Guest Post

Written by Kevin Daniel

September 24, 2020

Email marketing is your brand’s most powerful tool. It’s the glue that holds your sales funnel together.

A full 81% of small businesses still rely on email marketing as their primary source for customer acquisition, and 80% rely on it for retention.

Email marketing statistic
Image courtesy of Oberlo

Email is an essential element of your promo campaigns, newsletters, product launches, the list is endless. Any marketer will confirm that it’s a necessary part of your digital marketing strategy to promote your business. 

If you’re struggling to pull your email marketing efforts together with all the timing, copywriting, and design required, you’re not alone.

Creating an email marketing calendar will dramatically improve your chances of successfully growing your business.

And if you find yourself staring at a blank email calendar template in a blind panic, not to worry, this guide has you covered.

The importance of creating an email campaign calendar

An email campaign calendar organizes the content and timing of your email marketing content. It displays each campaign’s most critical information, like the send dates, email owners, description, marketing cost, etc. For the greatest impact, it’s best to plan it a full year in advance.

Building an email marketing calendar helps you to:

  • Improve your email creation process by baking in enough time for editing and tweaks
  • Schedule A/B tests and optimize your campaigns
  • Set clear deadlines one to two weeks before launch
  • Create timely content
  • Get a birds-eye view of your email marketing approach and measure its performance

To help you gather your email content and avoid staring at an empty email marketing calendar template, here are some few steps to get started:

Step One: Align your email marketing strategy with your business goals

Think about your business objectives for the next 12 months. The beauty of building an email marketing calendar is that if your goal is to make $1 million in the next year, you can do the math based on your growth rate, your list size, and conversion rates to see if it’s an achievable goal.

After crunching the numbers, you can answer some important questions like:

  • Are your goals realistic?
  • How many campaigns and promotional emails will you need?

It becomes far more feasible to reach your business goals once you’ve done the math that will become the foundation of your email marketing strategy. (Hence why this is the first and most critical step.)

Without these numbers, you’d be going in blind—not exactly where you want to start!

Step Two: Start with seasonal and brand-related content to avoid the dreaded blank page

Seasonal content revolves around a specific date, event, or holiday. The emails you receive every Christmas with compelling stories and unique holiday-themed offers are perfect examples of such content.

Seasonal content should not be re-used and is usually tied to special offers or events. It infuses your content with authenticity and humanity, thanks to its acknowledgment of shared human experiences.

When building your content calendar, seasonal content is an easy starting point because it’s already linked to a specific time of year or date. Examples of this kind of content include:

  • Holiday-themed content for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc.
  • Content relevant to specific celebrations (like Walk Your Dog Day, Earth Day, National Superhero Day, and any other kooky “holidays” that would appeal to your customer base)
  • Content related to nationally or globally recognized anniversaries, seasons, events, etc.

There are ample opportunities for every industry to deliver seasonal content throughout the year. Take a peek at SearchEngine Journal’s seasonal content calendar to inspire some ideas for your brand.

Waves Audio offers an inspiring example of seasonal marketing. They’ve managed to transform the most unpalatable of “holidays” (Tax Day) into a reason to discount most of their plugins. 

Email marketing example

Brand-related content is another low-hanging fruit to help you beat writer’s block. Company anniversaries, milestones (our one-millionth customer!), product launches, and other relevant events are great fodder for these emails. 

For example, the newly renamed B2B agency, Fenwick, sent an email debuting their rebranding campaign. 

Second email marketing example

Newsletters with predetermined send dates also make great content. Just make sure you’re providing information your audience finds relevant and valuable.

Once you’ve finished populating your email content calendar with brand-related and seasonal content, you’ll have an idea of where to start adding promotions and nurture campaigns. 

And most importantly, you’ll never stare at a blank page again!

Step Three: Define the structure of your email marketing campaigns

Your next step is structuring your email marketing campaign framework. The framework should include your goals, audience, and  “send rules” (how, where, and when you send emails).

Having this information handy before putting it on your calendar will save you the headaches resulting from overlaps, last-minute changes, and wasted time.

The basic structure of your email campaign should include:

  • A clear objective:  What is your campaign goal? Define the action you want your customers to take after reading your emails.
  • Segmentation: Who are your subscribers and why is your campaign content relevant to them? Creating valuable content for every segment of your audience is essential to success. (More on this later.)
  • Frequency, style, and the number of emails: Determine the format of your emails (plain text versus HTML), length, frequency, and the number of emails you’re going to send on a particular topic. Knowing your audience is crucial here, as people have different tolerances and preferences for email content.
  • Send time: Determine the best time (days and hours) to send your emails. Some testing will be required to optimize this process.

One of the most critical email marketing best practices is creating a great email campaign structure. If you do it well, it will be easier to schedule your content for a smoother workflow.

Here’s an example of a drip marketing campaign Digital Marketer sent to promote a special deal for their content marketing course.

