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Basics to Success

In her Blog “Library Marketing—Thinking Outside the Book,” Jill Stover wrote a piece titled “No One Cares About You.” (May 15, 2007)

“It's harsh to assert that no one cares about you (and by you I mean librarians and by extension, libraries), but it's a marketing reality we all confront. The cold truth is that patrons don't conduct themselves with the assumption that libraries are intrinsically good or something they should naturally care about. The question is how do we get patrons to care at least enough to take advantage of some of our services some of the time?

"One answer is to communicate with them in terms of things they do care about, namely, benefits. Patrons probably don't care about your interlibrary loan service, but they do care about getting that tough-to-find book in time to finish their report. Saving time and writing top-notch reports is a benefit; offering interlibrary loan is a service or feature. In marketing our services, it's important to focus on the former instead of the latter.”

So what is marketing? One definition is "...the human activity directed at satisfying needs and wants through an exchange process." Not terribly helpful, so consider the information below instead.





Index
- What is Marketing?
- Why Is It Needed?
- Maintain Perspective
- Before You Begin
- Identify the Goals of Your Marketing Plan
- Initial Plannning Steps
- Active Planning
- What Next?
- Reminders While Planning
- Reality Check
- Remember Your Marketing Goals
- Finalize Your Plan

 

Elephant GraphicWhat Is Marketing?

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying "Circus coming to the fairgrounds on Sunday," that's advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and have him walk through town, that's promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor's flower bed and it makes the morning paper, that's publicity. If you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's publicity. And if you planned the whole thing, that's marketing.

—Anonymous. From Library Administrator's Digest, November 2005.

The key element of effective marketing is that the "publicity" you get is planned.

 

Why Is It Needed?

It’s important to understand at the beginning that marketing encompasses much of what you already do. Creation of a marketing plan just puts a framework around it that helps unify the purpose, and allows you to better understand how to evaluate the impact of your efforts.

But developing a library marketing plan involves more than just agreeing upon a definition, or compiling a list of good ideas that wind up collecting dust on a shelf because you don't have the time, money or expertise to execute them. The circus example above is a good illustration of the power of planning, which is the primary component of the Marketing Plan.

This isn't to suggest that you will never react to unexpected circumstances, because you will do that everyday. However, if you react in accordance with a plan, you’ll be much more successful, and you will make the proactive components of your plan that much more effective.

The hope is that this information will shed some light on the kinds of things you should be doing, and why you may want to eliminate other activities you may have done for a long time.

Maintain Perspective

The marketing plan is a tool that you control, so use it that way.

Creating a marketing plan may seem overwhelming, especially when you understand that you’re embarking on a process that never really ends. But that’s why you also need to keep things in perspective. The marketing plan is a tool to make you more effective, but it shouldn’t rule your life. It’s a tool that you control, so use it that way.

Rivkah Sass, now director of the Sacramento Public Library, wrote the following in a 2002 Library Journal article. “Despite all our real-time reference, websites that rock, and exemplary programs, libraries are still missing the hook that will change our public's perception of what we have to offer. It isn't enough simply to tell potential patrons what is available at their library. What was the last Madison Avenue ad campaign you saw that just told what the product offered?

“That hook is selling the value of the library in real bottom-line terms.”

There are all sorts of books and articles you can read, and any number of resources you can download to help market your programs, services and resources. But individual tools and resources aren’t the primary need. We’re talking about the creation of a plan that requires you to determine what role you want your library to play in your community, and how you will work toward that goal.

In most cases you want to do the sorts of things that will help your patrons understand the true value of the library and come to view it as indispensable to the community. It’s more than just knowing what is offered by the library, but why it is significant and what it means to the identity of the community and to the lives of residents.

This is the hook that Sass talks about in her article.

Before You Begin

Before you begin work on a marketing plan, it’s critical that your library have up-to-date mission and vision statements. If you already have these statements, you may want to give them a thorough and honest review to make sure they are representative of what you want for your library and community. These are very important because they provide the structural framework against which your marketing plan can be continuously measured. If you’re always supporting these statements, then you know you’re making sound decisions.

To help in this process, you may want to use patron surveys or focus groups to provide information or guidance. You can do that at any point—or multiple points—in this process. It’s really up to you, and your decision should be based on what you know about your community. This input can be very helpful during this planning process, and can ensure that your eventual plan takes your library in the desired direction.

I can’t emphasize enough that good planning is the key to being successful. You have limited resources and time, so you can ill-afford to waste either. You’ll be well served by investing adequate time in this process because marketing is something you should be doing every day of the year.

