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What Is A Content Marketing Playbook?


A playbook is a quick-reference guide to make your marketing strategy useful. Thirty-seven percent of B2B marketers don’t write their strategy down, and most of those that do create hulking decks that are rarely opened.¹ A playbook simplifies your strategy into a data sheet that anyone can pick up and use. Learn how a playbook can boost your pipeline and revenue.

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Why Do I Need A Marketing Playbook?

Because you want results. The term “playbook” comes from American Football where teams produce a flip book that reduces complex decisions to a flowchart. It front-loads all the planning so players can simply act on impulse. Playbooks put your marketing process on rails so content is created and shared more widely, and teams learn and adapt faster.

👈 A playbook looks like this

Benefits of a marketing playbook:

  • Produce more of the right content

  • Spend less time and budget on the wrong content

  • Distribute content more widely

  • Produce content faster

  • Test and learn

Some playbooks include a content index, or one central chart with links to all the assets you’ve created. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet, but is endlessly useful. Marketing teams often waste effort remaking assets that already exist because they can’t find them, and indexes make the corpus searchable, and help you sew more backlinks into your articles.

Playbooks also help teams adapt and incrementally improve their marketing. Each chapter of the playbook is divided into two sections: One to record the plan, and the other, the results. Playbooks serve as a reminder to consider campaign results before proceeding to the next one. If your team doesn’t reflect, they won’t learn.

Top uses for a content playbook:

  • Reduce your strategy to a checklist

  • Keep your team focused on outcomes

  • Promote content more consistently

  • Onboard new hires faster

  • Speed up daily decisions

Read: What exactly is content marketing?

What’s in a content marketing playbook?

There are four chapters to a marketing playbook: Strategy, creation, distribution, and measurement. These represent the content cycle whereby teams develop a strategy, such as posting articles to LinkedIn groups, create the content, post it, and then track what happens.

Components of a marketing playbook:

Chapter 1: Strategy

In the strategy chapter, you’ll define the outcome you want and lay out a plan to get there. Don’t stress about things you don’t yet know, like conversion rates or the ideal tagline. The future is unknowable. Take your best guess and get it down on paper.

Ask yourself: What’s my goal? Who is my audience? What actions do I want them to take? If your goal is brand awareness and traffic, your content, channels, and measurement are going to be very different from someone whose goal is to generate leads and revenue. And if your audience is doctors and nurses, you’ll need a very different tone than if they’re ad executives.

This chapter includes your:

  • Buyer personas

  • Marketing funnel

  • Journey matrix

  • Editorial calendar

  • Schedule for periodic check-ins

Based on what you learn later on in the measurement phase, everything you record in the strategy phase will change. Embrace the change — it’s how your marketing gets better. As Alan Watts put it, “The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.” You’ll determine whether your strategy is working at each check-in, and improve upon your process.

alan watts quote the more a thing tends to be permanent the more it tends to be lifeless

Chapter 2: Creation

The creation chapter of your playbook details the types of content you’ll create, how the assets are created, and whose responsibility it all is. Take a B2B software firm, for instance. If the head of marketing has decided that they’re targeting CTOs via email, this chapter will explain the assets needed (landing pages, emails, blog posts), the parameters for creating them (style guidelines, design guidelines, copyediting, approval), and who will be held accountable (the content manager, of course).

This chapter includes your:

  • Brand guide

  • Style guide

  • SEO research

Chapter 3: Distribution

The distribution chapter details all the ways you’ll share your content, or make it available to be found. That includes promotion for ongoing programs, such as a newsletter, and checklists for promoting one-off assets, such as a blog posts.

Common channels include:

  • Newsletter

  • Email list

  • Blog

  • Social media

  • Paid ads

  • Syndication

  • Messaging apps

Don’t yet have an audience? Lean on your friends and partners. Cross-promote your content on each others’ sites to build both audiences.

Chapter 4: Measurement

The measurement chapter details your process for tracking the success of each asset and campaign. For your website, Google Analytics is a good start, but views aren’t worth much unless you’re selling ads. You’ll likely need a marketing automation system such as Marketo, Hubspot, or similar to track visitors as individuals. Marketing automation data can tell you which assets or campaigns influenced purchases, and definitively answer questions such as, “Is our time better spent on email or social media?” or “Was this e-book worth the $10,000 it cost to create?”

Develop hypotheses and run experiments to see what changes produce better results. For example, do email subject lines that end in an emoji get more opens? Do landing pages with statistics earn more form-fills? No two audiences are the same and reading what’s worked for others is never as good as finding it out for yourself.

This chapter includes your:

  • Define your metrics and KPIs

  • Create dashboards to make tracking easy

Marketing playbook examples

Here are a few scenarios where it makes sense for a marketing team to invest in a marketing playbook:

A B2B data startup launches a blog

The marketing team notices prospects often reference their competitor’s blog, and decides to launch their own. But where to begin? The marketing team crafts a playbook and through that process, learns that their goal is to drive leads, that their audience prefers short-form content, and that the desired action is a form fill. Their playbook includes an editorial calendar for how often they’ll post, guidelines for how to write, review, and promote articles, and a style guide so new contributors can quickly be productive.

A new marketing leader unites her teams

The new head of marketing at an e-commerce giant has been hired to reinvigorate a leaderless marketing organization. The product, demand-gen, and customer marketing teams each defend their fiefdoms and resist working together. The new leader commissions a marketing playbook to reset everyone’s goals and expectations, and to provide a quick-reference guide so they know how to act on her new initiatives.

A startup skips years of painful trial and error

A cryptocurrency startup just closed their Series A and the marketing leader lacks a team. Before investing in headcount or technology, they create a playbook which forces them to define their desired audience, content, channels, and so on make smart decisions about what they insource and outsource.

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More topics:

1. The Content Marketing Institute