A marketing calendar is an essential tool for aligning teams, creating accountability, and running a smooth marketing operation.
While yes, a marketing calendar should map campaigns to the dates they’re due, the better marketing calendars are integrated tightly with your goal and your results, giving you a birds-eye-view of your marketing, and answering:
- What is your goal?
- When does it need to be hit?
- What is the objective this month?
- What activity are we doing this month to hit that objective?
- Who is responsible for delivering what?
- How much is being spent and where?
- What do I need to do today?
- + more
With all the crucial information in one place, you can now wave goodbye to jumping between spreadsheets and project boards to unearth the information you need.
What is a Marketing Calendar?
A marketing calendar organises and schedules the full range of marketing activities you’re planning for the foreseeable future in one centralised location.
The marketing calendar is most impactful when implemented after developing your marketing strategy and marketing plan. Once you’ve established where you’re going and how you intend to reach your destination, you can then lay out the roadmap detailing everything you’ll need to streamline the journey as much as possible.
If you want full visibility over your end-to-end marketing program, including all the different marketing projects you’re currently running as well as the responsible owners and collaborators for every task, you should invest in a marketing calendar.
It’s also particularly useful for effectively managing project timelines and due dates. Planning fallacy — a scenario where you underestimate the timelines for delivering projects even though they’ve shown a tendency to take longer than initially planned in the past — isn’t as much of an issue. That’s because you’ll have all the data from previous marketing projected in a centralised location, which helps guide you when planning new projects.
Why is a Marketing Calendar Important?
Modern marketing calendars go beyond just mapping activity to dates. While this is the core functionality, some tools also help you to capture the results of your campaigns and map this to your goal.
Here are some of the benefits of a good marketing calendar.
Stressed-out teams that are under pressure don’t have bandwidth for the same level of creativity they normally would. If your daily routine is haphazard, deadlines won’t always be met and pressure builds — leaving little opportunity for inspired thought. In contrast, if time is being correctly allocated, your team members will be in a far better position to let their creativity flourish.
The most successful marketing teams are built on a culture of sharing ideas. A calendar is one of the best ways to get everyone synchronised and onboard, allowing individuals to see what other team members and departments are working on. This opens up a dialogue that facilitates collaboration and prevents the development of information silos
Minimise duplicate work & errors
Have you ever had two people mistakenly working on the same task? It’s not ideal but human error is bound to happen if you don’t have the right structures or support systems in place. A calendar will make sure that projects, tasks, and time are being allocated correctly, which diminishes duplication and avoidable errors while boosting overall efficiency.
It goes without saying that time is money for any business. If you have to go back and forth between applications, searching for information and trying to compile data from different sources, then you end up wasting time that could be spent more productively elsewhere. A well-organised and integrated calendar helps tackle this problem right at the source.
Imagine you are in charge of publishing blog content. One month your team publishes six articles, and the next month you publish two. This lack of consistency isn’t best practice and it’s usually just a time-management problem that is easy to solve. People forget to do tasks, or they get distracted by competing priorities. A marketing calendar will help your team stay on top of campaign schedules and reduce the likelihood of forgetfulness.
What Features Should You Look for in a Marketing Calendar?
Most marketing teams have some sort of marketing calendar but that doesn’t always mean it’s an effective one. If a team doesn’t have the right tools in place to create a coherent calendar, it can become messy and chaotic. An ineffective muddled calendar can even hinder planning and efficiency more than help it.
So what features should a successful marketing calendar include? Find out below.
Can you invite your team?Marketing calendars need to have a sync feature that enables updates for the whole team if one person were to make a change. Miscommunication and information silos between different units can slow down the entire department or company as a whole.
Is it easy to understand?Humans are visual creatures. Our ability to strategize works best if we can see the plan represented visually in front of us. An effective calendar should have clearly organised visuals, which convey schedules in a meaningful way.
Does it support your goals?Most marketing departments compartmentalise scheduling, planning and marketing objectives in separate applications. The modern marketer’s calendar, however, should incorporate goals, ideas, data and results all in one application, alongside your marketing timeline.
Does it integrate with your tools?Going back and forth between different applications is time-consuming and confusing. Imagine the amount of time you could save if you had a calendar that you could seamlessly integrate with other tools such as Google Analytics, Hubspot and Salesforce to align your marketing efforts.
