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How to Create an E-Mail Marketing Calendar

  |  July 26, 2006   |  Comments

Move e-mail from the tactical to the strategic by thinking like an editor.

At e-mail marketing training sessions I conduct, I notice a lot of people still write e-mail on the fly rather than plan strategic e-mail campaigns. Why?

Because they can. E-mail broadcasting is cheap. There's no need for a lot of advance planning, as there is when you must build in a printing and letter shop schedule. The downside is such e-mail is relegated to a tactical, last-minute tool rather than a carefully considered communications channel.

With fall campaigns on the horizon, why not take a step back now and plan your e-mail calendar in advance?

Consider the seasonal nature of your prospects' work and personal lives and when they want to read about certain topics. This varies both by industry and by the kind of person you're trying to reach.

Business-to-business (B2B) magazines in your industry probably follow a standard calendar. Analyze a year's worth of issues to see if you can detect a pattern in the kind of articles published at different times of the year. This can clue you in to e-mail readers' interests. Additionally, you may spot ways to synchronize your mailing with the publication's regular features, such as annual buying guides, state-of-the-industry reports, and so on.

Next, review your industry's conference schedule and plan accordingly. If everyone attends an annual conference, for example, it's unlikely your promotional e-mail will be read from their BlackBerrys that week. Yet an e-mail a week or two before the conference inviting prospects to visit your company's booth or a post-conference e-mail reporting on the event's highlights could result in high readership.

Then take a look at a regular calendar to see when major holidays occur. Consider what's going on in prospects' minds a week before and after these holidays. If they're busy trying to get all their work done before the holiday or to catch up afterwards, your e-mail will probably go unnoticed.

Get your hands on a school schedule for areas in which you broadcast your e-mail. Factor in back-to-school dates, which can vary greatly by region, falling anywhere from early August to mid-September. Then, there are Christmas, midwinter, and spring recesses. As a working parent who deals with the NYC Board of Education school calendar, I've found the month of June is full of days off; clerical half-days, test-marking days, and the totally over-the-top (in my mind) "Brooklyn Day!" Though most working parents don't take all these days off with their kids, they're usually contending with out-of-the-ordinary childcare arrangements that often drive them to distraction.

Finally, consider the seasons and what they signal to your audience:

  • January can be a month of new beginnings or the start of a hellish tax season for accountants.

  • In February, you can offer a "sweetheart of a deal."

  • Certain months are more business-focused than others: February/March, May/June, and mid-October through mid-November.

  • Slow summer months can be times when your readers ignore their inbox or catch up on their reading.

Every industry's calendar is different, so be sure to track e-mail responses over time to detect seasonal readership patterns.

Consider Industry Buying Cycles

Does your industry do most of its buying at a certain tradeshow or conference? Do purchasers delay major purchases until certain company financial statements or national economic indicators are released? Is there a yearend spending spree as managers try to spend their budgets?

In my own copywriting business, there's usually a deluge of new projects from January through mid-June. Then it resumes right after July 4 until mid-August vacation. It picks up again right before Labor Day, though sometimes there are lulls that can last until early October, depending on when the Jewish holidays fall. After that, it's full-tilt until January 1, when it starts all over again.

Create a Calendar

Now that you have all the blackout dates and key selling periods on your calendar, plan an e-mail campaign calendar.

Consider all the steps necessary to bring prospects through the sales pipeline from initial awareness to lead generation, sales, and, finally, retention. Then, create a timeline of e-mail marketing messages. In the conference industry, which has a short promotion cycle, a typical e-mail calendar can look like this:

  • Pre-event survey: To learn top audience concerns for the year

  • Save-the-date e-mail: To alert prospects to put the event on their calendars

  • Content e-mail: To promote the release of the event's new agenda

  • Early bird e-mail: To notify prospective attendees of a savings deadline for advance registrations (usually, as many as two thirds of registrations occur before this deadline)

  • Keynote speaker announcement: To generate excitement for marquee-name presenters

  • Final notice e-mail: To encourage fence-sitters to take action

  • Post-event recap: To keep the momentum for the event going and encourage early sign-ups by enthusiastic attendees

How you plan an e-mail campaign will be as individual as your company, marketing strategy, or product. But you must plan it, so you can seize the opportunities your shortsighted competitors miss.

I'd like to plan my own editorial calendar for the rest of 2006. So if you have any B2B e-mail case studies, send them to me.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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