With an email calendar, you can take a step back from ad hoc and last minute emailings and convert your email strategy and tactics into concrete communication. When you are rolling out your email campaigns, those ideas tend to get lost in the heat of the moment. A calendar can give you something to hold on to. So we ask ourselves: how do we make a proper email marketing calendar?
Take a Look Back
An easy time saver is to take a look back into last year’s overall and email communication. What did you do then, what worked and what didn’t work? Successful mailings should be nominated for a re-run this year. That doesn’t mean you can copy them exactly. Rewrite them with an eye to this year’s trends and developments.

Also you can look at last year’s trade publications or magazines relevant to your business and audience. The email marketing messages from your competition can also help you get a feeling for timing and inspiration of content. If you didn’t subscribe to your competitors’ email newsletters, you don’t have their emailings to review. Resources for (mostly B2C) galleries where you might find examples of your competition’s email messages across the year include emailium, inboxvision and emailtastic or the more competitive intelligence driven emaildatasource.

Sharable Format
Make sure to set up your planning in a format that is easily sharable in your organization. A lot of companies use excel, word or google docs but you might have a specialized marketing planning tool in place. Main concerns are:

  • You want to be able to make notations and comments –
  • The ability to easily share and print the documents –
  • You don’t want to be reformatting the whole document each time you change a small detail.

Aligning Your Email Marketing Strategy
Convert the ideas you have in your marketing plan and plot them on a timeline; in the end you will have an overall schedule of the communications that you will be sending. With this you can also take a step back and see if all the individual messages collectively convey the brand and are aligned with the strategy you had in mind. When you are creating the calendar, usually the event-driven emails are left out because they are not calendar dependent. But if yours change in the course of the year, you should add them too.

How Far Should I Plan Ahead?
There are no hard rules about the timespan of an email calendar but planning should be for the foreseeable future. In some industries the foreseeable future is a half year, in others it is a full year. But you don’t need to plan for more than a year in advance. Looking too far into the future is inefficient, as your company and marketing strategy will probably change over time.

Refine Your Planning
Planning a full year ahead gives a balanced overview because you can also take the seasons, vacations and special events into account. It will also allow you to make a good estimate of costs and distribute your budget over time.

I can hear you thinking: a year ahead, that is too much, too far and too unclear for me to fill the calendar in detail. That is why most will refine the planning as the messages come in to a 6 months, 3 months and one month period. This way you can adjust based on experience from earlier mailings, changes in the market and your periodical targets.

For your calendar, it is also important to know your email frequency. If you have a higher frequency, you have the opportunity to go wider in the number of subjects to touch or deeper with specialized emailings than you would with a lower frequency. Again, there are no laws carved in stone, but you do have to consider your resources. How many messages are you able to create? Remember: a weekly email is 52 emailings per year. You don’t want to bore or annoy people with too high a frequency, but you also don’t want them to forget you – and you do want to be there once they’re ready to convert.

Buying Cycles
Some industries have very clear buying cycles. This is pretty obvious for travel, garden, skiing and sunglasses. But other industries have their own high sales and low sales periods. Basically you want to be there in the orientation phase to get into the considered set and be there in the buying phase to close the deal. Make sure you intensify the list growth before and during those periods and consider increasing the frequency and changing the types of messages according to the buying cycle.

Check your buying cycle, find the high and low sales periods and mark them on your calendar. You can look into the sales overview of last year, talk to your sales team or check industry stats to find these periods.

Product Launches and Campaigns
If you have new products and general marketing campaigns lined up for the coming year, be sure to include them in your calendar. Tying your email marketing campaigns into the general marketing activities will make the combined message stronger across your channels. And it would be a missed opportunity not to include sales, discounts and promotions in your commercial messages.

There is a lot more to be said about making an email marketing calendar – next time I’ll go into it even deeper and explain some of the concerns and tips when making a calendar for an international audience.