plan your annual marketing calendar

2010 calendar

i’ll try not to add to the chorus of disbelief that the year is practically over and instead say: congratulations, we all made it another year! since the calendar allows us this time to regroup over the holidays and start fresh in the new year, i like to take a couple days sometime in december to do a year-end retreat. whether you get out of town to a new location to clear your head, or take a stay-cation right in your living room, it’s a good time to reflect on the past year, list out any new goals you’d like to incorporate, and chart out a marketing plan for the coming year. this not only allows you to take more control of your schedule, but you save money when you plan ahead, strategize on how best to attack these projects, and avoid rush charges.

if you’re not sure where to start in planning a marketing calendar, use these questions to get the basic framework going: does your business have any fixed dates for events or promotions you already know you’ll be working with? does your industry have any events your business participates in [or would like to]? are there holidays that you can use as a good excuse to reach out with a personalized communication? and alternately, where are the stretches where none of these things happen, and what can you do with them?

once you have these dates & events to work with, ask yourself what type of communication would work best in each case. a postcard? a promotional piece? email newsletter? a combination of a few of these? for promoting your own events, you’ll want to sketch out a specific promotion strategy, but for periodic points of contact, you can pick the best format for the occasion and try to switch it up so your market gets used to seeing the flexibility of your brand. for example, as a designer, sending my own cards on major card holidays is a given. i also commit to a monthly email newsletter, and i like celebrating seasons, so for me, that’s a good time to use a postcard. this means, aside from my monthly newsletter, my contacts are seeing something from me most months of the year.

for the stretches when you don’t really have anything planned is a good time to make something up! while my work is always accessible online & linked in my newsletter, i like to send out a little “what’s new” package of print samples every so often since most of my work is print matter. if you were thinking of offering a promotion, creating a unique piece that announces it and slating it for one of these months where you don’t have anything else going out is a good way to stay in touch. don’t be afraid to share something not related to business–share info on things you like, cool tools of the trade, or send a personal email inviting your colleagues to meet in person.

once you chart these out on a calendar, it should be pretty easy to balance your communications over a few media formats and evenly space them through the year. then the tough part comes: commitment! the surest way to get all these things out the door is to create production schedules at least 6 weeks out for each. but don’t fret–if you got to this point, you can plan certain pieces together and get them done early, consolidate projects and put a little more effort upfront and save time down the line. if you have questions about how to strategize your production schedule, drop me an email and i’ll show you where you can combine & conquer!

how to plan your holiday mailing

earthlink holiday card

it may seem that the last heat wave just left, but the change of the season is upon us and it’s time to start planning holiday gifts & mailings. The year-end holidays are a great time to take a minute out of the daily grind to show your appreciation and send something special to your partners, vendors and clients to acknowledge how much you appreciate working with them. in the grand scheme of your brand, client appreciation is an opportunity to expand your brand personality and strengthen relationships by showing people that you value them beyond the work you do together.

the best way to make sure this all goes off without a hitch is to plan ahead so you can strategize what you want to send, work with the designers and vendors you want, and avoid rush charges with vendors that are overloaded with the holiday onslaught. to make it easy, use this guide to consider your approach, decide what to send and source people who can make it happen.

1: define your recipient list
since the number of recipients will determine which items or print processes make the most sense, the first thing to do is sit down with your client & vendor list and determine how many pieces you’ll be sending. some of us have 20, while others will have 2000 and beyond. you’ll also want to determine if there are tiered groups within your list, such as clients and partners above a certain dollar amount or who comprise a majority of your business and time vs. contacts you wish to keep in touch with. if you have a long list of names, this will help you decide how to break it down and find solutions for each group of recipients at each level.

2. give yourself enough time
consider that printing and mailing alone will take about 3 weeks on a standard turnaround, and that you’ll want to beat the rush and mail by the first week of december. if you’re working with a designer on a print piece, you’ll want to allow at least a month for the design process [this is a rough estimate, but to insure you can get the results you want with the designer of your choice, over-estimate here]. similarly, if you are ordering cards or branded gifts, you’ll want to build in time to research the ideal gift and time to have it customized. the turnaround will vary from vendor to vendor, but again, plan on about a month. that means, yes, it’s time to get the ball rolling in early october.

3: consider the type of communication best suited to your brand
i’ll get it out of the way upfront: a few options i’m not going to focus on here are pre-packaged gift baskets or branded gifts that involve putting your logo on a gift item. there are endless resources for going that route, and if those are avenues you want to take, my only advice is to customize it as much as possible. send your baskets with a personalized card, and if you brand a gift with a logo, make it a useful & relevant item to your target market. there is also the choice to donate to a the charity of your choice, which is what earthlink did in the sample above, detailing the contribution in an insert with the card. since there are so many worthwhile organizations out there, my advice is to choose the one that’s right for you and send a little information about them to your recipients to raise awareness.

there are a few levels of personalized communications that i think are key for holiday mailings. the most universal is a designed card that shows your branding with a thoughtful message, something that can be sent to all levels of clients & contacts. if it isn’t in your budget to hire a designer and print a card, or if your quantity of recipients makes printing cost-prohibitive, before you run off to a big card company, consider shopping around in your design community or on a craft site like etsy for designers who do packs of original art for screen-printed or letter press cards in the quantity you need. look for something you identify with that will also communicate well to your clients.

