to run through this by showing the individual emails in the nurture flow, an explanation of the reason behind them and the timeframe.

Important for me in the startup environment is the history a playbook gives. I have my hands full with various campaigns active at any given time, testing paid campaigns, reshaping our website presence etc. A playbook is a great way to look back and check how an activity was built and why. I have a head like a sieve I admit! But it also allows you to look back as you measure success. If you need to pivot into a new direction, a playbook lets you see all the steps you took originally so you can then decide which you need to amend for your next play.

Why not have a playbook?

As I mentioned, too many playbooks can be stifling to the creative process. You need to be careful that they are not mistaken for rulebooks.

If you are in a fast pace environment, you also want to be sure that setting up playbooks doesn’t push you back in your timelines unnecessarily. Sometimes you just need to go, go, go!

Keeping it simple

Playbooks should evolve over time. That’s why I personally like to keep mine really simple and open to change. I start off by defining what the playbook is for (description) and the goal. Then giving a brief flow.

I can look something like this:

I then continue to outline each step in more detail. I would have a copy of the email content as well as the content for the call to actions (CTAs) and a short description of the reasoning behind the delays. The above is just an example with made up delays etc, but the ones I use are just like this.

Do you need them starting off?

I believe so. While a playbook should never slow you down as you are getting stuff done or stifle your creativity, they are helpful for direction and as mentioned above, if you need to pivot, you can pinpoint exactly what step you need to adjust.

Being able to clearly and simply show others what elements go into a marketing campaign and, therefore be able to explain timelines is also helpful as we push forward at high speed.

Go play :-)  

Topics: Strategy

About Inbound Wolf

After working in marketing for many years the outbound way, I realised it wasn’t working. Not for me as a marketer and not for the people that I wanted to market to. After a stint in HubSpot, advising businesses around the globe on their marketing strategy, I now apply my knowledge in the startup space. 

In this blog I want to share my thoughts and ideas with you – and no, I don’t know it all, so please correct me, discuss things with me and point me to fresh sources!


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