How to Build Your Marketing Calendar
Creating a new, more effective marketing calendar doesn’t have to be difficult. Many tools exist to make the job easier and once you have set up your calendar, your team can update and maintain it with just a few clicks.
Here are a few steps to help get you started.
1. Pick the right marketing calendar software
No need to reinvent the wheel here. There’s software out there that’s specifically designed to make it easier for you to create a calendar. But all calendar platforms aren’t created equal.
As mentioned, a marketing calendar requires more than just mapping campaigns to dates, which is why off the shelf calendars like Google Calendar are a poor fit.
TrueNorth’s Timeline is a strong contender here. It was developed exclusively for marketing teams and centralises everything that is important for managing marketing in one place.
This helps people work cohesively, on schedule, and without losing track of the bigger picture.
2. Consider your team’s capacity to deliver projects
Time is indeed money, but rushed campaigns will just lead to poor ROI in most cases. Before filling your team’s schedule with tight deadlines, take a moment to consider what they are actually capable of producing. Sometimes the best way to do that is to simply ask them.
Consult with your team and perhaps organise an opinion poll, then use the information you gather to work out what the average productivity levels look like, without compromising on quality.
3. Consider your seasonality
Businesses generally experience revenue fluctuations throughout the year. There can be many factors that influence these seasonal changes. To plan your calendar optimally, you first need to identify what time of the year you do most of your business, and how that information should be utilised by your marketing department.
Some seasonal changes seem obvious. For example, you are marketing toys or electronics, and you know there will be a rush at the end of the year to target Christmas shoppers. But even in industries like SaaS, where solutions generally aren’t categorised as seasonal, there may still be important dates to consider. Let’s say you’re planning a marketing campaign targeting the accountancy industry. You’ll need to keep in mind that this audience must set up and integrate the software into their business well before the end of the fiscal year.
There are always many factors that influence customer buying habits, and in the COVID-19 era, this has never been more true. Lockdowns, border closures, and stay at home orders, all have a huge effect on business. These considerations can sometimes be difficult to predict, which perfectly leads into the next point — flexibility.
4. Factor in flexibility
Surviving the current climate requires a significant degree of flexibility. Modern businesses have never quite faced the issues they are currently experiencing. When “work from home” orders were first introduced, many companies felt like they had been upended. The ones that weren’t able to adapt suffered huge financial losses and some went under.
When creating a marketing calendar, it’s important to factor in unpredictability. Deadlines might have to be reshuffled and responsibilities may need to be shifted between team members. Absences caused by sickness have increased, so you may be delivering projects with a significantly reduced team. The principles of agile working have never been more relevant, so it may be worth getting back to the basics of the methodology while planning your marketing calendar.
5. Clearly define your goals
“We want to generate 1.5x more leads,” may seem like a reasonable marketing goal but how many leads will it take for you to reach certain sales targets? To properly define your marketing department’s goals, you first need to look at the business as a whole to determine the overall objectives.
Let’s say, your company aims to double revenue next year. You’ll need to consider the marketing effort it took to generate the amount of leads that helped you reach current revenue figures and then scale up from there. This will provide a more accurate indicator of the output required to reach next year’s goal.
It makes planning and scheduling your marketing campaigns much easier and a lot more intentional. Now you know that you must brainstorm ideas to run x additional campaigns to generate x leads who’ll convert to x customers that’ll create x more revenue. Now imagine you have a calendar that gathers all this information, including business goals, marketing experiments and results, all in one place. That’s exactly what a centralised marketing calendar looks like, which is why carefully selecting your platform is so critical.
6. Identify your marketing plan
So your goals are well defined and you’ve covered all the other steps. What comes next? This is the part where you define your marketing plan. First things first, you need to know what kind of budget you are working with. Thereafter, you can start planning marketing campaigns together with your team.
Collaboration is essential at this stage. Your team should be able to communicate easily — and with many offices now operating remotely, this is even more crucial. Make sure you have the right tech stack in place to enable your team to brainstorm naturally. This can be done face-to-face through video conferencing software, or via a more asynchronous approach, which many teams are benefitting from.
Once you have identified your key marketing campaigns, which should be tied directly to your marketing goals, you need to determine the timeline for each one. This should take into consideration everything you’ve already established in the prior steps. From there, you can start filling your calendar!
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Marketing Calendar
Avoid some of the common mistakes marketers make below when creating a marketing calendar.
