When building a successful email and SMS strategy, three components can dramatically impact your effectiveness:
One of the main obstacles that gets in the way of these components is organization. If you don’t have a plan of attack, it’s difficult to consistently produce quality emails.
That’s why you need an email marketing calendar. This article will discuss the basics of building an email marketing calendar, including critical dates your online store should be aware of, scheduling cadence, organization, and more.
You can also download our free email marketing calendar template to start planning your next campaigns.
Download our free email marketing calendar template:
How is an Email Marketing Calendar Useful?
An email marketing calendar is your game plan to help deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time. Organizing, scheduling, and planning emails in advance can drastically increase conversion rates, sales, brand awareness, and more.
By organizing and scheduling ahead, your marketing team will have more time to optimize its campaigns by eliminating the stress of pulling together last-minute emails to fulfill a deadline or quota.
Email calendars also allow you to create effective campaigns around seasonal and branded content, maximizing business growth by being as strategic as possible.
What Should An Email Marketing Calendar Include?
Usually, the bones of a campaign calendar are organized in a spreadsheet. Of course, you can use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, but if you want to get a little fancier, we suggest advanced data organization tools like AirTable or Coda.
The primary columns that we like to include in our email marketing calendar templates include:
- Send Date
- Send Time
- Category or Topic
- Subject Line
- Body Content (Summary)
- CTA Link
These data points are the bare minimum for a good email marketing calendar. Many organizations also include columns to monitor the performance of a campaign (see our article on email KPIs to see what you should be tracking).
Of course, every business and marketing department is different, so you should customize your calendar to meet your unique needs. For example, you might want to add a column for what products to feature in each email or a column for images or preheader text.
How to Create an Email Marketing Calendar
Step 1: Set Goals & Expectations
The first step is to determine your marketing goals for the year. Whether that consists of hitting a revenue goal, increasing your conversion rates, improving customer LTV, or all of the above, make sure you set clear goals.
Once you set your goals, formulate what’s needed to achieve those goals and reevaluate your expectations if necessary. Ask yourself:
- How many emails should I send to hit my revenue target?
- Is it realistic for my team to send that many emails a week?
It is always helpful to look at what you did last year and make expectations based on that. For example, if you missed your email revenue goal, maybe you should increase your overall number of sends.
Step 2: Establish a Cadence
Once you have clear expectations, you need to determine how often you actually want to send emails. Determining a cadence is very audience-specific — you want to send as many emails as possible without annoying your subscribers.
A good starting cadence is weekly. If you know that a weekly cadence isn’t enough to hit your revenue numbers, try to increase that frequency while keeping a close eye on your KPIs. If your unsubscribe rates increase or your click-through rates start dropping, you might want to reduce your send rate.
One way to increase your cadence without overwhelming your customers is to segment your audiences — we’ll talk more about that later.
Step 3: Start With Cornerstone Content
Now that you have a goal and cadence in mind, you can start putting dates on the calendar. We find it easiest to begin with cornerstone dates and work from there. Here are some key holidays for online stores that you should consider working into your email content calendar:
- Black Friday
- Cyber Monday
- New Years
- Valentine’s Day
- Mother’s Day
- Memorial Day
- Father’s Day
- Independence Day
- Back to School Season
- Labor Day
As you can see, there is no shortage of holidays to build your marketing plan around. Starting with these days makes it much easier to build out the rest of your email marketing plan.
Planning ahead using cornerstone dates allows your marketing team to prepare for periods where more emails are needed due to that season. For instance, the holiday season during November and December requires more promotional emails than in January to March, when ecommerce sales tend to be the slowest.
Step 4: Add In Your Branded Content
After you’ve nailed down your cornerstone content, add in content that is specific to your brand.
For instance, do you release special capsule collections every quarter? Or perhaps you want to celebrate a significant anniversary?
Find gaps in your calendar and sprinkle in your branded campaigns. For example, there are no major shopping holidays in March or August, making these prime months for branded content.
Step 5: Analyze Your Segments
Next up, look at your audience to see if anyone is missing. Up until this point, your calendar probably consists mainly of batch and blast emails (emails that go out to every single subscriber). While it is ok to send batch and blast emails every once in a while, a good content marketing strategy targets specific audiences throughout the year.
Make a list of your key audience segments (if you haven’t done that yet, start by looking at the stages of lifecycle marketing). Once you have a list, make sure that every segment receives some attention on your editorial calendar.
This can mean adding a campaign to your calendar for your loyal customers, scheduling a winback campaign, or kicking off a big first-purchaser promotion.
We can’t stress the importance of segmenting your audience enough. Any online store can send bulk emails, but breaking up your subscribers and sending personalized content will take your email marketing strategy to the next level.
Step 6: Build Our Your Flows
Now that you have a basic content schedule built out based on key holidays, branded content and audience segmentations, you can start to build out more detailed flows.
When we say flows, we’re talking about the complete series of emails that will go out based on a key event. So, for example, you don’t want to just send one email for your big Cyber Monday sale — you should send a series of emails.
A basic Cyber Monday sale flow could look like this:
- Five Days Before: Cyber Monday is Coming!
- One Day Before: Don’t Forget, Cyber Monday Sales Start Tomorrow!
- Day Of (Morning): Cyber Monday Shopping Starts NOW
- Day Of (Evening): The clock ⏰ is ticking. Shop the lowest prices of the season.
Not every event warrants a flow, but most sales can benefit from having at least two or three emails promoting the event.
Add each individual email to your email marketing calendar. You’ll be surprised by how quickly your calendar fills up and how easy it is to send weekly emails.
Step 7: Never Stop Improving
The last step for creating an email marketing calendar is to check on the status of the emails after you have sent them and to make sure you are keeping track of your previous campaigns.
Record the data and use that to experiment with new emails and develop more efficient strategies. Data should be used to dictate your email cadence, your subject lines, your CTAs, and just about every other detail of an email.
As the year goes on, your list and priorities will grow and change — this means that you have to continue to readjust and adapt your marketing calendar for maximum potential.
One Last Note
As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, consistency is vital. So, after you complete each of these steps and finish your email marketing calendar, there should be no empty weeks (unless you strategically plan a week off).
At Quantum, we use the mantra “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” And email marketing calendars are a crucial part of that preparation. But proper preparation only works if you actually stick to the plan and execute on your deliverables.
You don’t want to make a calendar at the beginning of the year and never look at it again. Instead, set monthly or weekly reminders on your personal calendar to review your game plan with your team. Assign tasks and create due dates in your calendar.
You can do this. You just have to stick to the plan!