An Ecommerce Marketing Calendar for Sustainable Growth with the Four-Peaks Theory

by Taylor Holiday

Apr. 08 2021

What drives your growth?

That’s a huge question, I know. Before you answer, let me narrow down your options.

First, you’re only allowed to use numbers — hard data.

Second, an either-or hypothesis. Either story and marketing drive growth. Or, your ad account.

For most ecommerce businesses, it’s the ad account. And that dependency on paid media creates an ugly catch-22: an addictive, codependent cycle littered with lower and lower returns.

How do you break free?

Answer: An ecommerce marketing calendar that makes the most of your peaks without interrupting cash flow in the valleys.

Sneak a peek into the ecommerce marketing calendar breakdown …
  1. What Ecommerce Marketing Calendars Get Wrong
  2. Why You Need a ‘Four-Peaks Theory’ Instead of Two
  3. How to Plan for Growth: Three Strategies to Fill the Gaps
  4. When to Launch: Major Holidays, Plus 🗓 Automated Template
  5. Who Really Determines Your Events & Stories? (Hint, Not You!)
Ecommerce Marketing Calendar Using the Four-Peaks: Events Calendar with Zapier automation to create Asana tasks
The Ecommerce Marketing Calendar Template includes a Google Sheet of every US and global holiday + prebuilt Zapier automations to sync work-back schedules and Asana

What Traditional Ecommerce Marketing Calendars Get Wrong

If you were to survey most ecommerce businesses, you’ll see they rely on a two-peaks revenue model.

Twice a year they experience massive spikes in revenue. These spikes center around the traditional Q4 season plus an additional gifting moment — usually, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.

In fact, you don’t have to survey anyone.

Because we own and operate multiple ecommerce brands, we can show you exactly what this looks like behind the scenes.

FC Goods sells hand-crafted, vintage baseball glove wallets. We acquired the ecommerce brand in 2018 and saw a 15,500% ROI after we sold it in 2020 (seriously).

Its product is tailor-made for gifting. So, its calendar majored on two moments — and two moments only. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Father’s Day:

the traditional marketing calendar for most ecommerce businesses include two peaks

Between those peaks lay valleys where ad spend, return on ad spend (ROAS), and overall growth declined.

Were we different advertisers in the low points? Were we worse at our jobs? Did we make less awesome social media ads than at any other period of the year?

Of course not.

Some of our most creative work was forced to happen there because there was no story, narrative, impetus for purchase.

What you’ll see in your own ad account is spend volume following this graph:

traditional marketing ad spend volume over time for ecommerce businesses

The question you have to ask …

Is the ad account driving the moment or is the moment driving the ad account?

In the case of FC Goods, it was the latter. Conversion rates spiked in key gifting periods … then, essentially flatlined.

With these spikes comes increased risk due to decreased cash flow. By not relying on accurate forecasts, you run the risk of under or overspending on inventory.

Peaks require more inventory. Unfortunately, cash runs low immediately before you really need it.

the traditional marketing peaks examined (why you need to move to the four-peaks ecommerce calendar)

Why You Need a ‘Four-Peaks’ Marketing Calendar Instead

To combat these scenarios, we use the Four-Peaks Theory to shape our own marketing calendars as well as the calendars of our clients:

Year-round growth comes from a calendar with at least four peaks.

Four-Peaks Theory of an Ecommerce Marketing Calendar: Revenue over Time

With this model, you to take advantage of the traditional holiday season, major gifting celebrations, and both cultural moments as well as product events.

You get a calendar that drives performance through storytelling and imperative purchase opportunities.

How to Create a Calendar for Growth: Three Strategies to Fill the Gaps

When creating your calendar, there are three strategies that will help you choose the right peaks. They center around …

  1. Holidays
  2. Cultural moments
  3. Cyclical product releases

The goal is to align with your customers’ needs. To provide them with what they want without relying on deep discounts.

Once you’ve identified existing high points, you can start filling in your off-seasons. To form your peaks, alternate between two holidays and two cultural moments.

Let’s take a look at the major holidays that can help you complete your calendar.

When to Launch Marketing Campaigns, Plus 🗓 Automated Template

To make this process easy, we’ve created an automated Ecommerce Marketing Calendar. In it, you’ll find:

  • A list all US and international holidays
  • Two prebuilt “Zaps” for setting work-back timelines
  • And another Zapier integration to add your selected events into Asana

Get the marketing calendar sheet and automation for your ecommerce business

Q1: First Peak

New Year’s Day

The top of the year focuses on one big idea — new beginnings. New Year’s Day is one of the best marketing environments for health, wellness, and sports brands.

Use this time for product launches and brand-awareness campaigns that will attract new customers and retarget existing customers from Q4.

In early 2021, Lululemon launched an entire collection for the Lunar New Year to do exactly that.

ecommerce brand Lululemon builds a peak into their marketing calendar with a Lunar New Year collection

Just last week, another one of our brands — Modern Fuel — took an unconventional approach:

  • Kickstarter
  • SMS + email for customers
  • And Facebook ads for prospecting

“I wanted a big event where I could manufacture a peak in Q1.”

— David Rekuc, Brand Manager at 4x400

Ecommerce brand, Modern Fuel, uses a Kickstarte‪r campaign to manufacture a peak in Q1 of its marketing calendar
On top of not one but two Twitter threads, David shared the behind-the-scenes details on our Ecommerce Playbook Podcast, “How to Launch a Product on Kickstarte‪r”
Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to jumpstart first-quarter sales. It’s one of those holidays where customers are obsessed with shopping. While jewelry stores see a lot of action, other industries such as sporting goods, apparel, and beauty also get tons of traffic.

