How to Plan a Marketing Calendar That Actually Works

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    Having a marketing calendar is crucial for ensuring that you stay organized when managing a blog, social media account, or other content-based marketing channel. Marketing calendars also help to visualize your marketing strategy to get a better understanding of the effectiveness of your approach.

    Calendars are visual tools that can make it easier to make sense of marketing activities that will take place in the near future, such as key promotions or the publication of major content pieces.

    These visual tools can then help you to prepare other aspects of your business for an increase in sales, an influx of calls, or other changes that could impact ordinary operations.

    Marketing Calendar Tools

    There are a wide range of apps and other tools that can be used in today’s world to manage a marketing calendar. There is no single tool that is best in all situations, so you should explore the options that are available to decide what tools are best for you. In today’s marketplace, there are hundreds of tools that you can choose from for creating and managing a marketing calendar. Some of the best tools we have found for managing a marketing calendar are detailed below.

    1. Smartphone Calendars

    All major smartphone operating systems come with calendars that can be used to manage your marketing campaigns. You can sync these calendars with Gmail, Outlook, and other major apps. Smartphone calendars can also be easily shared with team members while on the go.

    2. Outlook

    Outlook has long been the most popular calendar app in office settings. The advantage of Outlook is that it is used almost universally, so you can easily share your calendar with a wide range of freelancers, team members, and other stakeholders. Outlook is also one of the few calendar apps that gives you easy access to raw data files that can be used to securely store backups of your marketing calendars on thumb drives or independent online backup services.

    3. Print and Whiteboards

    If you are a solo marketer or work out of an office with a team, sometimes a physical calendar can be the best tool to manage your marketing campaign. Team members can then go up to your whiteboard to make additions that are visible to everyone in your office at any time. Copies of whiteboard calendars can be easily saved and shared online by simply taking a photo.

    4. Content Scheduling Apps

    Many apps are designed to help marketers manage their campaign calendars. Buffer, HootSuite, and Planable are only a sample of some of the apps that you can experiment with for your campaign. The advantage of these apps is that they integrate directly with your social media accounts, so you can manage both scheduling and content in one place.

    5. WordPress Plugins

    WordPress is classified as a content management system because it is ultimately a tool designed to make managing the creation and publication of content easier. With WordPress, you can easily schedule posts on a calendar, and they will automatically go live at the time you set. Searching the WordPress plugin store for “editorial calendar” reveals hundreds of plugins that provide rich calendar functionality that can be used for planning a marketing campaign.

    6. Excel

    Sometimes spreadsheets are the easiest way to manage a campaign. Raw excel data is highly portable, and you can get started instantly. Alternatively, Google Sheets is a similar app that is available for free and makes collaboration simple. Overall, spreadsheets are a good option if you just want to get started right away with minimal overhead.

    Develop the Right Strategy

    Before you put time into planning out a specific timeline for your marketing campaign, it is first important to develop an effective strategy that can guide future activities. Ultimately, the strategy that you choose will determine whether your campaign is a success.

    Simply diving into creating content, for instance, will not yield success unless you have a plan that will give your content high visibility among your target audience and enable you to convert visitors into paying customers. Instead, you need to take a step back to analyze your situation to determine your best path forward.

    As recently as a few years ago, marketing experts would recommend starting by creating a formal business plan or a marketing plan. Today, however, these formal plans are perceived as worthless documents because rapid technological advancement introduces too much uncertainty to know what will happen in the future. Business plans were normally needed to get bank loans for stable businesses. If you are running a startup or managing a marketing campaign that takes advantage of digital channels, the uncertainty is simply too high to make these documents worthwhile.

    Instead, you should conduct your own analysis of what your competitors are doing and what your customers are saying in the current marketplace. The best results are usually obtained by getting your feet wet. Try creating some content to gauge customer interest in particular topics. It can also be effective to invite some individuals whose demographics match your target market out for lunch. Interviewing a wide range of potential customers will enable you to see patterns that public information cannot reveal.

    The bottom line is that you need the right strategy before getting started. It is natural for people to feel inclined to just start taking action. Of course, action is ultimately a crucial driver of success. When strong motivation to take action is applied in an effective manner, the highest levels of success can be achieved.

    Assign Tasks to Each Team Member

    Superior results are always achieved when you work with other people. If you try to do all the work associated with your marketing campaign on your own, you can easily get burned out. Switching between different areas of work can also be difficult to do effectively, and there will usually be skill gaps that will reduce the quality of your work.

    Therefore, you should work with other people as part of your project. For some projects, you may need to work with dozens of people to deliver exceptional results. In other cases, you can work with just a couple of other people. Regardless of the path you choose, you should always work with people to stay focused and take advantage of specialization.

    Establish an Editorial Process

    Most of today’s customers find businesses by conducting online searches or through social media, so content will inevitably play a key role in your campaigns. When content is created, it is important to have editors to review work, make improvements, and ensure that all efforts remain focused on achieving the bottom line you are seeking.

