Why We Need a Marketing Playbook

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Football (gridiron or American rugby for my international friends) is an incredibly high-pressure sport. It’s a game that’s as much about strategy as it is raw athletic ability and power. In every football coach’s office from junior high to the NFL sits a playbook, a comprehensive guide to strategies, tactics, methods, plays, and insights that the coaching team has had and wants players to learn. Want to know how the New England Patriots won five NFL championships? Read their playbook. (and then execute as well as they do)

The playbook is practically a bible of football for the team, a way to counteract uncertainty and coordinate players in a fast paced, high-intensity game. Under pressure, players don’t have to try to innovate on their own on the field, stumbling around blindly while trying not to get obliterated by the opposing team. The playbook and plays in it guide them to make smart, coordinated choices under high pressure.


The world of marketing is no different, and the stakes are arguably higher. The life of a company may be on the line with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of peoples’ livelihoods depending on marketing’s ability to generate new business. The pace of marketing is equally intense, from changes in technology making for a highly unstable marketplace to changes in how people fundamentally behave.

So, how many of us have a marketing playbook?

I’d guess not many of us. We may have the occasional brand style guide or swipe file laying around the office, but I doubt we’d find a binder of play-by-play instructions for a variety of marketing tasks laying around most marketing departments.

We need a marketing playbook. When we are under pressure. When the pace of business matches that of a football game with a minute left on the clock and we’re 4th and 10, we know what our team is supposed to be doing. It’s the end of the quarter and lead flow is down. What play do we pull out? Webinar? Email campaign? It’s the start of the second half of the year and our main competitor has nocked some serious wins on the scoreboard. How do we catch up?

What might that look like? It really depends on what you and your team need most. A binder of checklists, a set of mind maps, an actual book – it all depends on your team and what you as the coach need to do to communicate your plays quickly and clearly. Here’s an example mind map of a Webinar play. It’s only a sample, so I’d suggest not trying to make it work as is, since there are a bunch of pieces missing, but it should give you an idea of what one play might look like.

Webinar marketing playbook example

Instead of a lengthy, four hour marketing staff meeting, imagine being able to say to your team in a 15 minute meeting, “Gary, B2B Webinar #2, Mary, 220 email campaign, Harold, funnel 5 on the new landing page. Go!” and be able to have reliable outcomes for each. That’s the power of the playbook, on the field and in the conference room. What’s more, if situations change rapidly, like a good coach, you can tell the team to switch up from 220 email to 168 email with the same speed and accuracy that a high school football coach changes plays from Cornell D to Yale D.

Think about building a marketing playbook for your team if you don’t already have one, and see if it delivers some game-winning power for your marketing team.

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5 responses to “Why We Need a Marketing Playbook”

  1.  Avatar

    Hi Christoper – I like the analogy you use to compare your business marketing strategies to the highly competitive game of football. Football is intense – it’s a game of inches played by the biggest, fastest humans on the planet… And if you’re looking for success in business, that’s precisely the kind of preparation, practice, dedication and teamwork that is necessary to be extraordinary — LOVE IT SIR!

  2. Christopher,

    Really great way of looking at things. When I started my work at my current job, I created what I called the Social Media Playbook. I’ve been in a very odd position of building a brand before a product which believe it or not has been incredibly powerful. However I have a playbook full of ideas to be used when the product launches.

  3. On a similar note – I consider Zagula and Tong’s “Marketing Playbook” a marketing classic: http://amzn.to/enedNt

  4. Hi Chris thanks for the (solid) advice. I know that our team regularly evaluates the effectiveness of our planning and engagement strategies. The mind map – though I’ve certainly heard of them – hasn’t made it’s way into our playbook. My client spreadsheets and timelines may just get an new teammate. Thanks again.

  5. I don’t do marketing but my lesson plan book looks like my playbook from high school. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

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