Promotional Plan: How To Create An Effective Calendar To Improve Your Results

Promotional PlanAre you creating your promotional plan for 2021?

With health, economic, political and social disruptions, the later you create your plans, the better.

Because you’ll get a better understanding of this year’s results.

Also you’ll have more data upon which to base your future forecasts.


This is important since:
Effective budgeting depends on realistic forecasts in your promotional calendar. 

As a result, building an effective promotional calendar is closely aligned with the organization’s budget process.

At The Economist just before the Dotcom bust, I had to develop 3 marketing budget scenarios:

  • 25% increase in spend,
  • Flat spend, and
  • 25% lower spend.

50% decrease in budget (and it included my salary!)

Based on this year’s business challenges, assume your next budget will:

  • Be flat or
  • Decrease 25% or more. 

So review and revise your promotional plan after your marketing budget is finalized.


Promotional Plan: 10 Steps to Create an Effective Calendar

Develop your  promotional plan to yield maximum profitable results. To help you, follow these 10 steps to ensure your promotional calendar remains on track to achieve its goals.

Promotional Plan

1. Analyze Past Performance By Promotion

To create a successful promotional plan, start by understanding the actual results your marketing strategy yielded. 

Skip budget numbers unless bonuses are tied to these results.


Because budgets result from internal political maneuvers. So they don’t reflect reality. Also, they tend to change during the year to compensate for areas that under-perform or need unexpected investment.

Examine sales and fully loaded costs since these are the terms CFOs use. 

Analyze current year results against the prior year and budget. Break out information by relevant time periods such as weeks, months and/or quarters.

  • Examine promotional performance based on fully loaded costs. Look at current year versus prior year.
  • Look for trends and key changes in purchase behavior.
  • Assess which promotions perform better than others. Bear in mind, “Free Shipping and Handling” historically outperforms any other promotion. This is the rational for Amazon’s creation of Prime Membership.
  • Determine if specific promotions are wearing out. Over time, every promotion yields lower results. Although increased sales prices may keep them profitable.
  • Examine pricing. Include promotional changes and discounting to determine true profitability. With purchase search engines, don’t race to win for the lowest price. Instead find ways to add to the value of  your offering with the use of price increases and/or change how offering comparisons are made by customers.

Actionable Promotional Plan Tips:

  • Document factors that influence financial results. Include external events such as weather and internal influences such as installation of new technology.
  • Flag promotions to keep and to replace. Also review promotions you used in past years for inspiration.


2. Assess Competitive Environment for Promotional Plan

Analyze your competitive environment across key marketing elements. Include:

  • Direct competitors. Consider your competitors based on product and services. This is the product part of the Marketing 4Ps.
  • Different geographic locations and/or online platforms. In the process, assess the size of their followings, quality and depth of content marketing, and specific promotions. This is place element of the marketing 4Ps.
  • Substitutes and/or “free options.” Many businesses overlook these offerings due to “marketing myopia” as defined by Theodore Levitt. By rigidly defining your business, you don’t see the tradeoffs your buyers make.
  • Major players in the field. Always consider what Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are doing even if you don’t compete with them now.
  • Businesses based on similar technology and/or operational processes. Even though their current businesses may differ from yours, they may expand into your category when they seek new opportunities.

Actionable Promotional Plan Tips:

  • Determine how your competitors use their branding across devices, content formats and platforms.
  • Decide which consistent attributes will set your promotions apart from your competitors. 


3. Select Annual Events, Holidays and Seasonality in Promotional Plan

Realize that your promotional plan may not be aligned with your organization’s accounting and financial tracking.  And that should have no impact on your promotional planning!

  • US companies run on a calendar year from January through December. Although retailers start in February and run through January to avoid starting with post-Christmas returns.
  • Often European and Asian businesses start in April and end in March.
  • Or your organization may have its own year based on when it was started for tax reasons.

For most consumer-oriented businesses this translates to Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Always ask if this makes sense for your business.

Based on your target marketing personas and products and services, determine the annual events and holidays for your promotional plan. Where possible, make your choice based on the best promotional hooks. Ideally they will yield the most profitable sales.

