You are here

Implementing A Library Marketing Plan

This page provides some basic guidelines to assist you in the development of a library marketing plan. There is no right or wrong when it comes to developing a plan, and remember that your plan is just a roadmap to help you achieve your goals. Unexpected situations will arise, so it's important to be flexible and understand that deviating from your plan is not a sign of failure.

As you begin formulating your first marketing plan, keep it simple. Nothing will derail your plan faster than taking on too much, too soon. It can also spell disaster for future marketing efforts. By keeping things manageable, you are more likely to have a positive and productive experience. To help ensure this, it's best to establish some sort of outcome that can be measured, and then include a tool to do the measurement.

- The Plan is Key
- Core Messages
- Using Personal Anecdotes and Statistics
- Know Your Marketing Vehicles
- Evaluation Is Critical
- No Right or Wrong
- Examples of Marketing Ideas
- Commit to Your Plan
- Purpose is Critical
- Conclusion


The Plan is Key

In "Basics to Success" we talked about some of the issues you should consider as you plan for and develop a library marketing plan, and now we’ll cover some of the things to consider as you put your plan into action.

It’s important to remember that a marketing plan is just that—a plan. It’s not a series of step-by-step directions that take you from Point A to Point B, but rather a general roadmap that helps you plan your marketing efforts and ensures that you allocate your limited resources effectively. Each library is unique, and needs vary from community to community. There isn't one set of details that lays out a plan for you, but this resource will touch on some ideas that will help you see why you should plan, and how you might benefit from an annual marketing plan.

As we begin this discussion, I think it’s important to keep in mind the simple idea of always talking about the library and its programs and resources in terms of the benefits patrons receive. If we try to convince patrons about the importance of services like online databases, interlibrary loan, or shared catalogs we will lose them. But if we always try to emphasize the benefits each provides to patrons on a personal level, in language they understand, we dramatically increase the impact of our marketing efforts.

Core Messages

Before you begin implementing your plan -- this is actually part of the planning process -- you should identify some core benefits that patrons receive from your library, and some others that they have indicated are desirable -- or that you believe are desirable. Whether you’re writing a press release, a brochure, poster, fliers, bookmarks, or public service announcements for cable access, you should always try to play on these items to maintain a consistent message.

Perhaps you could have a theme for each year and stress that in all your marketing efforts. You might even develop some sort of “catch phrase” that you use on all marketing materials and in all promotional copy -- like ALA with the @ Your Library theme. Again, this will all tie back to your mission and vision statements, and the emphasis you are placing on the benefits that library users receive.

Advertising professionals know that consumers need to hear messages multiple times before they are remembered, and even more times before they become internalized and acted upon. Think of how may times you see the same commercial during one hour of television programming. You may resist being repetitive, but you need to send the same message multiple times for it to be effective.

It’s important to move outside of your conventional approach and re-focus your efforts to regularly talk about the value of the library to the community and the benefits it provides individual patrons. If you don’t do it, who will? You’ve got to get the ball rolling!

Make a concerted effort to promote your new mission and vision statements, and be sure and tell the community about the language and why it was chosen. It’s important to let people know that the message is driving what you do, and that you are serious about providing valuable services for everyone.

Using Personal Anecdotes and Statistics

To be effective, your first step should be to make a concerted effort to collect and use personal anecdotes from library patrons. These are powerful stories that can have dramatic impact on elected officials and community leaders/decision-makers. These people listen to voters, and when voters talk about how important a service or resource is, your community will listen.

It should be second nature for all library staff members to record positive comments about library services, programs, or resources -- or ask patrons to submit their comments in writing so you can use them in promotional efforts. This can help you focus on what is important to library users, especially since their needs can, and do, change rapidly

On the flip side, you should also collect negative comments or suggestions and determine if there are patterns or areas of concern that need to be addressed. Doing so in a meaningful way will go a long way toward improving your image within the community, which is the goal of any marketing plan.

You should also use statistics to tell your story, but keep it simple. Charts and graphs are powerful tools that can shed new light on your efforts, and the significant role the library plays in the community. Statistics are also a way of documenting what you already know to be true, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly statistical information is circulated within the community.

Just be sure your data is accurate, and presented in a way that is easily understood. If people must work hard to understand the numbers or how they’re presented, you’ve missed an opportunity.

Know Your Marketing Vehicles

One of the first things to do before implementing the marketing plan -- in fact, you may also want to do it before you begin developing the plan -- is to spend some time looking through the archives of your local newspaper. You also want to be sure and track this week-to-week (especially when you have articles in the paper). What types of photos do they run, where do they run them, and how large? Also, what types of articles do they prefer, and are there common traits among those of similar length and placement?

