Creating and Maintaining a Marketing Calendar for Your Emails
Creating and maintaining a marketing calendar for email is critical for an email program’s success, as well as an email marketer’s peace of mind. Before we started using our current system, I would have anxious dreams where I forgot to send an email at a certain time. Even when everything was scheduled properly, it still felt like things were missing because there wasn’t a clean way to visualize that it was all set up properly. Now that we’re well-organized, we are able to schedule more messages with less stress.
The calendar also helps prevent businesses from some common pitfalls such as going days without mailing because they fall out of the routine, under-utilizing split tests, and being unprepared for big holiday sales. Working in advance on a well-structured calendar allows more time for the important things like thinking critically about what is being sent out, and quality assurance.
What To Use
Our marketing calendar for emails is created with a spreadsheet software called Airtable. We were using Excel and Google Sheets, but Airtable has additional capabilities that have been worth the cost for us. If you are a small team managing just one or two lists then Excel might cut it, but for us this move was a game-changer. Airtable offers useful pre-made templates, collaborating with a large team is simple, and it’s easy to create different “views” for the same set of data. Here is an example of how data appears in an Airtable spreadsheet:
What To Include
Filling in the email calendar and keeping it organized is a huge amount of work, but it's necessary (so much work that businesses are often eager to offload it, which is a big reason why our business has grown!). For each email that is to be sent out, we recommend including these fields:
Date to send
Time to send
List name (who it is being sent from)
Segment name (segment you are sending to)
Link to the email creative
Some other helpful fields we include are:
Status (whether it’s ready to set up, has been set up, and has been reviewed)
Queueing notes (any special formatting instructions when setting up the email)
Scheduling notes (short explanation/justification of why that email is going out).
This is a lot of information for just one email. This might seem like overkill, but we have a dedicated team picking which emails to send, and another dedicated team actually setting the emails up. Maybe you can get by without all these fields, but for us they have all been born out of necessity.
How far in advance to plan
We create a list’s “bones” approximately two months in advance. This is where we create the calendar that determines how frequently we will mail, and generally what type of thing we will send on which days.
M,W,F - affiliate offer days
T,Th,Sa - content days
Su - testing day
Once the structure is in place, you can begin to fill in the spots. Even if you don’t know exactly what will fill each spot yet, you know what you are looking for.
Typically, we schedule emails about 3 or 4 days before they are to be sent. Staying a few days ahead has cut way back on last-minute scrambles. There is however a limit to how far in advance you can schedule emails. If we were to fully book an email list a month in advance, then that doesn’t leave us flexibility. It’s a fast-changing landscape where “hot” new offers crop up fast, or we find out on short notice that a product is out of stock. Maybe a client wants to run a test to their list in a week and needs that space. By just staying 3-5 days ahead, we minimize scrambles while maintaining the ability to adapt as situations change.
A successful email program starts with a well-organized calendar. Having an established structure will help create “slots” to fill that make the decision making process easier. Then, you just need to stay a few days ahead to avoid stressful scrambles while maintaining a degree of flexibility. Or you can just hire Loop7 and have us do it for you :).