if a holiday card was already in the budget and you want to go a bit bigger with a branded gift, consider some sort of holiday kit that will be useful, helpful & memorable with your clients. i have seen some really nice packages where companies partner to create joint gifts they can send to both company’s holiday lists. a great example was something we received from the department of graphic sciences last year, which included a branded coffee mug, a set of illustrated cards by the designers, and a pack of artisan brittle by morning glory confections. this gift was a great combination of something we could use with their logo, artistic objects we could send to our own colleagues, and some really unique sweets to enjoy, all of which promoted & introduced each partner in the process [and here i am talking about it nearly a year later]. check with your favorite neighborhood shops, local farmer’s market vendors, or contacts in your chamber or industry organization for artisan food or specialty item vendors you might click with. or leave it to us–your designer will be able to come up with some great suggestions.

this is really the branding part of the project, considering your constituents and finding that special mix of what sends the right message from your company and what hits your recipients in a way they’ll remember and appreciate. if you’re stuck on how to brainstorm on this, ask your employees. they often have relationships with your clients that you don’t, and can have great insight about gift ideas. if you want a more strategic approach, talk to your designer or brand strategist about how to extend your brand to your holiday gifts. we’ll be able to take your goals and corporate voice and personal connection to your clients, and create a memorable communication with everyone on your list.

4: get to work
if you have your list together and have some idea of where you’re ready to start, it’s time to get moving. if you have a designer on staff or on hand for these projects, make the call and put a production schedule on the calendar. if you need help finding the right designer, i have helpful information on how to find the right one for your business. or hey, you’re talking to one right now, ask away!

project breakdown: postcard mailings

creative seeds postcard earthlink postcards

depending on your business focus, postcard mailings can really work for you as part of a support mechanism in a marketing plan. while i don’t recommend them as the only means of promotion, they can be a way to keep in touch with existing and potential clients, reminding them of who you are and what you do, and serving as a portion of those 6-12 touchpoints you make before you get hired. in a slowing economy, they can also be one of the most cost-effective ways to get a print piece into the hands of your target market, so here is a run-down of things to consider when planning a postcard campaign with helpful hints on how to stretch your dollars where they count most to you.

plan out the year: one of the first considerations should be how many postcards should be in the campaign and when should they drop throughout the year? i like to do an alternate of focused promotions with generic identity awareness and match them to seasons, but if your industry has its own annual calendar, you may be better off synching with that. whether you are pushing up to an event with a drop every couple weeks or spreading them out monthly or quarterly for regular visibility, you will want to decide how many mailings you want to do and how many different versions should be included in the campaign for an overall print quantity.

choose a mailing list: whether you use your own or buy a list from a mailing house, you will want to review who you’re sending to and decide now if you want to add to it. a good mailing house will have a well-maintained list of current addresses sorted by major marketing demographics, so you can literally pick an area or sector or business focus and add them to your campaign. mailing houses usually charge per address and per use [a lower fee for 1-time mailings where you don’t get a copy of the addresses, and a larger fee to re-use for 1-year where you do get the records], so consider how many times you’ll use the list and choose the best deal.

choose a print process: now that you know the quantities you’ll need you can plan out what print process is for you. always over-shoot your print run to the maximum quantity you think you might need. implicit in printing are set-up costs, so the higher the quantity, the more the set-up is defrayed by the per-piece cost. for runs under 500, you’ll want a gang printer or digital printer who specializes in postcard printing. for runs between 500-1000 you can choose between gang, digital and offset, though the true value of offset may not become apparent until quantities above 1000. for gang & digital runs, you will be limited to process inks [cmyk], whereas offset can give you spot colors [pms or pantone] and coatings [uv, gloss, dull, aqueous, etc.]. any time you can print all your cards at once, do it. a printer can work with you on a shorter run if you can gang it all up at once, and they will reward you for planning ahead and being efficient if it saves them time and money as well.

environmental considerations: getting honest for a minute here, many postcards will be glanced at and likely end up in the recycling bin. more print shops are taking recycling and environmental concerns to heart, so you can choose a printer that makes this process relatively green-friendly. choose recycled paper, and avoid metallic inks or uv coatings [they don’t de-ink well in the recycling process]. and show off your good choices by printing the info in the small print of your card, throw a recycling logo on when applicable, thank your recipients for reading your material and remind them to recycle it appropriately.

postcard sizes
sizing and pricing: the last thing to consider is the size of your card and how it affects the mailing price. postcards of 6″ wide by 4.25″ tall and below fall into the 27¢ first class mailing rate, while any cards above that size will be given the standard letter rate. bulk rates start at mailing quantities of 500 and have many specifications and categories, so you will want to get a price based on your specific project, but overall, you can get your per-piece mailing price down to about 20¢ if you follow certain specifications. however, there is also a set-up charge for bulk mailings, so you will want to plan for a quantity well above 500 to make it worthwhile.

now you’re ready for design! of course, any good designer will make you aware of all these considerations, and help you plan them out in the course of developing a postcard campaign. use this guide as a check-list of all the points to hit when planning a budget. i’m happy to answer any questions you may have about postcard campaigns, please feel free to ask away!

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