Ask Yourself These 3 Questions Before Picking Up Another Marketing Playbook
Marketing playbooks are killing your creativity. Here's how to thrive without them.
Who doesn't love a good playbook? Lucky for you, there are millions available for anything you might need — so many that a quick Google search of "marketing playbooks" returns 45 million results in seconds.
With titles ranging from the ambiguous (Complete Marketing Playbook) to the exceedingly specific (How to Create Your Event Announcement Playbook), there's literally something for everyone. It makes sense. Why reinvent the wheel? If it worked for this company, it should work for me too, right? It's this line of thinking that explains why, when you walk the halls of a conference expo or browse content pieces, they all look and sound the same.
Somewhere between the growing pipeline targets and mounting marketing "orders" from the company, marketers have lost sight of why they got into this field, to begin with. For me, it was to create, not replicate. Granted, it doesn't always make sense to start from scratch, but before you go running off with the next "best practice" playbook, ask yourself these three questions:
1. What does reinventing the wheel look like?
One of my favorite exercises to run through with my team is the "opposites game." For example, let's say we're launching a new in-person event. We'll head to the whiteboard and write down everything you would expect to see from a typical in-person event as an attendee. This might include a landing page, directions, crappy swag, formalized agenda, speakers, etc.
Then we move to the right-hand side and toss out ideas for opposites; a personalized mailer, a hidden location unveiled through a scavenger hunt, luxury giveaways, a choose-your-own-adventure agenda and so on. The point isn't to immediately identify what we will do, but to move past the most obvious ideas toward something entirely unique.
You can apply this brainstorming method across the board. Run a basic digital ad campaign? Or parachute plushie versions of your mascot down to a crowd? New, lengthy eBook? Or an interactive landing page that takes the reader through a self-guided experience? There are no bad ideas. Instead, it provides an outlet to challenge convention and come up with something completely non-derivative, and more importantly, memorable.
2. Is this built for sustainable growth or short-term demand creation?
In the marketing world, many of us have spent the better part of a decade focused on delivering a few key results: filling the sales pipeline, driving revenue and tracking results.
Smaller companies are typically thinking one to two quarters out and laser-focused on hitting those pre-defined targets to prove growth. The fallacy in this solely revenue-driven way of tracking progress is best articulated by the acclaimed author, Simon Sinek. Imagine, "the company is the car and money is the fuel. The purpose of the car is not to buy gas. The purpose of the company is not to make money. The purpose of the company is to accomplish something, to advance a greater cause and money will help you get there."
When we focus only on the marketing initiatives that drive short-term demand creation, or fuel, we sacrifice the ideas, messaging and campaigns that drive long-term, sustainable growth. For example, you've got an advertising playbook that basically guarantees that with another $50,000 in ad spend and this tweaked messaging, you'll drive X number of opportunities in three months.
Sure, launching this campaign could help you hit your targets for the quarter. But do those opportunities turn into customers? Do those customers stay? Will you need to double ad spend the following quarter to try and reap the same results and stay competitive? Or ... would your dollars have been better spent on a brand awareness campaign that drives word-of-mouth for your product for not only months but years to come?
A short-term mindset might get you through the next few quarters with flying colors, but it's the long-term, sustainable campaigns that will continue to fuel the company when the dust settles.
3. Does it bring you joy?
Marie Kondo was elevated to the spotlight for her simplified method of decluttering the personal items in your life. By asking the simple question, "does it bring you joy?" long-winded justifications are eliminated, and an emotional response determines whether or not to keep the item.
It seems far-fetched to apply this same philosophy to our marketing decision-making. We are, after all, not marketing to ourselves but to a distinct target audience with their own wants and needs. But take a moment to recall the feeling when you come across a great ad or tagline. For example, I'm not the target audience for any of these ad campaigns, but when I saw them, I immediately smiled and felt joy:
"Compliance that doesn't SOC 2 much." (Vanta)
"Our Blades Are F***ing Great." (Dollar Shave Club)
"Your mom should be your first customer, not your only customer." (Shopify)
It might seem silly or fluffy, but there's real neuroscience directly correlating happiness and memory.
For more on this, I highly recommend one of my favorite books, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, who spent years researching and lecturing on happiness at Harvard University. But to summarize a key point, when we're happy, our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine has long been linked with improved learning and memory. If you want messaging that's memorable, bring joy to your marketing.
In the end, there will always be opportunities to integrate well-designed playbooks into your marketing strategy. The problem is not the playbooks themselves, but the way in which they can block us from becoming the creative, innovative and visionary marketers we originally set out to become.
In a world where marketing looks identical from one company to the next, it's those who throw the playbook out the window who will stand out from the crowd.
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