(lack of) Library rebranding … the same old BS

Seth Godin’s recent comments on libraries and librarians has prompted a number of interesting responses. Bobbi Newman has done another great job of unpacking Seth’s ideas and providing really well-considered responses. One other one that resonated with me is PC Sweeney’s post saying that basically Seth has got it right:

 The problem is that the real root of this article, and the aspects these good folks are arguing against, are problems of perception. Of course, we all know that the library isn’t just a “warehouse of books” and we know some folks use our databases, and we all know that kids shouldn’t use Wikipedia. But unfortunately Seth’s statements are exactly what a HUGE percentage of the population believes. This is our fault. This is the brand that generations of librarians have been reinforcing for years. In fact, some of my favorite library marketing has been about the book brand of libraries. Seth is merely calling us out for not doing our jobs to ensure that we are adequately re-branding libraries.

Again, I couldn’t agree more. I tried to have a bash at this myself in my post about the demise of Library week. LIANZA responded to me (thank you!) but, again, what they are offering are materials to promote libraries. This is not quite what I was on about. I was on about a collective conversation that would seek answers to some fundamental questions such as those raised by marketers like Brian Meredith:

What business are we in?

What are we selling (or in our case what services are we providing)?

Who are we providing these to?

Why would anyone want them?

Once we have a handle on these things we are in a much better position  to think about 1) how we should market brand Library and 2) achieve our goals by identifying and/or creating needs and/or wants for our chosen target audiences and fulfilling  them cost effectively. 

One of the comments to PC Sweeney’s post was that “this BS is decades old”.


So can we get on with talking about what business we really are in and how we might do better at rebranding and broadening perceptions of what we are all about?

Catching trout and making coffee or what is marketing anyway?

This morning I had the opportunity to hear Brian Meredith’s answer, courtesy of a Business Breakfast seminar here in Palmerston North (organised by UCOL and Massey in association with Vision Manawatu and Manawatu Chamber of Commerce). Brian was an entertaining speaker who delivered his perspective on what marketing is all about.

First he addressed what it isn’t. Marketing is not:

1. “the art of arresting human intelligence long enough to extract money from it” – this is a very common viewpoint and one  that is driven by motivation for short term sales. But it is not long term, sustainable, or ethical;

2. the place where ads are done? – if only it was that simple;

3. A big black hole for money to disappear into – no marketing should be considered an investment, with measurable outcomes;

4. Sales with a degree – well yes it can be!

Fundamentally marketing is not rocket science, not scary and above all not optional. Even if you don’t think you are doing any marketing you are – because people will notice everything about your business/service – taking in the appearance of the building, the cars parked outside etc. etc.

Brian told an anecdote about angling, and how despite having the best gear money could buy he couldn’t catch a fish. Advice from a wise old angler? Think about it from the position of the fish? Where do they live, what do they eat, what is their life cycle? Businesses are the same – the only perspective that is important is where the money comes from – the customer. His other anecdote concerned the baffling “the plug for the jug is in the bathroom” sign in a hotel – why would you want to take the jug into the bathroom to boil it. Whatever the reason for this, it wasn’t a customer focused decision! 

So what is marketing?

Marketing is a concept:

an organisation will only achieve its goals by identifying/creating needs/wants amongst its chosen target market and fulfilling them at a profit* time after time (*not-for-profits can substitute “cost effectivelyhere)

Marketing is a state of mind – this is all about everyone in the business being customer focused – realising that it all centres around the customer. This has to be in place before Marketing as a set of tools and techniques will even work.

Brian outlined the four fundamental questions that need to be answered:

1. What business am I in?

This is potentially the most difficult. Brian gave the example of a company who considered themselves in the drill business, but the reality is they are in the hole-making business. What happens when a laser product comes along that can create better holes, more cheaply? The drill business essentially disappears.

2. What am I selling?

Is it just a cheap deal? That’s how it seems for lots of businesses, but some customers want more than that.

3. Who am I selling to?

We need to understand every aspect of our customers, and when we think we know them, review everything we know.

4. Why should they want to buy it?

My thoughts:

One of my colleagues  said at the end of the talk “what he calls marketing, I’d call customer service”. As Brian said, for too many businesses marketing starts with the tools and techniques, but really its about all of the other aspects he talked about – the customer being central to the marketing concept, and the marketing “state of mind” – where marketing is everyone’s concern.

 What business you are in is one of those fundamental questions that is at the heart of competitor intelligence. I’m not sure its one we have thought about enough in the library sector. When I think about the academic library I am in, and the work I do, I increasingly think I am in the business of helping people get qualifications by passing papers – yes I provide information and facilitate access to resources and build collections etc, but fundamentally I’m here to help students make a success of their studies (and staff their research and teaching). It made me think about the vexed question of information literacy – going back to the marketing concept, is information a need students have, or is it one we should create! And part of that comes back to being clear about the value it would have for them.