marketing


It’s now been four months since we began our electronic newsletter promotion – asking folks when they register or re-register if they want our electronic newsletter.

In four months we’ve gone from around 60 subscribers to over 500, so in terms of raw numbers, I’m happy. As I’ve said before, however, I can’t budge the percentage of newsletters opened from it’s 30% mark. I’m happy that this means we’ve grown from 20 viewers a month to 150, but we can do better.

We put the newsletter together quickly when we subscribed to nextReads a year or so ago. It’s time for a change, and I think the best way to make that change successful is to reach out to our users.

Here’s the plan: in early October, we’ll send a personalized email to about a third of our subscribers (yes, about 200 of them!) asking for their opinions about our newsletter’s look and content. Not a real survey, nothing structured, I just want impressions. Then our PR person, our head of reference, one of our staff with a great visual eye, and I will sit down and brainstorm, with the help of those impressions, what story we’re trying to tell with this newsletter. We’ll select new images for the header and rethink the formatting. After we’ve come up with two or three prototypes, I’ll go back to our subscribers and see if there’s any consensus on what users like best. Then we’ll revamp and see what happens!

This will be interesting for a number of reasons: I’m interested in seeing what percentage response a personal email asking for opinions will receive. I didn’t do very well recently when I asked our downloadable audiobooks users about their impressions, but I have in the past, so I’m not giving up hope. I’m interested in what people have to say, most of all. And I’ll be interested in seeing if a revamp based on user opinions actually improves readership rates.

I’ll be sending my email in early October, and giving people until mid-October to respond. More then….

I had the opportunity to attend a Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) course a couple of days ago – one of the ALA courses to take library administrators to the next level. This one was Effective Marketing: How to Sell Your Story.

The presenter was great. I’m not going to say who he was because the rest of this isn’t going to be flattering, and it had nothing to do with him – he did what he could with the ALA-mandated curriculum.  But this course was why I just want to hit my head against the wall when I think of training for librarians by librarians.

The first day was marketing basics: why market, some places to help you do community and demographic research, a little about strategic planning, a little about competition. The second day – the whole day – was writing a marketing plan. We started with the summary, we listed our planning group, did our SWOT analysis, listed our perceived customer needs, challenges, goals and measurable objectives….

Are you still with me?

So at break I turn to another librarian at my table and say, “You know, this is good, but I wish there was more about ‘telling your story’ in this presentation.” And she responds, “Well, that’s really advocacy, isn’t it?”

Whack. Whack. Whack.

The title of the presentation was How to sell your story! And we didn’t talk about it! We so didn’t talk about it that after two days this person had no flipping idea what telling your story means in terms of marketing! The story Apple tells with its products, its stores, its crazy CEO, ferheavens’ sake. The story Scions tell. Rob Walker. Seth Godin.  Pretty much any marketing book you’ve been able to pick up off the shelves of your library for the last couple of years is all about how everything you do and every encounter a customer has with every aspect of your organization, from your place to your product to your people, tells your story and it has to be authentic.

That’s what we were promised by the title and publicity for this seminar. And we got ‘how to do a marketing plan.’ So much for authenticity.

Jocelyn Harmon writes Marketing for Nonprofits, and we’ve been blogging back and forth about life, the universe, and libraries.

She recently put up a post called Don’t Market Like a Librarian, detailing her close encounters of the shushing kind of her childhood libraries and imploring librarians to change our ways. Now, we all know that the shushing librarian is juuuuust a little bit dated (even if Nancy Pearl, bless her, lent her image to the famous action figure), but Jocelyn’s got me thinking again about the nature of the holy grail of target audiences: the dreaded non-user. Are they the folks who encountered one too many real-life action figures during their formative years, and have sworn off us forever?

Jocelyn’s post talks about being guides to information instead of gatekeepers, using email and social media to communicate with patrons, and inspiring patrons to love and learn about information. We all know most of us have that and more to offer, but we’re not getting the message out to the important people like Jocelyn who were turned off by a library that in most cases, thankfully, no longer exists.

How do we reach the prodigal users?

This is a first: this is a rant. I had pretty much vowed not to use this forum to rant, and it will be a rant on topic, but it’s still a rant.

I’m a member of another group which includes a subgroup for people involved in marketing for nonprofits. The site lists everyone’s avatars, so I clicked one at random. Got a lady who specializes in helping nonprofits market themselves.

I clicked on her blog. A couple of posts down, she’s just loving a service called Bookswim – it’s Netflix for books, with plans that will set your patron taxpayers back between $220 and $360 per person per year to get a fraction (just books, none of the other great stuff we all offer) of what they’re already paying taxes for. Add a moderate Netflix subscription to this, and our taxpayers could be paying $450 or more in usage fees just because they don’t use their library.

(Okay, maybe they subscribe to Netflix and Bookswim and use their public library, but I doubt it.

Let me be clear: I’m not mad at my fellow group member. I guess Bookswim seems like a good deal, although as someone intimately involved with libraries, it doesn’t to me.

I’m just…discouraged. And jealous. How the hell does Bookswim manage to reach the people I can’t reach? The people who, in this day and age and economic times, shouldn’t be paying for the same service twice?

Grrrr.

I’m a little behind in my reading so I’m recommending a post that’s about a week old…please go over to Designing Better Libraries and check out Taking the Slow But Steady Path to That “Aha” Moment. Author StevenB discusses the fact that there are rarely “quick fixes” to problems, and that libraries need to make time to see where they’ve been, figure out where they need to go, and see what new resources might be out there to help them get there.

I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but that sounds a whole lot like strategic and marketing plans to me.


It’s been a couple of months since we started our proactive campaign of asking new registrants if they wanted to subscribe to our electronic library newsletter. We’ve added about two hundred names since we began, and today I took a look at statistics for this year.

In July, we had 34% or recipients open the newsletter. This is exactly in the middle of where we’ve been for the year, when click rates have averaged between 30% and 40%. So we haven’t gained in percentages, but we now have 34% of 300 subscribers versus 34% of 100 subscribers.

Still waiting to see if this translates to increased usage of the services we’re plugging….

So we started with the basics: what is marketing?

And according to our textbook (MKTG: Student Edition, by Lamb, Hair, McDaniel, Thompson South-Western, 2008, p. 3), marketing is “an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.”

I’ve seen some pretty hot debates on other blogs about whether marketing is appropriate for libraries. And I think I understand a lot of the reasons why we “hate” marketing: we hate the hard sell, the inappropriate product placement, the inappropriate products! — and the sheer idiocy of much of the communication, aka advertising, that we see all around us.

And yet, I think this is a great definition to guide us in how we manage our libraries. Think about it:

  • We need to genuinely create value in what we offer our patrons, what will really help enhance their lives – not just give them what we think they should have because it’s the new hot think we heard about at a seminar, or insist on maintaining something they don’t want because “you can’t be a real library if you don’t have ___________”
  • We need to get the word out to our patrons that we’ve got what they want. As much as we’d like to believe people will walk through our doors because they should, the fact is there’s a lot of competition for their time and attention and we have to get our there and let them know what we have to offer
  • We need to deliver products of value, which relates back to the first bullet point: while our intentions are for the best, we often end up offering things not because we’re focusing on our patrons first, but for our own reasons – we want to be cutting edge, we think all good libraries should be offering it, etc.
  • We need to manage our customer relationships – look at our policies and procedures and make sure they enhance our mission, and that policies that were written who knows how many years ago are still enhancing the goals and objectives we have today
  • We need to benefit the stakeholders. Taxpayers work hard for the dollars that support us, and they deserve the best value we can give them for their money.

Libraries should market. Libraries need to market. It’s our job.

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