Not expecting the unexpected
It can be tempting to fill every little gap in your calendar with tasks from the get-go. But then what do you do if something unexpected comes up that might impact your marketing strategy? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative event (hello COVID!). It could be something that presents an opportunity for your team. Maybe you work in crypto marketing and there has just been a big announcement — another country has decided to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender or maybe Elon Musk is just tweeting about Doge again. Suddenly, the markets go wild, and you need to get some up-to-date marketing pieces out fast.
If your schedule is too congested, you won’t have much leeway when it comes to keeping on top of changing markets. Allow some downtime in your calendar timelines to provide your team with extra flexibility.
Ignoring data & results
Sometimes, we get stuck in a rut. We know what we are good at doing, so we stick with that, and feel reluctant to leave that comfort zone. This is a trap many marketing teams can fall into. If you want to run an effective marketing program, you need to keep a close eye on the data to establish what is working, what is not, and how you can incorporate the necessary adjustments.
By integrating these aspects into your calendar, things will become much clearer. You can use the available data to prioritise campaigns and shift your focus to activities that are generating the best results.
Creating the calendar & not using it
Have you ever worked in a situation where management introduced a new platform that looked and sounded good, only for it to rarely be used or abandoned altogether? It happens more commonly than you think, and marketing calendar software is no exception.
The team knows the solution is there to support processes and it may even be updated regularly, but people are just not making use of it. This problem usually has one of two root causes. Either, the software is difficult to use, or they aren’t genuinely convinced about its purpose.
Getting buy-in to change the way people have been used to working for a long time is often a big challenge. However, when a new workflow process is clearly going to improve the daily lives of its users, they are far more likely to be receptive to the change and adapt to it quickly.
If the issue is fundamentally down to the specific software itself, this is easily fixable with the introduction of better software. There are so many options available today and you have the added benefit of testing potential products through free trials before making an outright commitment.
Losing track of your goals
You can get so busy putting the work into running campaigns that you forget why you’re runnin them to begin with. This can be a symptom of a siloed department, where the people in charge of establishing goals are cut off from the people actualizing them. In much the same way a workplace can become siloed, so too can a calendar.
If your calendar does not make any reference to your business goals, then team members can easily lose perspective. Solve this problem by using a calendar application that gives you a bird’s eye view of the bigger picture.
Marketing Calendars FAQ
1. How far ahead should you plan?
Your calendar should take into account your goals for the year. Once those are established, you can make things easier by breaking them down into monthly targets. Use these targets, to create a month-by-month calendar. Just ensure you regularly take the time to re-evaluate whether these timelines and schedules are working for your team.
2. What information should a marketing calendar include?
Your marketing calendar should include anything and everything relevant to your marketing team! The more obvious examples would be deadlines and schedules for content such as blog posts, social media ad campaigns, e-Books, email sequences and so forth. But you should also include events and seasonal changes that may affect your marketing strategies.
3. How can you integrate performance data into a marketing calendar?
It’s possible to integrate many different applications into your calendar with the right software. For example, TrueNorth’s integrated calendar platform can automatically pull in data from Google Analytics and Facebook Ads. This allows you to compile results from campaigns quickly without any hassle at all.
4. How do you know what marketing calendar software will work for you?
There’s a whole host of software out there to choose from. You need to consider what features you are looking for in a calendar to help you make the best decision for your particular requirements. We recommend choosing software that centralises multiple data streams and allows for easy collaboration between team members.
However, clear and aesthetically pleasing visuals should not be underestimated either. If you want your team to make full use of a calendar, it should be well designed visually as well as easy to use.
5. Who should you add to your marketing calendar?
The short answer is anyone who has any part to play in your marketing strategies. This usually includes marketing managers, copywriters, the design team, and often your stakeholders.
6. How long should it take to set up a marketing calendar?
While some calendar software is quicker to build a calendar with than others, it’s not an activity to be rushed.
In our experience, it can take 2-3 hours over the course of a week to build a good marketing calendar, taking into account the feedback, refinements and conversations that need to take place to ensure it’s going to be effective and stuck to.
Leverage a Marketing Calendar to Reach Your Marketing & Business Goals
There you have it! You’re now in position to plan a marketing calendar that works. It will streamline all the people, processes, tools, and assets that make up your marketing function and propel you towards your goals while providing full visibility of progress and results.
You can get a free trial of TrueNorth to see all the platform’s features and determine whether it’s a great fit for your marketing team.