    The editorial process that you choose will become an important element in determining the design of your marketing calendar since all team members will need to know when they are responsible for specific activities. Some of the team members who will need to take part in editing content include:

    • content curators,
    • data specialists,
    • editorial directors,
    • search marketing directors, and
    • website managers.

    Of course, you do not need to have one individual for every role listed above. Instead, you can have one team member take on several roles. However, for larger teams, you may have several members who are responsible for each role. Some roles can also overlap.

    Additionally, you will need people who are responsible for actually creating the content that will appear on your website and social media channels. Some of the content creation roles that are often part of marketing campaigns include:

    • content writers,
    • graphic designers,
    • videographers,
    • video editors, and
    • researchers.

    Marketing experts are also important team members who should be used to guide the efforts of your team. Other stakeholders who depend on the results of your marketing efforts should also have a role on your team. Some stakeholders, such as company executives or production managers, may need access to your marketing calendar to improve their decision-making. The bottom line is that you should strive to get as many people involved in your campaign as possible to take advantage of all available resources.

    Set Priorities for Your Campaign

    Setting priorities is crucial for keeping work focused regardless of what marketing channels you plan to use as part of your campaign. All of your activities should be focused on achieving the bottom line of earning more sales for your company. Unfortunately, the vast majority of marketers forget to remain focused on sales when they create content that is supposed to be informative in nature. It is true that modern search algorithms favor content that does not contain marketing messages, but driving revenue remains the goal of all marketing efforts.

    To succeed, you need to understand the key drivers of what makes your campaign achieve high performance. You can then focus on these drivers to get optimal results.

    Priorities for Content Marketing

    If you are focused on content marketing, most of the activities you schedule on your marketing calendar should focus on creating the right type of content that delivers results. Most products and services sold through content marketing involve complex buying cycles where sales are rarely earned at the first touchpoint.

    Therefore, content campaigns often get the best results when they focus on creating content that is designed to help buyers who are at advanced stages of the buying process. Content can also be created to target customers who have already purchased from your business. Likewise, you can also consider creating content designed to poach clients who are at advanced stages in the buying processes of your competitors.

    When you prioritize content that will actually drive revenue for your business, you are more likely to succeed in the long run. Nearly all businesses are focused on generating initial leads, but oversaturation is a serious issue when competing for rankings in search engine results pages. Strive to leverage differentiation to grab the low-hanging fruit that your competitors are missing.

    Priorities for Social Media Marketing

    In social media marketing, it is important to focus on the platforms that your customers are using. For instance, in the fashion industry, Instagram and Pinterest are often the most effective channels. On the other hand, if you are selling market research services, Twitter and LinkedIn are more likely to be used by your target customers. Your goal should be to use the social media channels that your customers are active on. You can also evaluate what your most significant competitors are doing on social media to find gaps that they are missing.

    Many social media marketers who are driven to start a marketing calendar do so because they plan to schedule posts across all of their social media channels. Post scheduling can save a lot of time, and it affords you the opportunity to create content in time-efficient batches.

    However, keep in mind that social media requires active engagement for optimal results. You should not, therefore, simply push out snippets about your products or general information about your industry. Some platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, can actually reduce your reach if you only post scheduled content. Instead, use your calendar to pencil in time for responding to comments, replying to trending posts, and posting new content about hot topics.

    Priorities for Email Marketing

    Email marketing is the most profitable marketing channel available in many industries. When using email marketing, you can reach clients directly in the inbox that they see every day. You can also use data you collect about user behavior to target people individually, and extraordinary results can be achieved when targeting is done in the right way.

    Scheduling is an important part of email campaigns. You will want to schedule some emails that will be sent out to all of your subscribers at the same time. For instance, if you have major promotions, events, or new products, you will probably want to send a message out to all your subscribers to inform them about the news. All of these messages should be included in your marketing calendar to make it easy to synchronize your email efforts with activities on other channels.

    To get the best results with email marketing, making use of marketing automation is crucial. You will want to leverage the data you collect about website visitors to segment email subscribers. You can then create email chains for each subscriber segment. For instance, you can establish a segment for subscribers who have visited pages that tend to attract people who are in the final stages of the buying process. These subscribers can then receive emails inviting them to talk to your sales team or providing them with exclusive information that is important at advanced stages.

    Priorities for Local Businesses

    Local businesses need to use a unique approach when promoting their brands through digital channels. Creating general content about your area of expertise usually will not get great results for local businesses because you specifically need to reach people in your local market. If you create content that is useful to people around the world, it is unlikely to bring in customers who are actually willing and able to buy from your local business.

    Reviews are a key driver of search rankings for local businesses, so marketers need to prioritize addressing what people are saying online. When your business gets negative reviews, you should always respond in a helpful manner to explain your side of the story or to convince a customer to take down a bad review. Local businesses should, therefore, include time on their calendars that is dedicated to responding to reviews.

    It is also important for local businesses to engage with local media to get the attention of members of the local community. Outreach to media leaders and journalists should be done on a regular basis. Participation in local events can help to increase your chances of being featured in local media. You can also intentionally take actions that are designed to help your local community in ways that local media organizations wish to cover. All of these media-related marketing activities should be scheduled on your calendar to stay organized.

