Measuring the impact of marketing activities in academic libraries

The question of measuring the impact of marketing efforts is a fraught one, even in the business world. Check out what Farris et al. have to say on the subject from Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance (2nd ed, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010):

In business and economics, many metrics are complex and difficult to master. Some are highly specialized and best suited to specific analyses. Many require data that may be approximate, incomplete, or unavailable.

Little wonder then that many libraries don’t tackle it – in the US, one study found that less than 33% of academic libraries evaluated their promotional campaigns.

Farris et al. offer this:

Under these circumstances, no single metric is likely to be perfect. For this reason, we recommend that marketers use a portfolio or “dashboard” of metrics. By doing so, they can view market dynamics from various perspectives and arrive at “triangulated” strategies and solutions. Additionally, with multiple metrics, marketers can use each as a check on the others. In this way, they can maximize the accuracy of their knowledge … Being able to “crunch the numbers” is vital to success in marketing. Knowing which numbers to crunch, however, is a skill that develops over time. Toward that end, managers must practice the use of metrics and learn from their mistakes.

Brian Mathews in Marketing today’s academic library: a bold approach to communicating with students (American Library Association, 2009) offers up some of the potential components of that dashboard:

Response-based advertising
For instance getting a customer to visit a website, or take advantage of an offer. The website could be a campaign-specific secondary page to better track statistics.

Market share
This could be calculated by counting the total number of users and dividing them by the total student population. For instance if 4000 students checked out a book at least once during the year out of a total student population of 10,000 then the market share would be 40%. And then we might think about the other 60% who didn’t borrow anything and how to reach them.

How did you hear about us?
This involves inviting students to share their experience. This can be done face to face or by using a follow-up email.

Web analytics
Analyse total hit rates and click-through rates to your website via tools such as Google Analytics.

A customer service survey administered by the Association for Research Libraries (charges apply).

A technique that can be used in focus groups, surveys or one-to-one interviews.

Dorm (hostel) surveys

Longitudinal studies
This involves tracking student usage over time – how do they find out about our services and how do they use the library over time? Mathews’ example involves selecting 6 new students each year, who he meets with once a semester throughout their degree. He notes this isn’t scientific but it allows him to get a feel for selected user groups and to learn about their experiences.

As Mathew’s says, ultimately there is no silver bullet when it comes to measuring impact and as Farris et al. suggest we need a range of metrics. Critically we also need to remember that this is part of a bigger task – we need to figure out what success would look like – which is all part of the goals we set as to what we want our marketing activities to achieve – right back at the start of the cycle of our marketing activities. For Mathews:

… success, from a marketing standpoint, is a combination of familiarity along with usage, across the span of a student’s tenure. The longevity of library use from day one until graduation is what matters


I feel instead of simply focusing on generating awareness or even just increasing use of resources, we should approach communication more philosophically by viewing our marketing as a chance to elevate the role of the library in our students’ minds. In this manner, our advertising encourages them to expect more from us. We are not just providing more books, more journals, more computers, or more staff to help them, but rather more relevance. We should aspire to smash their preconceptions of what a library is and instead demonstrate what it can become.

He proposes the following:

1. List all of the library products and services that are relevant to undergraduates
2. At the end of the academic year ask a random sample of thirty students from different classes and ask them to
a) tick the products and services they have heard of and
b) tick those that they have actually used.

This allows you to track the effectiveness of your communications and the usage of your library.

What tools do you use to measure the impact of your marketing activities?

Stepping away from a commercial view of marketing

At the moment I am reading the excellent Bite-sized marketing:  realistic solutions for the overworked librarian by Nancy Dowd, Mary Evangeliste and Jonathan Silberman. The book’s focus is on word-of-mouth-marketing and it is perfect for dipping in and out of.

Do you know anyone who needs to move on from the idea that marketing is some sort of grubby commercial activity? Ask them to consider this:

Marketing traditionally has been thought of a deceitful or overly corporate, but in actuality it is about communicating your values to your customers. Marketing for libraries is a powerful way for libraries to accomplish our goals and stay relevant. In her phenomenal book Robin Hood Marketing: How to steal corporate savvy to sell just causes, Katya Andersen says: “There is no nobility in preaching to an audience of one. Those of us working for the public good have an ethical responsibility to be effective and efficient in reaching as many people as possible.” As Andersen points out so eloquently, we have to see marketing as an ethical responsibility. If we know that the services and resources that we provide for people make their lives better, we can step away from our commercialized view of marketing and move on to creating marketing programs that we can be proud of and fully invest ourselves in.


What article databases have in common with prepaid funerals

This post was inspired by recent exchanges on the NZ-Libs discussion list about the usage of databases provided via EPIC. Here I have included my response, and I have included some of the ideas for promoting database resources that came through in the responses. These are just a snapshot of the good ideas that came through and it was heartening that the EPIC Governance Group signalled they were looking for any feedback on collaborative approaches to training and promotion of electronic resources. (This can be sent to

To borrow an analogy from Julie Badger’s excellent article “Turning ‘cold sellers’ into ‘must haves’:  marketing unsought library products” – article databases have as much appeal as a prepaid funeral.  They represent a type of product that consumers may be unaware of, or see no need for, or even have negative attitudes towards. And Badger is talking about databases in the academic library setting – promoting article databases to the general public represents further challenges.

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New book to look at the disconnect between theory and reality in library marketing

There’s another library marketing book in the pipeline. Nancy Dowd is currently working on a book that seeks to bridge the gap between marketing theory and how librarians put in into practice. As she says (the bold text is my emphasis):

Marketing is still viewed by many libraries as an afterthought. Many departments purpose is to create posters and write press releases rather than help a library know their customers and help to create relevant programs, products and services.

Kathy [Dempsey] began an important conversation in her book, The Accidental Marketer, when she outlined and defined each step of true marketing (see image here). Mary Evangeliste, Jonathan Silberman and I wrote our book about ways you could break those steps into Bite-Sized pieces. But even with those two books on the shelves, there is still a disconnect between theory and reality.

Nancy is seeking contributions to make the book as relevant as possible to “enact the changes needed for libraries to take advantage of marketing and help them make the changes needed that will position them as essential organizations to fund”.

You can read more about her ideas for the book and how you can contribute over at The M World – Marketing Libraries blog.