Why use marketing playbooks?

Frans Riemersma
November 21, 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.

Why does marketing ops need a playbook?

A good playbook is the oil of a lean & mean marketing machine. The staff members use it as a source of truth that explains key concepts, definitions, terminology, and the process for how things work. It fuels operational excellence. Well-adopted playbooks help prevent poor marketing execution which often results in disjointed customer experiences.

There are hard and soft benefits of a playbook. The soft ones are: minimizing entropy and building team spirit. Fighting entropy and bringing some positive cohesion around marketing and operations is incredibly valuable.

  1. The first positive impact of a playbook is to minimize entropy, a lack of order or predictability. A gradual decline into disorder is the result if we do not follow some housekeeping rules. Systems or data tend towards disorder in their natural state. We have to put some energy into maintaining quality.
  2. The second benefit is team spirit. Remember that the first playbooks were used in sports, like American Football. A good playbook enables positive cohesion in the team. It increases the joy of playing, or in our case: work.

And then there are hard benefits. The hard benefits can be easily measured.

  1. Reduction of onboarding time of new staff
  2. Speeding up the delivery of campaigns
  3. Steeper learning curves through more experimenting
  4. Less last-minute meetings to fix what was broken
  5. Less finger-pointing, more time for strategy execution.

What comprises a marketing playbook?

A good marketing playbook covers the three cornerstones of the golden triangle: people, process, and technology. It clarifies best practices for each element. It is the distillation of what the team has learned over time. Future team members do not have to reinvent the wheel.

  1. People. Describing the required people skills and roles helps to highlight where responsibilities start and end. The boundaries are potential handoff points between marketing operations and other stakeholders and participants.
  2. Process. Outlining core processes help to define milestones that can be tracked in dashboards as well as handoff points with other departments. It manages the expectation as to what is delivered, when, where, and in which format.
  3. Technology. Mapping out technology helps to get the most out of the Martech stack. Laying out the data structure goes hand-in-hand with describing the Martech stack.

Playbooks start with definitions

Every playbook should start with definitions and terminology. If we do not have common definitions and terminology, we cannot move forward and improve. If key concepts are really well defined, everybody knows what they are and what they’re to accomplish. Everybody is on the same page and speaks the same language.

All too often we use the same buzzwords but have a different understanding of what they really mean. Agreeing on common definitions does not have to be complex. All it takes is to sit down and align. Creating that alignment at the beginning, prevents many panic meetings in the future. Marketing ops should drive and facilitate these conversations, as they are sitting at the crossroads of many different stakeholders, like marketing teams, sales teams, legal, finance, IT, cyber security, etc.

Definitions should not be academic, complex, or elaborate explanations of key concepts. Think of key concepts such as campaign launch, SQL handover, KPIs, data layers, purchase decisions, conversions, etc. Definitions describe what triggers a specific concept, who is responsible, and what the handoff looks like.

A playbook is all about alignment

Once we speak the same language, we focus on handshakes. One of the main concepts is the definition of a ‘lead’. It is probably one of the most overused words in marketing and yet, often poorly defined. And that can have huge implications.

Oftentimes, sales has a different understanding of what a lead means. Many sales teams complain about the quality of the leads of their marketing team. It is a very good start to agree on what defines a lead, MQL, SAL, SQL, or Opportunity. Driving conversions between these stages is one of the most important deliverables of marketing. It is core to the daily business of marketing.

One might expect the foundational definition of a lead is almost a no-brainer. However, all too often marketing and sales are not aligned on this topic, with negative consequences for the business and all stakeholders.

  • From a business perspective: imagine the number of leads misqualified.
  • From a marketing perspective, think about the number of leads left unnurtured.
  • From a sales perspective, there are many opportunities lost.
  • From a technological perspective, we’re probably incapable of establishing proper lead scoring.
  • From a data perspective, imagine the difficulties of running analysis and reports.
  • And finally, the board will have a hard time understanding if the business is performing if all these pieces do not line up.

That’s the beauty of it. If you have a shared definition, then work flows. With having a shared definition, you ultimately also have a shared view of marketing performance.

How should a playbook look like?

The second part of the word playbook, ‘book’, suggests it’s as big as a book. However, a playbook shouldn’t resemble ISO standardization documentations. Instead, it should be short and concise. The format should reflect that. The medium is the message, right?

A wiki format could be very suitable for this. It is very easy for people to access. It’s very easy to update, but also its structure makes it very easy to consume information quickly. Readers can decide for themselves whether to drill down and read more about a specific topic which is particularly useful for onboarding.

Coming back to the ‘lead definition’ example, have a wiki page with a lead definition and a description of the lead flow and corresponding lead owners. The same applies to other concepts like reporting, purchasing, or budgeting, or how a KPI is calculated.

Playbook adoption

Having a playbook is one thing. Ensuring people apply the concepts is another thing. Having a light onboarding training and certification has often proven to be very successful. A short training covering the basic concepts helps to speed up onboarding. Some teams take great pride in a certification. New team members often welcome it as an introduction to the way business is done.

And last but not least, reinforcement in meetings, especially by managers using and applying the concepts and definitions is key. And when you find certain concepts are not applied, you know it is time to internally realign to update the playbook.

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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