Actionable Promotional Plan Tips:

  • Pick an annual theme. This is particularly important for B2B organizations where major holidays like Memorial Day don’t work.
  • Select one promotion per month. Use this rule of thumb so you don’t have too many promotions. BUT have a reason to drive buyers each month.
  • Add a company birthday. Instead of using your firm’s actual start date, choose a month that has no promotion. This is the reason Amazon originally created Prime Day. It drove Christmas level sales in July.


4. Determine Appropriate Promotional Plan Calendar

After developing your promotional plan calendar, select merchandise. Work with buyers and others where appropriate.

Make new products special for your audience. Offer a few of your new season products early to get shoppers to buy at full price. Also, keep a few of your items to add to your offering later in the season.

To maximize your marketing budget, take all of the photographs you need of each product at one time. So you have new photos to use during and after the season. As a result, your social media distribution marketing and promotions look fresh.

Give each promotion an Easy-to-identify name. It should make sense to your audience without supporting marketing materials to improve results.

For example:

  • “01022019 Promotion” doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside of your organization.
  • In addition,  “01022019 Promotion” confuses employees. What does it refer to?

Also, consider the timing of the promotion to maximize profitability.

For example:
Create pre-season sneak peaks and preview content for your best customers.
Offer these promotions at full retail. Although to entice buyers you can sweeten the deal by adding discounts for future non-sale purchases. 

Bear in mind, your pricing can’t discriminate against an identifiable specific group or demographic. Or you create legal AND/OR PR headaches.

Actionable Promotional Plan Tips:

  • Realize promotional results erode over time.  It yields lower response each time you use it. Higher prices and offering related product and/or services can increase sales per customer. Also, examine lifetime value of each customer segment to maximize profitability.
  • Allow promotions time to breathe. Have full price periods without promotions. Or buyers always expect deals.
  • Always keep must-have low priced related items at full price. 


5. Determine Promotional Plan Marketing Needs

After determining your promotional  calendar and related merchandise, develop a plan for marketing materials. Include content marketing, social media and other forms of promotion. Where needed, add paid promotion and advertising.

Promotion-related Content Marketing

Based on your promotions and product offering, determine the FAQ content you need based on customer questions. Also, supply “How To” content to help customers with product support and styling.

Offer relevant content based on your audience’s location, device and platform of choice and context of need. So include a variety of content formats to respond to hands-free and eyes-free situations.

Schedule Promotion-related Social Media Marketing

Determine how to present your promotions on relevant social media platforms. Include attention-getting headlines, photographs and video where appropriate.

Most promotion-related social media consists of content tailored by platform and paid social media. Look for related real time activities to support your promotions such as Twitter Chats and Live-streamed interviews and presentations.

Also work with employees engaged in social media to find additional opportunities to include your promotion. For example, pinned social media posts and business profiles.

Paid Promotion

Support your promotional calendar with paid advertising. Beyond optimizing your website, blog and other owned media, add paid offerings. At a minimum, use Facebook advertising to gain detailed data about your target audience and to find look-alike audiences.

Where possible determine the potential for co-marketing with frenemies and/or peers. For example, you each run a promotion for the other. As a result, you have no cost for that promotion.

Actionable Promotional Plan Tips:

  • Include the cost of paid promotions and advertising into your promotional costs.  Since they have an impact on your profitability. Also know what level of response you need based on advertising costs.


6. Audit and Evaluate Existing Marketing Materials

Before creating any content, social media and/or paid marketing for your promotional plan, audit your existing content marketing and related materials. Where it makes sense, examine materials across your organization.

Since you may find content, social media posts and/or promotions that already exist.

So you can use, update and/or re-imagine existing materials. This saves marketing resources and budget.

Actionable Promotional Marketing Tips:

  • Develop a plan to update, combine and/or revise quality marketing. This includes content marketing and other promotional materials.
  • Determine where you have gaps that need to be filled. These occur due to shifts in marketing focus so you need new content. Or, existing marketing was of poor quality.


7. Determine Internal Promotional Plan Schedules

After creating your promotional plan and related marketing, develop a project schedule. Add a buffer for unexpected delays. This is particularly important for new promotions and work outside of your authority.

Then, share it with your marketing team and other employees, agencies and freelancers involved.

Your goal:
To ensure everyone involved knows what is expected, when it is due, and how results will be tracked and assessed. 

