You have probably heard the term “content playbook” or “content marketing playbook” before, but may be wondering exactly what it is. And whether your organization needs one.  

Well, wonder no more. In this article, we’ll walk through the content playbook essentials. (Hint: Chances are by the end you’ll find a content playbook to be essential.)

Defining a Content Playbook

Well, hopefully by now you know what content is, so let’s focus on playbook. Merriam-Webster defines playbook in 3 ways:

  1. A book of play scripts
  2. A notebook containing diagrammed football plays
  3. A stock of usual tactics or methods

Slide showing definitions of a playbook

I find all 3 definitions are quite apt for content.

  • For 1, we’re quite literally scripting customer experiences, such as through content design of product interfaces and chat bots.
  • For 2, we’re leading our organizations to compete strategically on content, whether that competition is other companies or distractions to our audiences.
  • For 3, we’re facing unprecedented demand for effective content to support marketing, communications, product experience, sales enablement, and really every aspect of our organization’s relationships with the people it’s trying to reach. To meet that demand, we have to scale smartly, so we need to document what’s usual and effective.

SO…with all that in mind I like to define a content playbook like this:

A content playbook is a script for content methods, techniques, and processes that successfully execute a content strategy.

Sound good, but maybe a bit overwhelming? Let’s look at why it’s worth tackling.

Why Create a Content Playbook

Challenges! Remember that unprecedented demand I mentioned? Our content operations research has consequently and repeatedly found that content leaders and their teams face no shortage of challenges. A content playbook helps overcome most of the top challenges by bridging strategy and execution. Take a closer look here…

Chart showing content challenges and how a playbook addresses each

Content strategy not standard? A content playbook can help!

Struggling to evaluate content impact or value? A content playbook can define how!

Content created and managed on the fly? A content playbook can help with that, too!

You get the idea…

So, you need a content playbook when you are settled on overarching content strategy and are transitioning to wider implementation. If you work for a large organization and are trying to scale your content strategy, a content playbook is essential to aligning everyone involved…from in-house teams to outside agencies or content creators.

Basic Elements of a Content Playbook

There are two basic elements of a content playbook. Let’s walk through each of them.

A Statement of the Content Vision or Strategy

This is a succinct summary of the vision or strategy that your content playbook is executing. It’s the answer to the question, “What is the future state we want to achieve?”  This statement also might outline key content pillars or principles guiding execution.  It serves as a north star when you, your stakeholders, and your teams start your journey to make the strategy happen. 

If you have already created a content strategy brief, then probably all you need to do is pull sections from it and edit. (Content repurposing for the win!) Keep all of this short and, ideally, visual. It’s a reminder, not comprehensive documentation of your strategy and the analysis that led to it.

A Collection of Plays

These plays should have all the information your team (staff, partners, etc.) need to execute.  A play or set of plays can cover items such as

  • Style guidance and application.
  • Template specifications.
  • Content policies, such as legal compliance.
  • Content processes, such as steps for getting new ideas approved, written, and published or steps for evaluating the impact of content.

The exact plays you need will depend on the purpose of your content playbook. These are a few possible categories and types of plays you might include.

Content playbook types of plays

You might find you need more than one content playbook instead of one ginormous document or set of plays, and that’s okay if each playbook has a clear purpose. You might separate a playbook for content creation from a playbook for content evaluation, for instance.

So, that’s my quick take on what a content playbook is and how it can help your organization overcome the many, many challenges on the way to content success. For a deeper dive,  including video and worksheets, check out the Content Playbook Resource Center. And we’ll share another article soon for tips to make your content playbook a winning one.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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