What language do you use to talk about your library?

So what is this language?

It’s branding!

My first experience of being involved with a branding strategy was when I worked at Puke Ariki (the combined library/museum/information centre in New Plymouth, New Zealand). I found the whole process quite fascinating and I credit that as one of the factors that led me to become so interested in marketing. I’m not even sure why it was so fascinating – maybe it had something to do with stepping back from how we might have thought of ourselves and envisaging everything about what we thought Puke Ariki embraced. Something in that thought process really clicked with me.

Recently I was fortunate enough to hear Steve Bailey from Rabbit Creative talk about branding. It’s common for the logo to be equated with the brand, but a brand is more than a logo. Your brand encompasses everything you represent to a customer – or as I have seen it expressed elsewhere:

 “Brand is the intangible sum of attributes, the promise, the big idea and the expectations that reside in each customer’s mind about a product, service or company.”

Here are some of the points I took away from  the talk Steve gave:

  • brand development is the idea of coming up with something you can own and be passionate about – and it gives you ways to articulate this in the marketplace
  • if you have a powerful brand then your customers will act as advocates for you – just look at Apple. (The flip side of this is that it creates great expectations from customers!)
  • branding gives you the language to talk about your business – you need to simplify what you are all about but retain an element of intelligence and intrigue
Steve described the experience of working with a company who had a definite idea of what they wanted –  including the name of the company. After working with them a new brand strategy emerged and that company is now Healium. The name is evocative of what the company is about – holistic health services to lift the body and spirit. Check out their website http://www.healium.co.nz/ to see how the brand name and values are expressed in everything to do with the company.

These ideas are also explored in Alison Circle’s post that I have previously linked to http://blog.libraryjournal.com/bubbleroom/2011/07/13/marketing-creates-real-value/  Alison talks about how Edmonton Public Library developed a language as part of their branding:

Words are the tools that create perceptions and ideas in people’s minds. EPL has excelled in writing smart and clever. That is hard to do and hard to do well consistently. As they created theirShared Values Wheel, they challenged themselves to push through jargon, including phrases that — I’m guessing — would not be seen as jargon to most libraries. Thus Customer-Centered becomes Open and Human; Intellectual Freedom becomes Ideas Champion.  Love it!

For a very thought provoking read on libraries and branding check out Dr Steve Matthews’ blog post The Physics of Your Library Brand http://21stcenturylibrary.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/the-physics-of-your-library-brand/ I’ve talked before about the need to rebrand libraries to convey that we are more than just books. I am not entirely sure this means ditching the word library altogether – attempts at this never seem particularly successful, especially when customers still see physical books in a the physical space. But I do like the range of steps Steve describes to move the position of the library in the marketplace. Check it out!

Marketing is not cake decorating

 “Marketing is not cake decorating. It is not done at the end of a project. If it is done well, it is integrated at the beginning.”

I found this wonderful quote in a recent post by Alison Circle which includes some real gems about branding included in a webinar by Tina Thomas (Edmonton Public Library).

I have so much more I would like to blog about branding – in the meantime check out what Alison has highlighted http://blog.libraryjournal.com/bubbleroom/2011/07/13/marketing-creates-real-value/.

Marketing trends to watch – from Alison Circle

More words of marketing wisdom from Alison – you can read the full post, and I have posted some highlights here, along with a few of my thoughts 🙂

This is a very good point for starters:

One bad habit in Libraryland is that too often we look exclusively at libraries for ideas and trends. For example, when redesigning web sites, we look at other libraries, not trendsetting retailers or innovative nonprofits. We’re guilty of a little too much me-too-ism. As a marketing professional, I see trends everywhere, ideas ripe for libraries to pluck and make their own in order to demonstrate that we are still here and better than ever.

Trends followed by Alison in no particular order:

1. Twitter – allows you to speak directly to customers, run instant polling and build loyalty

I didn’t “get” Twitter for ages until I changed my focus on who I was following and thought more about the identity I wanted to portray. I’m a Business Librarian and I’m now following a range of businesses, business news and business info vendors, along with fellow librarians and few fun things. I’m retweeting things I see that might be of  value to my followers. I can certainly see how libraries could fit into the Twitter picture. There are disadvantages – tweets can get lost in a continuous stream of updates for instance. But on the other hand its a very easy channel to use to publicise blog posting and news items, so why not get on board.

2. Value. Value. Value

It isn’t hard to figure out your value. Conduct this exercise. Think about where you fit in each of the three circles … [important to audience – you are good at it – no one else is doing it]. Where they intersect is your value proposition. Tell people this story over and over. Then over again. You’ll get tired of it long before it penetrates public consciousness.

Ah yes value. I think we need to be smarter at demonstrating this to our customers.  I work in an academic library and I think we need to make it more obvious how our resources can deliver value to students. Don’t just link to “library resources” in an online learning environment but be blatant – “how to find the 5 articles you need for your essay”

3. Online reputation management

In today’s world, organizations must spend as much effort managing their online brands as they do the physical one. Without diligence, the online brand may fall out of sync with your offline marketing messages. User-generated content, blogs, and online forums all mean that the flow of information and messages about an organization is no longer controllable.

4. Video marketing

Today, advertising is flipped on its head—and can be had for a completely different cost equation. For example, take the story of YouTube sensation Lauren Luke, a self-styled makeup maven. She started selling cosmetics on eBay and soon was putting up videos on YouTube that she modestly taped from her bedroom. Her videos have logged more than 50 million views, and her YouTube channel has 250,000 subscribers. She never paid for a single ad.

Further evidence for this one today –  “Forget the 30-second television advertisement, the Internet is where it’s at”, says Air NZ (via bernardchickey on Twitter)

5. Value-added content

A modest way for libraries to do this is to add an “If You Like” enhancement to the catalog, similar to what Amazon does. This pushes circulation and provides a core value enhancement for customers. Seattle Public Library offers searchers a “similar titles” feature as well as tags. Most of us, however, are still using the online catalog like a bookshelf.

6. Mobile marketing

Mobile marketing, or marketing through a mobile channel, is one of the first new channels to arise in over 50 years and is quickly becoming a primary way to reach customers. Phones are now the one-stop shop for communication, digital services, email, photos, and navigation. Libraries can embrace this channel and quickly. At a minimum, web sites should be easy to navigate in a mobile browser. Provide the option to receive notices via phone (even my dentist does that) and develop specific apps to enhance your presence on customer devices.

7. The art of being real

You’ll also hear this referred to as the trust economy. Libraries have this in spades. In fact, I can think of few others that have us beat. We have so many stories to tell about ourselves: successful job seekers, kids using Homework Help Centers to improve grades, childhood literacy through Ready To Read. We could own the trust economy and should be shouting those stories from the rooftops.

8. A deeper shade of green

Some libraries are doing more to demonstrate their green commitment. Worthington Libraries, OH, for example, selected a green theme for its Teen Summer Reading Club in order to address this hot topic for teens.

I’m not so convinced on this one  – so many businesses/institutions are trumpeting this then unless you have really got something to brag about – like an eco-designed library building – promoting green initiatives may not have an impact?

9. Death of email

This is a subset of mobile marketing, but it is more specific because it deals only with the texting capability of phones. A consortium of international libraries has introduced My Info Quest (myinfoquest.info), a text-messaging service that provides live reference services for the public. Users get the answer they need from a worldwide network of professionals, but it feels and sounds just like their local library. They never know the difference! Fifty U.S. libraries are participating in this free, librarian-vetted version of ChaCha (a free service that you can call/text from any cell phone for answers to any and all questions), which is nipping at the heels of reference librarians.

10. Micromarketing

Libraries believe this approach can’t be for us, because we are open to all and serve everyone. But reduced budgets and a clamoring marketplace mean we can no longer be the same thing for all people … The trick is not to lose control over your overall brand while appealing to target audiences.

11. Value of Design

Libraries, in contrast, tend to focus on individual expression, allowing staff to execute the brand however it wants. Instead, standardize your library’s brand through use of templates, consistent color palette and fonts, and development of (and adherence to) a brand book. We need to move beyond what is fun for our staff toward what is best for our brand.

12.  Speed

Conduct a thorough evaluation from the customer’s point of view to determine how service delivery can be streamlined and made easy for them. If people have to work at it, they’ll walk away. Early on in my library career, a senior manager was proud that our library had “taught our customers well” how to follow our protocols. This kind of thinking just doesn’t fly anymore.

13. Emotional connection

Marketing today is all about making an emotional connection that establishes relevance to customers. Libraries want to be all about content. But now that content is everywhere (including contradictory dates for Queen Nefertiti’s birthday), libraries—almost better than anything else—need to and can cement that emotional and personal connection  … When we focus on our collections, electronic databases, or—heaven forbid—library FAQs, without first establishing an emotional connection, I worry about the future relevance of our great institutions.

We really need to concentrate on this to build our point of difference between other information providers such as Google, Amazon etc.

Trend catchup

Awhile back I started reblogging the 7 trends Alison Circle was reporting on her Bubble Room blog. The first two were going green and the recession. I never quite did get back and cover the rest! So here they are:

#3  Cell 2.0 the evolution of mobile devices

#4 Transparency designing our work spaces so people can see what librarians really do

#5 Authenticity staying true to an idea. This one has been mentioned in trend watching for a few years now and its one libraries should see as a natural “fit” with what we do. Keeping it real, being authentic.

#6 Open brand  being open to personalisation, customisation, includes connecting with customers via social networking but its more than that

#7   Grey The ageing population. Interesting one this – I remember a few years back seeing a bunch of older customers swiftly changing queues at the issue desk to avoid being tangled up with a bunch of school kids. What do our older customers want from our libraries, is this going to change over time?

Library Survivor

Thje second trend marketing trend being followed by Alison Circle on her Bubble Room blog is responding to the economy. Circle talks about an idea for libraries  in harsh economic times – utilising after school homework help centres during the day as job help centres. 

 I’ve also spotted:

  • a report in a Milwaukee newspaper that libraries benefits are being rediscovered during the economic downturn
  • the editorial from the New Zealand Listener earlier this year that talks about the importance of libraries in times of economic hardship


Duncan McLachlan (Library Life, Dec 2008) has outlined 6 marketing ideas libraries can utilise to survive the economic downturn themselves. These include:

  • know your customers better and double your efforts with your ‘frequent flyers’
  • show your family values because they match the prevailing mood
  • adjust your services to value-for-money options
  • spend more on promotion not less – but simplify it
  • be quick and responsive
  • go for market share

You can read Duncan’s full column in the PDF version of Library Life, which is available to non-members, just jump to page 14.


How green is my library?

I’m currently following the marketing trends that Alison Circle has been reviewing in her Bubble Room blog.

First up was going green– an interesting one  given there was recent publicity about Google as a carbon criminal  (and an inference from a Google blog that libraries might be one as well).  In her blog post on the subject Kathryn Greenhill makes a very good point that

we should be working to make sure that our information format brand isn’t presumed to be only print books. Maybe we also need to work hard to ensure our “query answering” brand is not “in person”.

The Hartman Group pick gone green for good as an ongoing, with zero “green fatigue” currently in sight.  Their summary mentions green clothing and urban farming but as a megatrend it’s relevant to all sectors.

Marketing – the last profession to be invited into the library world

So begin’s Alison Circle’s post on Marketing as strategy, not a poster. For me this is a critically important blog posting, as it highlights what Circle considers to be a fundamental confusion in libraries between marketing and promotion. For Circle, marketing is:

a high level strategy, not the tactics that give life to that strategy

and as such it involves:

  • market research to know as much as possible about current and potential customers
  • analysing customer needs – what can be met and critically what can’t be met
  • identification and analysis of the competition
  • a focus on the four Ps – product, price, position and promotion

For me this sort of focus is exactly what has been missing as I’ve sat through numerous conference presentations that have highlighted again and again the challenges that face libraries, but have resulted in very little or no discussion on the strategy of how we will meet these challenges. Clearly we need to promote libraries and what we do, but where is our strategy that gives us a foundation to that – that gives us a framework to focus our limited budgets and resources? 

This then is what has led me to study marketing and to consider it in relation to libraries – because I suspect there aren’t enough of us in the library profession that know enough about marketing.

So here are a few questions I’ve got for starters:

  • do we follow and understand the major societal and consumer trends and how they will impact on us as librarians?
  • we survey our customers but do we just find out what we already know, or do we gather information that can actually help us make decisions about service delivery?
  • are we really honest about what needs we can and can’t meet? Are we honest and brave enough to concede there are some needs we can’t meet and there is little point in wooing certain groups of customers?
  • do we know who are competitors are and do we keep track of what they are up to?
  • do we have a good idea of how we should plan for future services – specifically how will the information seeking behaviours of generation Y, Z and C evolve? Are we aware of any longitudinal studies in place to look at this?