The plan you create is a detailed roadmap of your activities and efforts for the coming year. But the existence of this detailed roadmap certainly doesn’t mean you can’t take side-trips that will pay unexpected dividends. Issues and opportunities will arise during the year, and you need to be flexible enough in your plan implementation to address the issues and take advantage of the opportunities that arise.

As you embark on this process, It’s imperative that all staff members, the library board, and Friends understand why the marketing plan is being developed, and commit to its implementation. These players need to be involved in the development of the plan, because if they don’t understand the need and value, successful implementation will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Now let’s turn our attention to the actual planning process.

 

Identify the Goals of Your Marketing Plan

The first thing you must do is identify the goals of your marketing plan. You must ask yourself if you are primarily interested in marketing to patrons the specific programs or services your library offers, are you interested in a more general approach of marketing your overall library to the community, or planting and supporting the notion of the library as an essential community resource among users, nonusers, elected officials, and community movers and shakers (advocacy).

Probably all three to some degree!

Your goals can be general or specific, but they should be in some way measurable. You need to be able to determine that what you are doing is having the desired effect, or is at least part of the reason for the change.

Perhaps you want to increase attendance at specific programs or increase circulation. These are easily measured, but you need to do so in a way that will confirm the measured change was a result of your efforts. For example, perhaps the increases can be attributed to population growth or a new nearby residential development. You need to account for these sorts of variables.

You may have a goal of doing a better job of spreading the library’s message to the community. You may measure this by the number of presentations you conduct for community or business groups, or how many articles or columns appear in the local newspaper, on cable access, or radio stations. But it’s not enough to just know if the messages are being carried. You want to be able to measure whether they are effective.

To help you measure the success of your efforts, you will probably need to provide opportunities for program attendees, or new library users, to let you know how they learned about the program or resource. You may need to do program evaluations that ask how people heard about a program, or have staff diligently ask patrons how they learned about the library or resource being used.  Or you may choose to conduct a more formal survey.

This type of measurement is a little extra work, but it will pay dividends because you will be able to monitor whether your efforts are working. You want to be sure that your efforts are moving you toward your goal, and that it’s not just the result of blind luck.

I’ll never dismiss the positive impact of blind luck, but you do want to know that’s what’s at play here. You can’t always count on blind luck!

Initial Planning Steps

All of this becomes more critical as we see municipal, county and state budgets shrinking. Libraries are competing for a smaller pool of funding, and you need to build a strong base of support to garner a greater share of local resources to expand or maintain quality library services.

You should never bypass an opportunity to work toward achieving your goals, and you should make this commitment with an acceptance that you’ll never really be finished. Developing a Marketing Plan is not the end of the process, but the first step in a long journey. If you are unwilling to make that commitment, then you either need to scale back your goals, or delay development of such a plan until you can make the required investment of time and resources.

We live in dynamic, evolving communities, and our goals should always be evolving to help the library stay relevant. Becuse there is so much competition for the time and attention of patrons, you have to work at this always, and you need to change to keep up with competing messages, technologies, resources and services.

You can do many things to support these ongoing efforts, like making a commitment to collect the stories from library users about the great value they have found, and then use these stories to your library’s benefit. The goal here is to demonstrate the significant value that is the "Public Library."

You should also implement a formal process for responding to complaints or suggestions in a genuine way, which also creates support within your community. You may want to consider measures expanding patron involvement in the budget process, or create a formal process to get their input in collection, program and resource development. These sorts of ideas should all be factored into your marketing plan because they impact your ability to market the library.

There are no right or wrong ideas, but everything must be done with an eye on advancing the goals of the marketing plan.

Once you’ve identified your library’s marketing goals, you should create a list of core library services, and the value each provides to the community. This activity ensures that you give appropriate consideration to everything you’re doing now, and will help you make better decisions later.

You should also make a list of your library’s strengths and weaknesses, and lists of why people use the library and why they may not. This can be a difficult exercise, but be honest so you can address your shortcomings and build on your strengths.

It will also be helpful to create a list of competition for the library and for your patrons’ limited free time. You can’t compete on an equal footing if you don’t know who the competition is, or why they may be preferred over the library. Some of this competition you may be able to address, and some you may not. But you’ve got to understand the competition before you can hope to compete.

 

Active Planning

Finally, make a list of all your existing marketing strategies and the time and resources they require.

These items are all important because they help put your current efforts into perspective. You can’t improve on what you’re doing if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing, but more importantly why you’re doing it. If you can’t identify why you’re doing something, or if the reason is weak, you may have found an activity that can be eliminated. Because of resource limitations, you must be able to justify everything you are doing, and you must be able to do so as each relates to and supports your marketing plan.

Something may be a creative idea, or it may just be something we’ve always done. But if it doesn’t further the goals of your marketing plan you probably need to eliminate it.

If this process seems overwhelming, try and consider the long-term negative consequences of doing nothing.

Once you’ve completed these tasks, it’s time to begin formulating your new marketing plan items.

 

What Next?

Identify the holes in your current efforts and develop ideas for new projects. In this phase, don’t worry about whether you have the time, resources, or expertise to accomplish the particular items. Just develop items that further your goals.

This is the brainstorming part of the process, so give ideas time to sink in and ferment before you dump them. You may find ways to make them happen (perhaps a grant), or you may find ways to modify them so they can be accomplished within your means. Or you may decide that an idea is just too good to abandon.

This is the creative part of the process and deserves to be given an opportunity to inspire new ideas. Give it a chance to work because you’ve got nothing to lose except a little time!

 

Reminders While Planning

As part of this phase, you need to identify which staff members will be responsible for carrying out these projects, how much time each will take, and what each will require from a budgetary standpoint. An excellent marketing or program idea is not much good if it can’t be realistically fit into the schedule.

Do you have the expertise on staff to carry out your plan, will you have to get training for staff, or will you have to turn to volunteers or hire it out. Each option presents its own benefits, but also drawbacks. Be sure to account for all before deciding which way to proceed, or whether you are going to postpone an idea. It’s critical that you accurately detail the time and budget requirements of each aspect of the plan. You can’t be successful if you leave yourself short of either.

Don’t be afraid to be bold. Try new things and take some risks. You might surprise yourself.

 

Reality Check

Now it’s time to be realistic, because you can’t do everything. It’s better to do a few things well than take on too much.

Begin by identifying what existing activities you can do without, and why, and be sure your reasons are sound. Remember, staff or residents may have emotional ties to activities, and they may not want to let go. In these cases you’ll have to weigh the consequences of doing nothing, or explore the opportunities for implementing changes to make the activity support your marketing plan goals. You’ll want to explore this option with all activities that you believe support your goals because they need to be part of a concerted marketing plan and work harmoniously with your other activities.

Just because you’re already doing something doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, so keep an open mind to everything. If you can’t allocate the necessary resources or time, or you don’t have the needed expertise, be honest and take the item out of your plan.

But don’t just discard these ideas. Save them for later when you may be able to make them happen. This isn’t failure, but responsible planning. You have to do what is right for your library.

You’re going to have to make some difficult choices, so be ready to defend them to your staff, your library board, and possibly your patrons. Be honest, and explain why things are being eliminated or changed. When people are fully informed they are more likely to support your efforts.

 

Remember Your Marketing Goals

It can be hard to give up longstanding programs or projects, but if they aren’t contributing to your overall marketing goal, and the increased success of your library, it’s time they are eliminated. Replace them with something better and more exciting, and people will quickly forget.

You can’t realistically expect to keep doing everything. You need to prioritize and thoroughly evaluate what you do now. If it’s not working, or has limited benefit, move on to something else.

Remember, what once was a novel program that generated lots of interest and media coverage may now be trite. One of the most important elements of successful marketing is keeping things fresh and exciting.

An example might be a program that receives front page color photos and article the first year, a front page black & white photo the second year, and in successive years is relegated deeper and deeper into the paper with less and less caption information. Newspapers want new things to cover, and it doesn’t take long for them to become bored.

Do you dump such a program when coverage drops off? Not if it’s popular, but you will definitely change its emphasis within your marketing plan.

You can tell people about programs or services all you want, but if the message or service or program is viewed as boring (even to the media), no amount of “marketing” will accomplish anything. This is the hard part, and it gets harder every year. But that’s why you need a plan, and a constant influx of new ideas.

 

Finalize Your Plan

Once you’ve thoroughly reviewed your current efforts and made recommendations for elimination, you then need to evaluate your new proposals and determine which of these you can realistically implement.

Be sure to give yourself adequate time for this phase. It’s not something you want to rush through. The quality of your end product will be directly related to the quality of your process.

How much time is needed for this will vary with each library, and with each staff. Being visionary and creative is not something that just happens, so be patient.

Who should you involve? You don’t have to be limited by the confines of your staff or Friends group. You may want to tap professionals in the community, local media representatives -- they’re more likely to get behind your efforts if you invite them to participate -- local elected officials, or business representatives. You need to make decisions about this based on what you know of your community and these individuals.

One final reminder that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to formulating a plan. You have to do what’s right for your community, and consistent with your plan goals.

 

For more information about library advocacy, contact Mark Ibach.