Though society can’t quite agree on who created it, no one can dispute its immense power in our lives. With nearly 54% of the population using it, email remains one of the most valuable tools available to marketers today. McKinsey recently estimated that email can be up to 40 times more effective in acquiring new customers as compared to social media.

The potential is there — the challenge is to leverage the power of email to work for you. For that, you need to approach it with a plan. Creating and sticking to an email marketing calendar is the best way to plan your email strategy, keep track of your metrics, and make educated adjustments for campaign success. If you’ve never crafted a calendar for your email marketing strategy (or just want to brush up), follow these steps to get started.

1. Identify Your Audiences

As with any marketing strategy, you need to first identify your company’s target audiences (a.k.a. buyer personas). These are groups of people defined by demographics, content, and service needs whose business you want to capture.

If you run a health food store, you can likely segment your customers into categories more specific than simply “health-conscious individuals.” Perhaps one target audience contains parents who purchase healthy brands for their children. Another segment might consist of fitness-focused young adults who visit your stores for natural ingredients and health supplements.

The more clearly you segment your audience into specific groups, the better you can tailor emails to fit each group’s interests and needs. Labeling these groups clearly in your email marketing calendar allows you (and all other team members) to ensure that the goals, style, and messaging of each email campaign align with the group it’s targeting.

2. Aligning Emails to Your Audience

Defining your target audiences allows you to cater email campaigns to specific buyer personas — but you need to think about more than just who your audience is. You also need to think about where your audience is on their path-to-purchase journey. Before you plan any campaign, consider your audience’s existing relationship with your business. Are they brand new customers? Long-time, loyal patrons? Potential customers you’re hoping to convert?

Consider what types of emails your consumers would want to receive based on where they’re at on the path-to-purchase. This will guide your content creation. Some examples include:

  • Emailing new prospects (e.g. cold emailing)
  • Following up with visitors to your website
  • Promotions (for past or potential consumers)
  • Weekly/monthly newsletters
  • “Thank you” emails after visitors have purchased your product or service

Remember that you can choose to run different types of email campaigns at once — that’s the whole point of having different target audiences. Our example health food store may want to send an email announcement for a sale on health supplements to one set of customers, while sending a monthly newsletter about healthcare tips to another group.

3. Develop Your Communication Plan

With the types of email content identified, the next step is to develop a communication strategy. In other words, how are you going to execute your email campaigns? Communication plans consist of the following categories:

  • Communication Channels: While it may seem obvious that your channel is email, take a step back to consider whether this is an effective channel for your target audience. Where is your audience most active online? How have they responded to email campaigns in the past (if at all), compared to their responses on social media channels? Even if you’re certain from the get-go that email is the right channel for your goals, it’s useful to validate this by asking yourself why.
  • Frequency: Decide how often to send out each type of email. For instance, promotional emails may only need to go out when a new sale begins. Newsletters are typically sent out on a weekly or monthly basis. Finding the optimal email frequency can be tricky. Send too often, and you risk losing subscribers; not often enough, and you risk losing the customer’s attachment to your company. Since every target audience is different, we recommend you test out varying frequencies, and analyze the metrics afterwards to see what your audience responds to most successfully.

4. Determine Your Messaging

So far, your email marketing calendar lists your target audience groups, the types of emails you’re creating, and the frequency for each campaign. Now, it’s time to plan the heart of your email calendar: the email content.

But before you start thinking about the body of your email, remember your first challenge: getting your recipients to open the email in the first place. People will often scan their jam-packed inboxes before deciding which email to open, so a stand-out subject line is essential for an effective email. Without one your message will simply go unread. If you’re unsure about which kind of wording will work best with your audience, you can always experiment with up to 3 options using A/B testing.

Now, let’s say a recipient does open your email. What do you want to say to this person? What should they get out of your email? What do you hope they’ll do after reading your email? Reader expectations will depend on the type of email content they’re subscribed to, and their own personal preferences (i.e. their buyer persona). While email templates with eye-catching designs help you draw in subscribers, it’s the content of the email that will keep your recipients interested (and not searching for that unsubscribe link).

Determining the content for your emails starts with defining a theme: a broad topic that helps guide more specific topics for your emails. Our health food store could use a theme of “raising health-conscious children” for the monthly newsletter going out to their target group of health-conscious parents. List the theme for each email campaign in your calendar, and then use that to guide you in listing specific topics for each individual message.

Here are some sample ideas for individual email topics, based on the theme of “raising health-conscious children:”

  • How to foster healthy habits in kids
  • Which foods are unhealthy for toddlers?
  • How to encourage your kids to try new foods
  • Teaching kids the difference between “good” food and “bad” food

Each of the above topics could be the centerpoint for the content of one email in your campaign, and they all support the overarching theme that you’ve identified as relevant to your target audience.

5. Assign Email Tasks

With your email types and content topics in place, it’s time to start crafting each individual email. Depending on the number of email campaigns you plan on sending, you may want to divide the work among your marketing team. You can go about this in a few different ways:

  • Assign by Client: For marketing agencies, this strategy allows a team member to learn specifically about one given client and its target audiences. Though that person will be responsible for producing different content types, her in-depth client knowledge should help her create targeted messaging and hone in on each audience segment.
  • Assign by Content: This allows a team member to become an expert in one specific type of email content (e.g. newsletters). Though the person may not gain in-depth knowledge of every client, his detailed understanding of the content type should help him create eye-catching emails with copy that works best for the campaign’s goal.

Your email marketing calendar — with audience groups, schedules, and topics listed out — will help your team stay organized, especially with various team members working on different aspects of the email campaigns. All team members involved in email marketing can reference this calendar to determine where each email campaign sits in the production process, and to look ahead. This will help you keep all campaigns in line with the client’s overall goals, ensure each individual email messaging stays true to its campaign, and analyze the metrics after each campaign to determine how to adjust campaigns moving forward.

6. Putting it All Together: Your Email Calendar

With your email strategy planned out, it’s time to place everything into your own email marketing calendar. Use whatever document layout works best for your team (we prefer Google Sheets), and organize your document to include the following items: schedule and frequency, email types, themes, specific content topics, and writers. If you’ve identified multiple different target audiences, you may want to use a separate calendar for each audience group; or simply include audience group as its own column in your calendar.

If you don’t want to build the calendar layout from scratch, we created this handy calendar template for you. The template includes everything we’ve covered — theme, writer, scheduled post date — and more. Organized by month, our template is perfect for keeping a bird’s-eye view on your email marketing strategy over the course of the year.

Your email calendar should be shared with the entire email marketing team, so any team member can reference it to stay in the loop with email campaigns. As the guiding compass for your email team, you should strive to keep this document up to date at all times. If you’re pivoting the strategy for any campaign, or waiting for analytics before moving forward with one campaign, you can indicate this in your email calendar to keep everyone aware. It will also allow you to look back at past campaigns, to identify what’s working well for each audience and what isn’t.

Download our e-book on building your email list, and get started on your new email marketing strategy today!

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