How to create a marketing playbook

Frans Riemersma
November 16, 2022

This blog was adapted from BrandMaker’s: “Marketing Ops Now” podcast. Each installment discusses valuable ideas for both management and marketing executives. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

What should a playbook do for marketing?

In contrast to other departments, marketing is not really familiar with playbooks. A quick online search yields hardly any marketing (operations) playbooks. However, there is at least one marketing playbook in every company. We just do not often refer to it as ‘playbook’. It is a special one, as even the CEO is involved.

That playbook is rarely used. It is used only when stakes are high. For instance, in a food company, when glass particles are found in baby food. Or when the breaks of a car are malfunctioning. In those cases every second counts. Every critical step in the process is properly documented for every mandate, role and responsibility involved. Brand value is in immediate danger. There is an immediate need to respond.

Isn’t that all too familiar with the daily practice of marketing operations? We are often bombarded with last-minute do-or-die requests. When we are under fire, we do not have the luxury to calmly grab a book-sized manual. What’s more, we can’t ask our counterparts to hold their fire until you have finished reading the manual. We should instinctively know how to respond. That is what a playbook does for the team.

A playbook serves two purposes..

  1. The playbook is a tool to summarize the essence of how the company makes money and how the core processes and outputs should line up with the strategy.
  2. That same essence should then be internalized long before even stepping ‘into the ring’. The critical moves should be second nature.

Where to start when creating a playbook

What is a playbook in business? A playbook is a tool. Just like a lumberjack’s ax, it needs sharpening every once in a while. It is never done. The playbook brings discipline into a team member as it describes all critical definitions and processes. It is marketing operations that should drive the creation and adoption of a playbook.

Playbooks are not the same as ISO standards and process documentation. Playbooks provide simple instructions. Good instructions are easy to follow. Just like rules in traffic. Let’s decide to drive on one side, it will create a lot fewer damages, incidents, and delays. The same applies to marketing. Instead of defining the ‘right side of the road’, we agree on what defines a lead, MQL, or SQL?

Take the definition of SQL. A way to qualify a lead as an SQL is to use the BANT model, Budget, Authority, Need, and Time. For every SQL all four elements of the BANT have to be ticked off by marketing before it is handed over to their sales colleagues. An ‘Opportunity’ is when a tailored quote has been sent, as opposed to a price list. A quote responds to serious buying intent. The lead is deeper in the funnel. Requesting price ranges merely reveals the lead is considering different options. In that case, we have some further nurturing to do, where we try to stand out from the competition.

A helpful starting point is the RACI model. The RACI refers to Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.

  • R = Responsible, the one who executes the task
  • A = Accountable, the one who is ultimately answerable for the correct completion of that task.
  • C = Consulted, the one whose opinions are sought (subject-matter experts)
  • I = Informed, the ones who have to stay ‘in the know’, such a board member.

Writing the RACI down for every process and person involved will not bring you the full potential of the model. It will bring you a nitty-gritty overview of the details process resulting in a document of well over 150 to 200 pages.

Focus instead on the business-critical processes only. The processes that drive value and strategy. For those processes, we should establish who is accountable and responsible. Adding who is consulted and informed is optional.

The RACI exercise will answer the basics, but often doesn’t answer questions such as:

  • Who are key stakeholders?
  • What markets does this business unit serve?
  • What are the market opportunities?
  • What are our strategic goals?
  • How do those goals cascade down and up again?
  • What are our underlying processes to drive those goals?
  • What are our solutions driving those underlying processes?
  • How does our lead process work?

To answer these types of questions, it is necessary to have a round of cross-functional meetings. Make sure you have the different levels represented in each workshop. This should be a two-way exercise: both top-down and bottom-up. Detailed operational processes will surface that normally would have hampered execution. The ‘accountables’ need to know what blocks the ‘responsibles’ from moving forward and enable them by removing the obstacles.

The essence of the conversations and decisions has to end up in the playbook. The challenge is to create a succinct document. A one-pager is probably too ambitious unless it is an infographic. But summarizing the three or four takeaways is certainly a must. It is proof that all the noise has been taken out. Noise that until then had created so much confusion and delays.

How to internalize the playbook

Once the playbook has been concisely written, we are halfway there. Now we need to make sure people use it. Sending out an email with the RACI model or a 400-pager will not help the teams to learn the contents by heart. Internalizing the playbook is all about onboarding. The people who were not involved in creating the playbook need to internalize the contents. And the authors of the playbook need to get to a point where they have internalized the playbook. They need to manage by example in real-life situations.

A good way you adopt and internalize the playbook is to run creative workshops. LEGO serious play is a nice way to run those types of workshops. Different teams build a LEGO model that represents their RACI model. The next step is to present every LEGO model to the rest of the teams. Three things will happen as a result:

  1. People commit to their own RACI model.
  2. LEGO representation of RACI models make it less personal (no careers at stake).
  3. People will remember and apply the model mvoing forward.

The final step is to connect the different LEGO models in the workshop. That will bring the architecture to life. Not only in processes or meetings but also in technology. A good playbook makes the selection, configuration, and adoption of marketing technology a lot simpler and easier.

As an example. In many companies marketing is flooded by sales requests for campaigns. The sheer volume prevents marketing from qualifying and prioritizing requests against the strategic company goals. As a result, sales teams wait for days or weeks for marketing to respond. The lack of qualification and prioritization implies every request is to be executed. Instinctively marketing requests more resources to handle the increasing volumes. Also, many requests are canceled halfway into production, as they turn out to be not relevant, too complex, or not in line with the marketing strategy and/or business strategy. It is a waste of marketing resources.

In this case, a playbook should establish simple handshakes between sales and marketing. Some marketing departments have been successful with implementing an intake process for campaigns from sales. A simple web form enabled sales to assess if their request was in line with the company strategy. In exchange for this extra step, marketing promised to process the request within 8 business hours. In over 40 real-life cases, the amount of requests drops by 40%, since marketing is able to qualify the request upon submission against the strategic goals. The remaining requests are attended to in the 8 hours and yield much better results because marketing is able to apply their expertise and boost effectiveness.

Please join us

BrandMaker’s “Marketing Ops Now” podcast series has officially started. In each podcast industry luminaries and deep thinkers share valuable marketing ops ideas for both management and marketing executives (some worth stealing).

For every podcast in the series we’ll do a blog post to share the highlights with you. You can listen to this 20-minute podcast here.

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