    Plan How You Will Organize Your Marketing Calendar

    Now that you are ready to start creating your calendar, you should begin by deciding how you will stay organized. Start by considering the type of activities that need to be included on your calendar and the people who will see the calendar you create. In some cases, it can make sense to create multiple calendars so that people on your team only see the information that is relevant to them.

    Marketing calendars can be organized in many different ways. Some apps provide advanced functionality that can add smart features to your calendar. For instance, you can send notification emails to people who have been scheduled for certain activities, and they can confirm that they will be available. When you organize your calendar, you can use colors to denote specific types of activities. Most calendars let you change the color of entire time blocks, and this can be useful for highlighting days or hours that are pivotal in your campaign.

    If you plan to include many people on your team, you should reduce ambiguity by developing a consistent system from the beginning. You can then create a document that explains the meaning of colors, graphics, and other elements in your calendar.

    In many cases, it makes sense to schedule a meeting with all members of your team. You can then make sure that everyone is on the same page before getting started. Before starting your meeting, you should usually fill in the first couple of weeks of your calendar so that team members can see a real example of what your calendar will look like. Team members can then review their roles in the calendar to understand firsthand whether they clearly understand their assignments. These team members could also then provide feedback to improve your calendar.

    Create Your Marketing Calendar

    After completing all of the preliminary steps, you are now ready to actually create your calendar. When building a marketing calendar, you should strive to set up systems that will save time and improve consistency in the future. Many activities will be done on a recurring basis, so you can often copy and paste certain elements of your calendar into future weeks or months. For instance, if you plan to do a weekly blog post, you could schedule all activities associated with that post to be completed on the same day every week. If the same activities are done at the same time every week, team members will get accustomed to that schedule in a way that will boost performance.

    It can be tempting to attempt to plan out several months at a time. However, you should strive to keep your campaign as adaptive as possible. The direction of the actions you take should be guided by data collected from recent activity. For instance, if you have a blog post that is very successful with your audience, you might want to follow through with your initial success by publishing another post about a similar topic. If you have committed yourself to a rigid calendar, you will miss out on opportunities that arise. Therefore, most marketing experts recommend making specific plans for no more than the next three weeks.

    When building your plan, be sure to take advantage of data that you have gathered in the past. For content campaigns, you should rely on keyword research that you have conducted. Social media posts should generally conform to the same themes that have historically earned the most shares and mentions.

    Plans that involve other stakeholders may need to be created in consultation with other people. Some teams make their marketing calendars together during a meeting. Virtual meetings can be effective for creating a calendar since most calendar apps enable multiple users to make changes to a calendar in a collaborative manner. You could also consider messaging team members as you create your calendar to get quick feedback about specific issues.

    If you are tasked with creating a calendar for other people on your own, you may want to use a feedback loop to create an appropriate calendar. Consider sending a preliminary proposal to a member of your marketing team. You can then get feedback that can be used to refine your calendar in a way that will lead to better results.

    Creating a marketing calendar can take a lot of time, but adequate planning is necessary for getting good results. When people create marketing calendars for the first time, it is common for them to take several hours to complete their planning process. You also may need to make many changes as issues arise and as you get feedback from other team members.

    However, once you have successfully created an effective marketing calendar, you can generally continue to use the same planning process in the future. Consequently, if creating your initial calendar takes too long, you can assume that future calendars will take a lot less time to create. You will naturally get better at planning as time goes on, and many of the tasks established in your initial calendar can be copied in the future.

    Once your calendar is complete, be sure to share it with everyone who is affected by it. Most calendar apps can automatically notify anyone who is included in a calendar. Nevertheless, you should confirm that everyone has received a notification. It is common for contact information to be incorrect or for people to have filters in their inbox that block automatic notifications. If people do not respond to notifications that have been sent, follow up with them personally to confirm that they understand and accept the responsibilities assigned to them. 

    Continuously Improve Your Planning Process

    There are a wide range of approaches that can be used to plan a marketing campaign. For larger campaigns, you will want to try several approaches until you find what works best in your situation. Remember that some team members are likely to have experience in planning a calendar for other projects, so they may be able to provide suggestions about other apps or planning processes that could improve results. For this reason, the best results usually arise when teams collaborate to continuously improve their planning processes.

    After making your initial calendar, you should usually schedule a meeting with all of your team members. Ask them to come to the meeting with feedback about the marketing calendar that you created. This feedback may help to identify immediate changes that need to be made. Over time, gathering feedback can also help to refine the quality of your future plans.

    The bottom line is that planning a marketing calendar is ultimately a learning process. Thankfully, you can edit your calendar at any time, so you can always make changes if you make a mistake. Even the best plans will usually need to be modified many times as new information becomes available. The key to improving your calendar is to use data to identify when changes need to be made. For instance, if the first post in a series gets a lot of negative feedback, you may want to immediately cancel future posts in the series or even consider redoing the original post. When your planning process adapts to change in an effective way, you can get great results that will build sustainable value for your business.

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