Keep in mind that Valentine’s Day isn’t solely about romantic relationships. Platonic friendships, self-love (think Galentine’s Day), and even familial relationships are celebrated, too.

Most purchases fall between February 8-11 so running promotions early is critical when planning.

Q2: Second Peak

Memorial Day

For Memorial Day, anything from food to clothing to home furnishing works best to boost your peaks. Just make sure you are drawing strong parallels to patriotism.

Gifting isn’t typical. Rather, discounting dominates.

Born Primitive, on the other hand, has a large military customer base. Memorial Day is ingrained in its brand. It uses this time to honor veterans and support military personnel.

The spirit of Memorial Day came alive in its 2020 campaign.

Memorial day campaign from ecommerce brand Born Primitive solidifies their stance as active supporters to US troops year round

Mother’s Day

With $26.7B in sales, Mother’s Day is the third-largest retail event in the US. One thing to remember, mothers come in many different forms. Your brand should be sensitive to that fact.

Mother’s Day can also drive organic traffic through content marketing — social, email, and blogs about the mothers your customers love.

Bambu Earth, our fastest-growing in-house brand, asked customers to share their Mom Stories. It was one of those “hit you in the feels” kinda campaigns.

Mother's day campaign build's a peak in Q1 of ecommerce brand Bambu Earth's marketing calendar

Father’s Day

Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day presents a great gifting moment. It also helps that both holidays run back-to-back. This develops an environment for a successful Q2 peak.

Stay inclusive and focus more on the essence of fatherhood versus what you think fatherhood looks like.

FC Goods used its “Past Time Custom Program” to tell Ray Cordova, Jr.’s amazing story. He was the first person to receive custom wallets made from his late father’s baseball gloves. The wallets were then personally delivered to his house.

Q3: Third Peak

Summer Season

The start of summer is an ecommerce event all of its own. This is where brands are heavily pushing beachwear, summer fashions, and footwear.

Essentially, it’s a race to make an impact before the midway point. Then, push sales to clear out remaining inventory.

Third Peak in your marketing calendar: summer sales from ecommerce brands DIFF, West and Willow, and QALO rings

Back to School

Although back-to-school shopping took a major hit due to schools closing during the pandemic, it can still be a major moment for building stories around the new school normals.

Ecommerce tech and supplies retailers should take full advantage of this by recreating what back-to-school shopping feels like.

Trends for fashion ecommerce brands look a bit different now. Nonetheless, opportunities to be creative in marketing campaigns still exist.

ecommerce marketing calendar Q3 peak: Back to School promotions from APL, Baboon to the Moon, and Chich Geeks

Q4: Fourth Peak

For most ecommerce brands, Q4 is the big show.

During this time, we have Halloween, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.

Even though sales reign supreme, your holiday marketing can be built around a variety of deal structures:

  • Sitewide discounts
  • Selected SKUs or collections
  • Free gifts with purchase
  • Buy X, Get Y (BOGO)
  • Tiered savings based on spend

DTC Holiday Offers by Discount and Deal Structure

Data from 400+ of the most-successful ecommerce holiday campaigns during last year’s BFCM

Amid all that, there’s room to squeeze in a feel good story or two.

Milano Di Rouge crafted a fun and nostalgic take on the hit sitcom Family Matters for its Black-Friday campaign. Instead of pushing a sale, it gave its audience memorable vibes they could feel.

Who Really Determines Your Events & Stories? (Hint, Not You!)

Where does your story exist? How do you think about this in a way that’s going to help your cashflow?

Your calendar doesn’t have to exclusively focus on running sales or pushing products.

Storytelling is how you humanize your brand. Particularly, unconventional stories. During the holiday season, instead of pushing big promotions, Amazon went with a feel good message in its “The Show Must Go On” ad.

Customers get a crystal clear view into what they value most — dependability — even during a pandemic.

Mirroring those sentiments, Nike inspired and motivated by highlighting its customer’s resiliency in You Can’t Stop Us.

“We know things won’t always go our way but whatever it is, we’ll find a way.”

In the fashion industry, stories come alive through intricately planned fashion shows where new product launches take center stage.

What happens to the story when no shows are allowed?

Most fashion behemoths opted out. In contrast, Hanifa — a Philadelphia based fashion house — leaned into the new regulations by bringing the story of African seamstresses directly to its customers.

No travel necessary. No bodies either.

For the launch of the Pink Label Capsule Collection, Hanifa created a COVID-compliant, digital fashion show complete with virtual models.

As a luxury brand, deep discounts aren’t a part of the APL marketing calendar.

Instead, it launched special edition shoes for Breast Cancer Awareness month  — offering 25% off on International Women’s Day. That one day made up 4% of its annual revenue: a glowing achievement, considering Nov. contributed 16% in total.

Hone in on what your customers care about. Give them a memorable experience surrounding that.

So, what really drives growth?

It’s not the ad account. At least, it shouldn’t be. Your ad account can, however, show you where your needs are: the valleys.

It’s up to you to raise those valleys with the Four-Peaks and an Ecommerce Marketing Calendar.


Taylor Holiday is the CEO of Common Thread Collective. A former professional baseball player who lucked into entrepreneurship over a decade ago, Taylor lives in Southern California with his amazing wife and three kids — “who are my world.” He’d love to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn.