Thursday, 25 October 2012

Marketing - who's your audience?

Marketing can be a contentious word for librarians.  For public librarians it smacks of commercialism and selling out to a capitalist ideology.  For corporate librarians, business researchers or web content managers, it's something their firm does to attract external customers.  In either case, it's apparently nothing to do with them.

However, without marketing librarians would have no users.  Marketing simply means communicating with people who might find your services useful, so that when they need those services they think of you and may choose to use your services (rather than some other means) to meet that need.  To communicate in an effective way, first you need to understand people's needs (market research), know where and how they communicate (marketing channels), and understand what's important to them (value proposition). 

Activities like having a library web site, user education, putting up a poster about a reading group - they are all marketing activities.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking 'what services do we have; we need to promote those services', and to design communications around that 'push' mentality.  However, marketing works a lot more effectively if you start by considering your audience - and work from a 'pull' perspective.

Who could you be marketing to?  The obvious answer is 'our users'.  While it is important to maintain a relationship with existing users, for example sending out surveys to check on their customer satisfaction, or telling them about new content or services, if that is all the marketing that's being done then the best outcome you can hope for is to maintain the status quo, in terms of numbers of users.

The real aim of marketing is to increase things.  Increase the numbers of users, increase the number of visits, number of loans or number of enquiries, or increase the amount of renewals or interlibrary loan requests made online.   Carefully targeted marketing, for example about business directories and start up guides demonstrated at a fair for entrepreneurs, or about art and design books at a craft fair, can draw new patrons into the library or onto the library's website.

Thinking about who you audience are (or could be), and where they are (in physical spaces or in virtual ones), and crafting your message to meet their needs and be seen where they hang out, can get you a long way.

Marketing can also be done to an audience of stakeholders, senior managers and budget holders.  This sort of marketing communicates to these groups how the library services help them meet their needs - that is, the goals and targets of the organisation as a whole.  

If you work in a public library service, this is a part of a larger city or county wide public sector body, with funds from taxpayers and goals to meet.  It probably has a whole series of goals.  In Glendale, CA where I live, for example, some of the city's goals include:
  • Encourage neighborhoods to take ownership for improvements 
  • Increase neighborhood involvement by educating residents to take active responsibility for their neighborhoods 
  • Retain and expand local small business as a foundation for community economic development.
  • Communicate successes to illustrate that Glendale neighborhoods are safe.  
  • Seek opportunities to inform the public regarding the role played by Glendale in support of Luke Air Force Base
I wonder whether the city council members are aware of how the public library service could help them meet these goals?  A strategic and business plan prepared by the library, demonstrating this, could be an important factor in raising their awareness of the value of the library to the city, and help in future budget discussions.

Whether your audience is a group of potential new users, or the media who influence city councillors, consideration of their needs and communicating how you can help them meet those needs, is marketing at its best and most effective.


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