Allen Adamson talks about keeping your brand promise in his book, Brand Simple (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Figure out who you are and what you stand for, and make sure you deliver consistently on that promise.

I’ve been attending a conference for our automation vendor this week. Now, we’ve been with this automation vendor for about eight years, and it would not come as a surprise to them that I’m not counted among their happy customers. There are a lot of reasons for that and I don’t want to trivialize why I’d come to that conclusion.

But as I sat listening to the keynote, I realized that something that irks me about them is that they consistently fail to keep their brand promise. We’re told, year after year at these events, some variation of how the company “wants to be a strong and stable company that you can count on,” “remains committed to continued progress in client care and services,” and that it “values relationships with the libraries we serve.”

Yet our experience (and that of many other libraries, to judge by postings on various product lists) is that customers are nervous as anything at the upheaval the company has experienced as it has bought and sold, and been bought by, different entities over the last half dozen years; that customer service and documentation are terrible (posts to the sysadmin list often beg other customers for answers to logs that have languished for weeks or months with no action); and that there’s more commitment to developing products and services that the company wants to sell, rather than what customers want to buy.

My library hasn’t gone anywhere else because we can’t (similar to the situation for a lot of patrons, eh?). Yet I avoid interaction with this company, and I won’t even look at their sales literature (I’m at the conference because I can’t in good conscience stay totally ignorant of their plans), because I have these promises floating in my head from years of hearing them as their customer, and I no longer believe them.

This really brought home the importance of communicating and keeping a brand promise. What’s yours?


Today’s good read: Sticky ‘Brary librarian Mark discusses the use of Web 2.0 technology versus f2f service in libraries. Why is this a great post? Well, he touches on four important issues:

1) Differentiation – One issue marketing books stress is that in order to do good marketing, you need to decide what your brand is about, and build your marketing around that. Libraries are about the most local of institutions you can get (except maybe the schools), and I think that’s an integral part of our “brand.” I like to think we should be a lot like Cheers – a place where you can come and everybody knows your name.

2) Segmentation – I confess, I’m a technology freak too. But we need to realize that while all the people we know are having a great time playing with the new technology, there are a lot of people that don’t want to get anywhere near it. Yes, I want to do Library 2.0 stuff to reach my younger or tech-savvy patrons, but I still have a large constituency who doesn’t go there, and I won’t abandon them.

3) Planning! – Related to that, it’s great to offer lots of neat stuff, but we don’t have the time or the resources to throw every new idea against the wall to see what sticks. Moreover, without a way to integrate new services into our existing operations and really market them, we risk spending a lot of time implementing things only to see them falter from lack of patron awareness or interest, or lack of time or knowledge or time on our part.

4) Funding issues – Remember what they say, all politics is local. When it comes down to deciding whether to fund my library or not, it’s going to be the people in my town who will be the most influential, not the people I’m reaching outside this community. To end this where I started, I believe part of our “brand” is that we’re a local institution, and that’s what we’re here for – to give all our citizens, young and old, the services they want in the most cost-efficient way possible.

I’ve been reading a little of everything that can be considered “marketing,” including a few books and articles that discuss branding . In New Jersey The New Jersey Library Association commissioned a survey called Libraries Matter which indicates that in New Jersey, at least, people really love their libraries. We have “a good brand.”

I’ve been wondering, though, if one of the problems that we have with branding and trying to market libraries is that while we all have libraries, everyone has different libraries. I cringe every time I’m watching public television and they say at the end of the program, “You can get these resources at your public library!” because who knows whether those books are actually at the public library or not? Libraries aren’t a franchise. The idea of “library” that I carry in my head from my childhood isn’t the idea of “library” that I have from working where I do, and those two are different from the idea of “library” that I’d have if my library experience was colored by the community where I live.

My point is that people may have had experience with a type of library that didn’t work for them, so they’ll naturally assume that no libraries will work for them. You either like Starbucks or you don’t. You either use libraries or you don’t.

How do we overcome this?