If you’re like the majority of companies reliant on email marketing to nurture leads, generate sales and grow the business, you’re not sending fewer messages, you’re sending more. As programs become more sophisticated, they also become more complex, and that complexity bleeds over into both planning and scheduling. Which campaigns and messages deserve top priority? What’s more important – broadly targeted one-to-many foundational programs or automated, triggered 1:1 campaigns? What about the mix of promotion vs. content over an extended period? These questions and more are just the tip of the iceberg email marketers face when building their annual plans.
The answers aren’t always easy and are different for every industry and marketer, but there is a process for success, regardless of your message mix, when creating an annual email marketing calendar and associated plans.
First, imagine you’re building a pyramid (or for those of you who enjoy food metaphors, a wedding cake will do). The bottom layer needs to support all the layers above it, and in email that bottom layer consists of your continuity programs and recurring customer communications. For many marketers, that means a newsletter or similar informational update/bulletin. Whether weekly, monthly or quarterly, these recurring touches normally comprise most of your “broadcast” email and reach your entire subscriber base, some of whom may not qualify for other types of messaging, but are at least receiving these.
Step 1: Starting with a blank calendar for 2016, your first step is to slot your continuity emails into it. Your company may have multiple newsletters; or quarterly newsletters and weekly digests, or even other types of digital publications delivered as email; regardless, schedule them all and identify the target audience for each.
Next consider your promotional campaigns – for ecommerce marketers, those are the messages that make the cash register ring. Whether your company sells online or not, they directly or indirectly drive revenue and contribute to the bottom line, so they absolutely can’t be ignored.
Step 2: Layer your promotional email schedule into the calendar. If it is highly seasonal (B2C), make sure major holidays and key dates (tax day, summer and winter solstice, etc.) throughout the year are identified so you can plan accordingly. For example, in some years Thanksgiving falls almost a full five weeks before Christmas, in others more like four. The dates for Easter, Jewish holidays, and Ramadan are different every year. Take increased volume during the end-of-the-year holiday period into account in your planning.
Or, as is the case for many B2B marketers, consumer holidays may not be as meaningful as other dates, such as those of your own events, major industry conferences, fiscal year beginnings and endings, or service/ contract renewal periods. Especially if you host and promote events, identify those dates and the promotional windows for each on your calendar.
Third, consider any educational or content marketing campaigns or email series that might be in existence to support particular brands, products or lines of business. Some of these may be targeted to an entire audience segment (like lead nurturing programs are targeted to warm up prospects), while others might only deploy if a subscriber demonstrates a certain level of interest, signs up for them specifically, or engages with content or other features on your web site. Educational and content email is huge in B2B, but also a great supplement to the often-heavy promotional and broadcast messages in B2C marketing.
Step 3: Identify these types of programs and any fixed dates you plan to deploy them, and add them to the calendar.
Fourth, it’s time to consider special campaigns you know you’ll run every year but that don’t necessarily recur very often. For example, contests, sweepstakes, and refer-a-friend programs. Or surveys, feedback, ratings/review request campaigns. Maybe you’re planning a new brand or product launch? Engaging, interactive promotions and programs like games, prize awards, online forums/communities and contests are common in those scenarios, and email supports them.
Step 4: Add any known interactive “engager” campaigns to your calendar (by now it might be getting quite full) if they’re slated for specific periods, and identify any periods throughout the year during which you think you might need to deploy such campaigns in support of major company initiatives.
Finally, there are the 1:1 triggered email campaigns driven by marketing automation to consider. Campaigns such as welcome and onboarding series to new email subscribers or customers, birthday emails, up-sell and cross-sell offers, abandoned cart/browse messages, reactivation or renewal efforts, reminders and alerts all fall into this category. Due to their conditional nature (only sent if a subscriber “trips” a trigger which qualifies them for the campaign), it’s impossible to add them to your calendar on fixed days, but you do want to factor them into the overall volume of messages certain segments or, say, a typical type of subscriber might receive from your company over the course of a year.
Step 5: Identify your automated email campaigns and how often each may touch a subscriber over the course of a year. Set maximums if necessary. For example, will you send an abandoned cart email after every uncompleted purchase, or only up to a certain maximum number of incidences? Over what interval of time (i.e., if the max is five abandoned cart emails, is that in one month? One quarter? Five months? )
By now your calendar should look quite full if not jam-packed. If you’re using a simple Excel spreadsheet to map it out, apply a different color to each distinct type of email campaign/program. Can you see where there is overlap? Crowding? Gaps? Rest periods? Areas of overlap are key in identifying the campaigns that might need to be suppressed in favor of higher priority efforts should certain subscribers or audience segments qualify for multiple efforts deploying at the same time.
Building your email marketing calendar for the year layer-by-layer will alleviate the chaos and shot-gun approach too many programs fall victim to due to lack of planning, while identifying space where messages can be added if necessary or new information can be communicated in existing campaigns.
So the next time someone is screaming for you to “just send another email”, you’ll be able to point to your calendar and either accommodate them via an existing deployment, find available space, or push back from a strategic, rational place.
Good luck finalizing your 2016 planning!