In this week’s Princh Library Blog post, library marketing expert Cordelia Anderson shares her insights into what libraries can do to improve awareness and customer engagement by taking a more strategic approach to library marketing.

I spend a lot of time talking about library marketing. For five years, I’ve been working as a marketing and communications consultant, primarily working with libraries across the US and Canada. And over and over again, I run across the same challenges. Everyone seems to agree that libraries need to raise awareness about their services and the value they provide to society, but nobody can quite agree on how.

If I had to speculate about why this problem exists, I think there’s a fundamental disconnect between the library profession’s approach to marketing and how marketing actually works. Most library degree programs do not provide or require marketing and communications training. And when this information is provided, usually as professional development provided by conferences, associations, or other entities, the focus is on tactics. How to design a flyer, make a newsletter, or create that next viral social media campaign. They don’t often teach the process behind marketing, which is absolutely necessary if you want your tactics to be successful in raising awareness, increasing usership or growing customer engagement.

Marketing is much more than tactics. At its core, marketing is a management function that identifies human needs and wants, and then offers products and services to meet those demands. So, in order to be successful at marketing, you need to start with the needs and wants of the people, communities and/or organizations that you serve. Then, your library needs to determine how you are going to meet those needs and wants. (Often, that is accomplished with a Strategic Plan, which is meant to bring everyone into alignment about what you’re trying to accomplish and how.) Only then can you identify the strategies and tactics needed to reach your audiences with information about how your library can help them.

If you start with the tactics, it’s like building a model of a house starting with the wallpaper. It may look pretty, but there’s no structure underneath it. So where should you start?

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Start with research. This will allow you to identify your audiences and determine their needs and wants. First, brainstorm who your audiences are. I like to divide them into three categories: internal (staff, faculty, board, volunteers, etc.), external (customers, potential customers, students, community members, etc.), and funding stakeholders (decision-makers who control your library’s funding). There may be some overlap between categories; that’s ok. Then, ask yourself: “Who are they? What are their needs and wants?” You can research this using a variety of methods, including publicly available data and your own customer data. You can also ask them to provide feedback – across the desk, in surveys, or other means such as focus groups.

Once you have taken this important step, then you can begin planning how you will meet their needs and wants with library programs and services. Go through your list of library programs and services and think about how you could package them according to audience needs and interests. For example, if one of your audiences is people with children under the age of 5, what programs and services do you have for them? How might you pull this information together and make these programs and services easy to access for them?

After that, you can think about messaging. This is how you tell your audiences about services and programs to meet their needs. It’s not simply a list of programs and services – messaging should be like a conversation. “Do you have a child under the age of five? Come to the library for books, early literacy enrichment and opportunities to socialize!” Lead with the need, and how you are meeting it. From there, you can provide information about, or links to, specific programs and services; but remember to keep it simple and easy to understand.

Once your messaging is in place, you can begin identifying the strategies and tactics you will use to reach your audiences. This is the stage where you may want to assess what you’re already doing and think about what you would like to add or remove. Perhaps that 6-page newsletter isn’t very effective anymore, and you want to try targeted social media ads instead. Or maybe you’ve been requiring people to opt in to your email newsletter but you want to start emailing all registered users. Again, if you start with your audiences, and think about where they want to get their information, you may choose different tactics than you have in the past. Change is good, and so is experimentation! It’s okay to try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.

Once you start implementing your strategies and tactics, it’s important to monitor your progress. This will help you to know whether your strategies and tactics are effective in reaching your audiences and prompting them to take action. Some common metrics that you can use to monitor your marketing efforts include social media engagement, email opens and clicks, website visits, library usage, and new library signups. Each library is unique, so you may have different strategies you want to measure. The important thing is to focus on what you ultimately want to achieve: more people using the library and having a greater positive impact on the community or campus that you serve.

We will be back with another interesting article from the library world soon!

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Cordelia Anderson

Cordelia Anderson

Cordelia Anderson is a library marketing and communications consultant and the author of Library Marketing and Communications: Strategies to Increase Relevance and Results from ALA Editions. She is nationally recognized for her innovative, strategic and results-driven marketing and communications programs. Clients have included public and academic libraries, library associations, and nonprofits. You can reach cordelia on LinkedIn, Facebook, or her website.

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