Drip marketing campaign example

They sent six emails six days in a row. If you think that cadence is overkill, consider that:

  • They’re promoting a genuinely time-sensitive special offer that only lasted one week
  • The recipients of this email have been identified as individuals who are interested in content marketing, which makes the topic appealing to them
  • They have conditioned their audience to expect constant nurturing and attention from their brand

Taking this information into account, it’s obvious that they have a well-structured strategy, and they follow it to the letter.

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Step Four: Schedule email content for each audience segment 

According to a study performed by Experian, personalized emails can deliver a transaction rate six times higher than non-personalized emails.

Every customer is unique, and not every subscriber is in the same stage of your sales funnel. This means following a targeted approach (instead of a broad approach) will pay dividends.

When populating your email marketing calendar with different campaigns and sequences, determine who will receive your emails and who won’t. Then establish how you’re going to tag them as they progress through the sales funnel. 

Tagging is crucial here. Tag subscribers when they click your links, buy from you, log in frequently, or even when they do nothing at all.

Your email marketing software can probably create a segment from your subscribers.  For illustration purposes, we’ll go through this process in a Zoho account.

Using segment feature in Zoho email

Include anyone with a specific tag, name, or source into a segment.

Create segment in Zoho

How you ultimately segment your list depends on your business objectives and marketing approach. That said, the most common ways to segment are by demographics, sales funnel stage, and buyer persona. 

Segmenting is critical because it enables you to send relevant content to your audience. Someone still at the top of the funnel is not ready to buy, so it does not make sense to use the same content sent to a user who is almost ready to purchase.

When you segment your audience, you’ll be able to optimize your campaigns for each segment, or even build a separate calendar for each one.

Step Five: Avoid overlaps between email types

If you’re serious about email marketing, you probably have experience creating multiple behavioral workflows and automated email sequences.

However, you don’t want your automated emails to conflict with your scheduled campaigns. Receiving an upsell email and a discount offer on the same day may annoy your subscribers and make them more likely to unsubscribe.

Veronika Baranovska, Content & Inbound Marketer at Sendible, shared her process to deal with this issue. She says:

“With all the automation and email follow-up settings that are available to us these days, sending multiple emails on the same day is quite possible. Here’s what has helped us:

1. Look at your week and devote each day to one kind of email. For example, blog emails on Thursdays and promotions only on Tuesdays.

2. If you have to send the email on a day when you have other communications going out, you can use customer segments to stagger the send. For example, if you need to send a service update on the same day you have a blog email going out, you can either exclude the blog subscribers from your email and send it later, OR delay the less important email, in this case, the blog update email.

3. Keep a record of ALL emails you send in a project management tool that you share with your team.”

She also emphasizes the importance of having a well-segmented audience, advising that “the most important thing you can do while building your email marketing calendar is to always think about the audience first.”

Another option to avoid bombarding your customers with too many emails is to set a limit on the number of emails your subscribers can receive per day/week. So check your email software options to see if this setting is available.

In Zoho, just go to settings, click on “email limit,” and configure your preference.

Email limits in Zoho
Image courtesy of Zoho

Depending on your email software, you may even be able to set an interval between emails and a weekly/monthly limit as shown in the image below. 

zoho weekly limits feature
Image courtesy of Zoho

Doing this will prevent overlaps between all your campaigns and give you the freedom to schedule your content without worrying about conflicts with your automated sequences.

Step Six: Fill the gaps and keep your email audience warm

It doesn’t matter how interested your subscribers are with your product. If you disappear for a while, they’ll start to forget about you, and then you’ll need to warm them up again.

Moreover, every year unqualified leads and contacts changing their emails result in a 22.5% reduction in database size.

Keep your email marketing calendar filled with nurture sequences, blog updates, promotional emails, or a consistent newsletter offering valuable information. This way, you’ll keep your audience warm and engaged.

However, don’t forget to leave room in the schedule for experimentation!

Your email marketing strategy won’t reach its full potential without ongoing testing. Try something new with every email you send, whether it’s subject lines, email length, HTML versus text format, time zone, etc. Testing is the only way to improve your email marketing results.

It can be challenging, but finding the balance between having a well-populated calendar and having enough flexibility to run tests is paramount to your success.

Read More: Best Email Marketing Examples for 2020

Reviewing the steps

Now that you’ve learned how to build an email marketing calendar, you’ll no longer need to improvise emails around the clock to meet your deadlines. Phew!

To recap, the six steps to create an email marketing calendar are:

  1. Align your business goals with your email content marketing strategy
  1. Start with seasonal, brand-related, and newsletter content to avoid the dreaded blank page
  1. Define your email marketing campaign structure
  1. Segment your audience so you can follow a targeted approach 
  1. Employ a healthy mix of automated emails and broadcast emails
  1. Keep the emails coming to avoid losing your audience’s interest

There you go! Armed with these steps, you can test different tactics until you find what works best for your business.

Here’s one last pro tip: instead of reading more articles, stick to this one, and take action!

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