How to Create a Marketing Calendar [with Free Google Templates]
This blog is all about de-stressing the process of creating a marketing calendar and helping make content planning second nature to you.
I hope that after you’ve read this compilation of tips from myself and my teammate Arta, you’ll see that a marketing calendar is nothing but a pattern of posts repeated for as long as it works. When it stops working, find a new pattern.
Heads up that for the sake of brevity, the examples in this blog mostly relate to social media; however, the principles of planning can be applied to other channels too.
At the end of the read, there are two Google templates waiting for you, both based on what we use at Printful:
- A content calendar template in Google Sheets for your posting schedule
- A Google Docs template for archiving your content copy and visuals
Here we go!
Let’s work together for a better 2021
2020 has been a harsh reminder that things change.
In the past, the marketing year revolved around sales spikes—especially the end-of-the year ones.
Now, with fewer holiday gatherings to prepare for and an even bigger fraction of our lives happening online, it’s predicted that “shopping patterns will feel longer and flatter.”
This means holiday shopping events may start sooner than before, overlap with one another more, and their marketing angle may also shift.
Sales and discounts, however, will always be expected. So, for retailers, the new rules are: be flexible and offer value way beyond the deal.
When planning your campaigns for the upcoming year, remember that people are anxious, tired, celebrating less, and looking to brands for comfort. Use your brand voice to encourage your customers to enjoy themselves while keeping health and safety a priority.
Now, back to the content calendar.
Why a marketing calendar is important
Marketing isn’t just a series of sales dates.
It’s a pattern of marketing activities that shape your presence as a brand, and a marketing calendar is an excellent way to keep track of that pattern.
To keep your business running and audiences interested, combine sales campaigns with awareness campaigns. Both of them will boost engagement, but in different ways.
How to tell the difference between awareness and sales campaigns?
- Sales: you can instantly tell what product/service/deal is being promoted; the post singles out a product/service offered by the brand
- Awareness: you feel a vibe; the post focuses on promoting the brand as a whole without blatant product/deal plugs
Compare the two Fenty examples below.
In this first post, there’s a photo that features several products, but there’s nothing visually or textually singled out. It’s all about the vibe + a commentary on the current events. This is awareness.
Below, the focus is clearly on white denim: both in the visual and the copy. This is sales.
To help you keep your account consistent, I think it’s useful to decide on the basic pattern you’re going to offer your followers:
- Sales posts (deals, promos, offers, etc.) with awareness posts sprinkled in
- Awareness posts (BTS, “caption this,” throwbacks, etc.) with sales posts sprinkled in
Knowing this basic pattern will help you figure out your post frequency and keep your content consistent. And your audience will feel comfortable, knowing what to expect from you.
What a marketing calendar should include
Before you get to brainstorming and scheduling your sales and awareness posts, make sure you have the general goals of your content figured out.
This will lead you back to thinking about your brand core: what matters to your business, what matters to your audience, and what issues you want to solve with your product or service.
Once you feel your brand vibe in your bones, map out the following:
- The channels where you want to post
- email, social media, storefront, blog, etc.
- The metrics you want to improve
- follower count, engagement, conversions, etc.
- The sales campaigns that make sense for you
- must-have holidays to include in your marketing calendar
- deals and discounts specific to your brand
- The brand awareness campaigns you want to go for
Marketing calendar map: an example
Here’s a content map based on my experience creating campaigns for Startup Vitamins, the ecommerce store that led to its team founding Printful.
Startup Vitamins sells inspirational posters, mugs, stickers, and other merch for office workers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who likes getting positive reminders to get out there and do their thing.
Here’s what mattered to Startup Vitamins as a business back then:
- Getting orders
- Getting new customers
- Keeping customers engaged
What mattered to the audience:
- Straightforward approach to marketing
- Regular discounts and offers
- Simple, yet stylish products that are always available
An issue we were trying to improve:
- Customers not being very engaged (they were buying products, but not engaging with our brand in many other ways)
The more customers engage with your business, the more connected they stay with your brand, and the more likely they are to buy and recommend your products.
The channels we were posting on:
- Mostly email, Facebook, and Instagram
- Pop-ups and banners on the store website
The metrics we were targeting to improve:
- Getting more reactions (likes, shares, comments) on our social media posts
As for the sales events we were going for, these were the must-haves:
- No-brainer global shopping events:
- New Year’s (everyone likes the idea of a fresh start)
- Black Friday Cyber Monday (folks stocking up on motivational holiday gifts for their teams and business partners)
- The holiday season
- National holidays where our audience (mostly US-based) would expect a deal:
- Independence Day
- Big events that could be tied in with the Startup Vitamins brand:
- Mother’s Day
- First day of school (not just for school kids, but also college students getting ready for fall semester)
If there was time, we also ran campaigns for other fun, on-brand shopping events:
- Valentine’s Day
- Small Business Saturday
- Free Shipping Day
Following this example, use our ecommerce holiday calendar to pick the shopping events and national holidays that suit your audience:
- include the events that are relevant and on-brand
- remove no-go dates such as remembrances and commemorations
Remember that any holiday campaign can work for your store as long as it’s targeted, well-meant, and thought-out.