Actionable Promotional Plan Tips:

  • Include interim checks to keep your promotional calendar on track for success. Remember people have a lot to do. So your project may wait until the last minute.


8. Create Connected Content and Customer Journey Materials for Promotional Plan

Where possible include promotionally-related marketing off-ramps in the form of connected content. At a minimum, keep your branding, text and voice consistent to improve the customer experience.

Make connected content accessible from any page on your owned media and/or other platforms. This includes purchase pages since buyers may have questions they need answered to complete their purchase. Also allow buyers to use any device or content format they prefer. 

Include these 5 connected content options:

  • Related content links, 
  • Landing pages, (micro-sites and “Thank You” pages),
  • “About Us” pages,
  • “Contact Us” pages, and/or
  • Persistent chat.
Connected Content

Here are the 5 types of connected content to use with marketing off ramps.

Actionable Promotional Marketing Tips:

  • Offer your audience a choice of options. BUT don’t give them  TOO many options.  If  they feel like the decision is hard to make, they leave instead of making a choice. And this results in “no sale.”


9. Track Promotional Plan Results on a Regular Basis

Before launching each promotion, make sure it contains a call-to-action and related promotional tracking. Otherwise you can’t measure results.  

Monitor your actual results against your budget and forecast on a regular basis. The frequency and timing for checking depends on your business and platform.

To calculate your sales for the full year:
Use run rates as a quick rule of thumb.

RUN RATE = (Actual Year-To-Date Sales / # of Months) * Remaining # of Months

Overlooks seasonality. This matters when Christmas or other event drives a lot of  sales.

Determine your promotional costs. Also assess variable and fully-loaded costs to-date. Because:

  • Short term, you must cover your variable costs and,
  • Long term, you must cover all of your costs.

Actionable Promotional Marketing Tips:

  • Use past year sales to support your revenue and expense projections. Actual sales take into account billing and payment differences as well as seasonality. This can improve your forecasts. Because management will always choose to use the numbers they like best, even if it’s a fast estimate made to fit a tight timeframe need.


10. Modify Future Promotions Based On Year-To-Date Results

Continually reassess your promotional calendar based on actual sales results. Then make changes where needed

So plan backup promotions in case an early promotion fails or a gap in sales occurs.

At Bertelsmann, I face these issues due to factors beyond my control.

  • Supplier changed product despite customer orders. So we lost all of the sales.
  • Incremental flyer discounted 50% the main direct mail offer. Since it was added after the final review, it didn’t caught until orders came in. So, it reduced profits.

Actionable Promotional Take-Away:
Maximize every element of your marketing to increase sales. 

Where possible, use excess product in inventory to lure your audience to buy.

Beware of promoting products that get sent and booked after your sales period ends. 

At Bertelsmann, we were told to promote the not-yet-released Harry Potter” book. While this appeared to be a sound idea because Harry Potter ALWAYS generated high sales. In this case, however, we wouldn’t book the sales until 7 days after our financial year closed since it wasn’t published yet!

Actionable Promotional Marketing Tips:

  • Hide budget for additional promotions and/or marketing materials. Always expect your marketing budget to get cut. Across business types and sizes, management always believes marketing has excess money!
  • Adjust future promotions to make up for shortfalls. Create related specials to increase average sales per customer.


Promotional Plan Conclusion

To ensure your marketing achieves its maximum potential for profitable sales, develop a promotional plan.  

Then integrate it into your content marketing, social media and paid promotion where relevant. 

At the same time, work with other cross-organizational teams so  all of the necessary elements of each promotion are in place ahead of your promotional schedule. Don’t forget to add a buffer for delays. They always happen regardless of how good your planning is!

Bear in mind that while it’s optimal to have high performing promotions cycle after cycle, often this isn’t feasible since things happen beyond your control.

To minimize the impact of these last minute issues and/or changes continually monitor the effectiveness of your promotions-to-date. 

So you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities to improve the profitability of future promotions.

Often this translates to creating last minute promotions on the fly.

BUT don’t worry!

You can handle them if you’ve used this list to prepare!

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Editor’s Note: This article was extensively updated on December 3, 2020. The original post was written in 2013.

Photo: cc zero.

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.


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