Want to develop an email strategy, but don’t know how to break free from purely Ad-Hoc email blasts? Planning your emails is a great first step in bringing more structure (and a bit of breathing room) to your email marketing. Last time I wrote about the email marketing calendar, I got some questions.
Q1: How far ahead should I plan?
Depending on your industry, you should plan anywhere from six months to a year in advance. Planning for less than six months is too short of a term; you need to establish long-range goals for your email marketing. However, planning for more than a year in advance is probably a waste of time, as your email marketing strategy will likely evolve as it unfolds.
If you have a high send frequency (get your mind blown with numbers on frequency here), don’t be alarmed. The full details of your mails don’t have to be done that far ahead. A rolling 2 or 3 months ahead is perfect (remember that this number depends on the amount of mails you send out).
Q2: How do I make my email calendar real-time?
You may wonder how you'll be able to schedule that far ahead, especially with all that talk about real-time marketing nowadays. It's not rocket science. Savvy email marketers develop the creative for seasonal campaigns ahead of time, then adjust the specifics / details before deploying. For instance, this email from Nicole Miller addresses the captive audience during a snowstorm. The subject line reads: "Snowed in? Shop our semi-annual sale."
Keep in mind that your email calendar is not set in stone. If possible, capitalize all current events. Vermont Teddy Bear sent this email just after the birth of the royal baby, with this subject line: The Royal Baby Has Arrived!
A great tip is to do the same and have a generic apology template ready for the occasion when you make a mistake.
Q3: What about the budget, do I need to schedule that too?
Planning ahead for six months to a full year allows you to take the seasons, vacations, and special events into account. It will also help you estimate costs and distribute your budget over time. Your dollars (and your time), are the lifeline of your calendar, especially if you are setting Email Return on Investment (ROI) goals.
Many companies try to make up revenue shortfalls at the end of each month with email campaigns designed to drive traffic and sales. You may want to pencil in offers such as free shipping or other discounts the last week of each month (you can always omit them if you're meeting or exceeding your email marketing goals).
You can also adjust specific email campaigns to meet revenue goals. For instance, if you run a free shipping promotion for a week, check the results after a day or two. If you want to boost your ROI, send out a reminder email mid-week, then a "last chance" or "final hours" reminder on the last day of the promotion.
Keep in mind that the bulk of retail revenues are seen during the fourth quarter. During the holiday season, the email campaign pace is fast and furious. You'll need to reserve a budget — and resources — for this busy time. This brings me to the next question....
Q4: How to beat the ups and downs of buying cycles planning
Some industries — such as travel, garden, skiing, sunglasses — have clear and consistent buying cycles. Other industries, however, have distinctive high and low sales periods. Whereas B2B email marketing cycles might be looooong. Mark your sales cycles on your email calendar. Whatever the cycle for your industry, you need to have touch points at all stages of the buying process: orientation, research, and decision making.
It's important to grow your list and consider altering the frequency before and during those periods. Of course, you'll need to change up your messaging according to the buying cycle. During orientation, you'll want to send more brand-building messages. During research, your emails should be informational/educational. And during decision making, use strong calls to action to close the sale.
Your own email calendar
Developing an email calendar will help you put your target audience right in the crosshairs of your email campaigns. Because there's no surefire strategy for all email marketing, you must develop a strategy that's right for your business. Once you do, you'll see all your email campaigns fall into place.