2005 Review--Evaluate your e-mails over the past year, individually and as a group. What worked and what didn't? What did you learn from testing and analysis of your response data? What trends do you see when you compare last year with previous years? How does your program compare with those of your competitors? What do the answers to these questions lead you to recommend or try next year?
Industry Average Comparison--Everyone will tell you that you shouldn't concern yourself with incompatible industries and campaigns, and they'll issue dire warnings about differing methods of data collection. Still, every client or manager wants something to compare their program to. Whatever programs you use for this purpose, take care to compare apples to apples.
Industry Trends and Best Practices--The great thing about e-mail marketing information is that it's so easy to find. Every E-mail Service Provider and most interactive marketing agencies have e-mail intelligence, frequently in the form of white papers, on their Web sites. Condensing all the information available into an overview that's relevant to your business is a useful exercise for any e-mail practitioner. Attending an industry conference, like the recent OMMA East, is also a great way to contemplate your program away from the distractions of the office.
2006 Goals--This is one element of your plan that you don't have to develop. Ask your clients or manager to define their top three goals for the e-mail program, preferably in the context of the company's overall goals.
2006 Planning--Having reviewed, compared, defined and contemplated, you're now ready to make big plans for next year. Start by identifying a few key customer segments, and then develop ideas to attract, delight or win them back. Consider process issues that have wasted time and frustrated your team. To help deal with such issues, I am a huge fan of the "Six Thinking Hat" method described by author Edward de Bono. A day with his book and a few hours with your team will yield more good ideas in a short time than you thought possible.
Putting all your work into some type of presentation format serves to distill the learning, yields a record of your 2005 program and sets the course for 2006. Now you know both where you're going and how to get there.