How to schedule content campaigns
At this point in the mental preview of your marketing calendar, you should have an idea of your:
- major shopping holidays
- global shopping events specific to your brand
- sales campaigns specific to your brand
- non-promotional awareness campaigns
When finding a spot for all these in your calendar, remember that a successful campaign takes time and effort.
For starters, it’s likely your audience follows you on several channels at the same time, so every channel has to contain slightly different content, copy, and visuals: even if it’s for the same campaign. Otherwise, customers can quickly become overwhelmed or bored.
However, don’t spread yourself too thin, and focus on the channels that work for you. No need to cover every channel out there!
Next, a good campaign needs to build like a story. You have to tell it long enough for your customers to hear about it, share it, and react to it.
Here’s a sample outline for what a week-long sales campaign might entail on a single channel:
- A teaser a week before the launch (and a possible teaser repromo)
- The campaign launch
- Regular campaign repromos with enough breathing room
- For a week-long campaign, go for three repromos
- Make each repromo different (e.g. vary your own content with user generated content): it’s more professional and less salesy
- The last chance offer
- Possible extension of offer
- Possible FOMO post about the campaign for people who missed it
So, to make sure everyone gets the message, it can take up to 3 weeks to get the most out of a week-long campaign. More complicated campaigns involving giveaways and collaborations may take longer.
In the Startup Vitamins example, we had 7 basic shopping holidays to cover.
With 52 weeks in a year, 3 weeks per campaign, and 7 sales campaigns to target, that boils down to 21 weeks of the calendar gone on essential promos alone, leaving 31 weeks for minor sales and brand awareness campaigns.
That’s the time for entertaining, inspiring, sharing, and caring.
Decide which of those you want to do and begin work on the awareness bit of your post pattern. You could decide, for example, that:
- Mondays are for behind-the-scenes
- Wednesdays are for discussions with your community
- Saturdays are for some laughs and a bit of fun
Once you have a pattern, it’ll be easier to come up with post ideas and you can save time by preparing campaigns in advance.
Bend the rules to fit your needs
Sticking to your marketing calendar is great: for some of your channels, it’ll run like clockwork. For others, it’s better to keep an open mind.
My teammate Arta, Printful’s Social Media Team Lead, told me that scheduling-wise, some of your channels may be more fixed and others more flexible.
For example, at Printful, our Facebook account is a rather fixed channel. What’s planned on there rarely gets moved around too much.
Instagram, on the other hand, is a flexible account. Our marketing calendar serves as a guideline for the team, but Instagram dictates a few rules of its own.
Because Instagram is all about eye candy, sometimes Arta and the team adjust the schedule so the sequence of posts not only informs, but also looks good in the feed.
Social media scheduling apps like Later and Planoly even have an Instagram preview feature to help you double-check that your posts still go together. If they don’t, you can rearrange any placement on the feed or calendar, and the app will reschedule the post automatically.
However, you don’t even need an app for that: you can make a 3 x 3 table in a Google Doc, post in the thumbnails of your upcoming posts, and play around with the order until you’re happy with it.
If rearranging your posts doesn’t help though, consider revisiting some of the posts and redoing their visuals.
How often you should post social media content
To answer, follow this quick little exercise.
Think about the last few times you opened a social media account of a store or coffee shop to double-check they exist/are open.
How did it feel to see their last post was a month ago? Or six? On the flipside, how did it feel to see the last post was a day ago?
And there’s the answer: post as frequently as can, so your audience can be sure you’re a real, trust-worthy, followable business. It makes perfect sense: the more you give your customers that good stuff, the more they’re going to want it anyway.
According to Arta, the rule of thumb for all social media these days is: at least one quality post a day.
For both social media algorithms and content consumers, the more regular quality content, the better.
If you’re just starting out and time and resources are scarce, Arta suggests going for every other day and slowly working your way up to daily posts (and eventually more).
While you’re tweaking your content pattern, monitor your audience’s reactions. If you don’t see the engagement and reactions you’re looking for:
- You might be doing too much of the same thing
- You could be overdoing it with the sales campaigns
Keep experimenting until you see something that sticks. When it stops working or when you’ve reached the goal you’ve set, try something new!
Enjoy your free marketing calendar templates
You’ve almost reached the downloadable calendar and content archive templates.
Before you get to them, remember: the more useful you find your tools, the more you’re actually going to use them.
For both templates, choose a combo of fonts, font sizes, and colors that speaks to you.
Then, figure out how you’re going to label the content, both in the Sheets template and the Doc. It could look something like this:
- Post type | campaign/theme | person in charge (if you work in a team)
- Educational | productivity tips | Marianna
- Sales | hoodie discount repromo | Arta
In your content file, post all your content copy as well as previews for the corresponding visuals (no need to store the visual files on there, but it’s handy to paste in an image preview to get a better picture of past posts). This will prove super convenient for studying your patterns and recycling content: just hit Cmnd/Ctrl + F and search by keywords.
To keep both files close, I recommend leaving a URL to the Doc in the Sheets file and vice versa.
And that’s all I have to say about that. Download the files below, import them to Google Docs/Sheets, and you’re all set!
Best of luck creating your next marketing calendar, and let me know in the comments about any other tips you’d like to share with our readers!