Spend some time talking to the local newspaper editor, radio and TV news directors, and cable access stations to learn more about the types of articles they want. They may have a particular interest in a given year that you can tie into. Also, pay attention to upcoming celebrations, observance months, or other news items into which your library can tie. Perhaps you can create special events, programs, or displays for annual local events. Become part of those celebrations or observances.

You don’t want to be spinning your wheels pitching stories or ideas that will never run, or wasting promotional efforts on programs that will have little impact on the positive attitudes toward your library. That doesn’t mean you eliminate those programs, but you don’t choose to highlight them in your marketing efforts.

Your marketing efforts have little impact if your message isn’t regularly visible within the community, and the regularity of that visibility depends on how well you identify what local media outlets want. You also need to have a message that connects with patrons in a meaningful way and on a personal level. This is probably the biggest challenge because it’s a moving and evolving target.

Evaluation Is Critical

One way to ensure your marketing efforts are as effective as they can be is to build an evaluation program that will help you measure if your efforts are successful. It may be as simple as regularly asking patrons how they learned about a program or service, conducting simple surveys after programs or classes, or you may conduct a more in depth formal survey.

Either way, the goal is to help ensure that your efforts (and your plan) are having the desired effects. That means you need to identify goals against which you can measure your efforts. Don’t start out trying to measure too many things. Keep it simple and build on your experiences.

Just talking to trusted patrons for feedback on community feelings about the library can be very enlightening. Don’t be afraid to hear what people think, and try to always stay positive. People feel the way they do, and your efforts should be spent trying to improve their impressions about the library.

Ideally, your marketing plan will have both specific and general items that will be easily measured. For example, you may lay out a timeline for publicizing a series of genealogy workshops and related resources. That’s a specific item, the success of which can be easily measured.

Of a more general nature, you may have a plan to increase awareness of the important role the library plays in the community, and benefits it provides to various audiences. Your measurement of this may be more subjective -- such as hearing people talking in the grocery store about a newspaper column you wrote -- but these are vital because they go to the heart of increasing awareness of and support for the library.

No Right or Wrong

Remember that there are no right or wrong elements to a marketing plan. Some may be more effective than others, but as long as you have followed a process to help identify how you will use your limited resources, and then measure the impact, you’re using a marketing plan. Your efforts will evolve over time, and you’ll get more effective as you go along. Be prepared to make a multi-year commitment.

It’s also important to remember that creating a marketing plan doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend money. You may in fact decide that some sort of outlay will be necessary to accomplish your goals, but it’s more about having a realistic plan for using your resources for maximum benefit.

Examples of Marketing Ideas

So what sorts of things should you include in your marketing plan. The following list is by no means exhaustive. If you’re doing things that are working, keep doing them. The marketing plan just provides a framework within which these items can operate. Remember that why you are doing things is actually more important than what you are doing.

Specific tools might include the following.

  • Write a regular column in the local newspaper, or record a program on radio or cable access television.
  • Make sure your library has a visible presence (personal is best) at all local community festivals, celebrations and parades.
  • Create an informational piece that realtors can give to new and prospective community residents.
  • Use your statistics to create frequent displays about the status of your library programs or resources. You may want to designate a space to post large charts or graphs that share this information with your patrons. It might be a graph that shows the circulation trends, program attendance, or any other information you deem interesting. People like to be part of something that is growing and exciting, and letting them know that more and more people are using the library encourages them to do the same.
  • Work with local social service agencies to promote literacy and other educational programs.
  • Meet regularly with the Chamber of Commerce and local business/industry leaders to learn how the library can help them (it might be collection development, online databases, classes/training sessions, etc.)
  • Get on the speaking circuit with civic organizations. Make sure they know what the library is up to, and find out if there is any way the library can support their efforts.
  • Promote the “Speak Up For Your Library” campaign by prominently displaying the sign-up cards and providing a link from your library website to the online sign-up form.
  • Volunteer to host meetings of civic groups on a regular basis.
  • Invite local elected officials to the library for a tour. Show them what’s new and exciting, and even consider having some of your most ardent support on hand to make connections and voice support.
  • Prominently display your mission statement in your library, on your letterhead, on your website, and on various program materials. Make sure people know what it is so they can see that you are being true to that statement in everything you do.
  • Promote library events in unlikely places -- grocery stores, swimming pool, food pantry, etc. -- depending upon the program or resource.
  • Develop new partnerships with local schools, which is a way of building library users at a younger age.
  • Try to come up with educational or informational programs that tie into long-held community events, or long-standing industries or businesses. For example, Sun Prairie’s Volunteer Fire Department has long hosted midget car races on a clay oval track. The library could host a program on that type of racing, perhaps with a video on the evolution of this racing form (a perfect opportunity to partner with Cable Access). A program like this may bring in some people who don’t normally use the library, and it can go a long way toward changing perceptions of the library.
  • How about hosting hunting and fishing workshops/seminars in the spring and fall for youngsters and their parents. Is this a new client?
  • How about clinics on auto repair ideas (part classroom and part demonstration in the parking lot), landscaping, travel, computer trouble shooting, improving your golf swing, etc. You are really only limited by your imagination. You don’t even have to host them at the library if you don’t have the space. Work with other groups and offer your expertise to their programs. You can provide valuable insights into how patrons can find more information about any of these topics, or to create excellent resource lists. It’s all an opportunity to improve how people perceive the library, and that is what you want to have happen.

These last three items go to the issue of competition for the library, recognizing that competition, and attempting to do something about it. Everyone in the community should feel like the library exists for them, but they won’t if you don’t reach out. You can’t wait for them to find you! The competition is just too stiff, and the potential negative consequences of waiting are just too great.

Commit to Your Plan

To be effective with any marketing plan, you must make a commitment to follow through. Part of the process is to determine how much time each activity will take, and which of your staff members has the expertise or time to take on the project.

If your plan calls for someone to receive training to perform one aspect of the plan, it is unrealistic to eliminate the training because of time or fiscal constraints and still expect the person to complete that part of the plan. You also need to make such eliminations carefully because depending on how your plan is structured, it may negatively impact activities scheduled later in the year.

This aspect of the implementation process can be a challenge because you are constantly faced with issues that must be addressed. There are too many demands on your time and resources, and things will have to be modified. But that is the power of the marketing plan. If you follow it, you will have a process for making sound decisions that keep you on track.

Purpose is Critical

It’s important to remember that your focus should not be on what elements you include in your marketing plan -- the activities or efforts in which you expect to engage -- but rather that you have a purpose that drives everything and a plan that guides you through the year.

Acting randomly outside of your plan may not have negative consequences, but it may limit your effectiveness, waste a limited media opportunity, and waste valuable staff time and library resources.

There really are no good or bad elements because every library is unique. You each have your own relationships with patrons, community groups, business groups, and local media, and you must work within the constraints you already understand.

By having a plan, however, you can be better prepared to start pushing the envelope and become more proactive in your marketing efforts. The marketing plan is the vehicle that can help you move toward a predetermined goal, primarily because it is a tool that can help increase public support for the library on a continuous basis.

You want to keep the library and its resources and programs in front of patrons, reminding them that it’s there for their benefit. This concept is critical because when people recognize that the library benefits them, you have made significant progress.

Another goal of your marketing plan implementation is to make it easier for your local media to cover your library’s programs, events, and other news. By taking the time to better understand their needs and wants, and what they’ve covered in the past, you’ll be more effective in the future. If they know the library schedules programs that make good stories, and you organize them in a way that makes them easy to cover, you're sure to get future news coverage.

To help you be more media friendly in your event planning, there are several checklists available in our Online PR Toolkit.

But remember, don’t send everything to the media. Don’t ask them to cover every event or program you host or sponsor. You need to pick and choose, which helps them know what is important. If you announce a 9 a.m. start time, begin on time. Otherwise, you’re wasting the media’s time. Don’t ask newspapers to take photos they won’t use, like group shots of everyone that attended a program.

If you do these things well, your local media will know that when you call they will get a good story with minimal effort. That’s how it works!


The primary reason for marketing your library is to build support, and you can’t do that effectively by continuing to do only what has worked in the past, or reaching out only to those who already value and use to the library. You’re looking to expand your patron base and give more people reasons to turn to the library.

And remember, be flexible. Deviating from your marketing plan when circumstances dictate is not a sign of failure on your part, or an indication that you didn’t plan properly. It happens, so just move on and get back to your plan as quickly as you can. If you’ve done a good job planning, you’ll at least have a better handle on what resources you have available to deal with the unexpected situation.

In the end it will make you a more dynamic organization. The marketing plan is the tool that can help you get a handle on this challenge because it allows you to be proactive.

For more information, contact: