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 paula.banks@dia.govt.nz).

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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On Facebook? Make sure you “like” this page …

Kathy Dempsey has a fabulous Facebook page that she started for her marketing business – Libraries Are Essential. She posts tips on marketing, links to articles and studies, and best practice examples of library promotion. It looks like a fantastic resource for keeping up to date! Check it out at  www.Facebook.com/LibrariesAreEssential.

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.

Discovering thewikiman

Today – thanks to the miracle of pingbacks – I had the great pleasure to discover thewikiman blog. Joy of joys, this blog by Ned Potter also covers marketing and advocacy, along with technology trends and a host of other information professional topics. I’ve previously posted Ned’s excellent presentation So you want to work in libraries, but had failed to discover his blog.  Ned has a book on marketing underway – you can read all about it and take in the excellent feedback he has from his readers, including some from none other than Terry Kendrick. Terry is the author of Developing strategic marketing plans that really work and is not surprisingly an advocate of applying a bit of strategic focus to the subject 🙂

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.

Seth Godin on libraries

Seth Godin’s post on the future of the library gives us a useful insight into perceptions about libraries, whether we think he is right or wrong in what he says.  Sarah Glassmeyer has done a good job of unpacking it all on her blog.

And Kathy Dempsey’s comments (part of Seth’s posting) are right on the mark and worth reproducing here:

I’ve been in the library field for more than 20 years, and I think Seth’s proposal is off-base: “train people to take intellectual initiative.”
Libraries already have plenty of people willing & able to train others in how to do better searches, to be more information-literate, and how to use technology to its best advantage. One of the problems I see is that the public (be they students, community members, business people, etc.) do not want or value the help of librarians, who are still stereotyped as old-fashioned and not useful in the information age. Librarians have all this key knowledge but nobody wants to hear it from them. It’s not cool or smart to ask a librarian for help (especially if you’re a Digital Native). This could be at the core of our downfall. What I therefore see as a more important step is for librarians to fight and update their stereotype. People need to realize and understand their value. We need to get out of our own boxes and show leaders how smart and useful we are. Unfortunately, most lib employees aren’t good at this, and there are few out there who can teach them how to do it. This isn’t part of the library school curriculum. And once you’re in an day-to-day library job, you don’t have the permission, time, or money to find and take workshops that will teach this still. Many, too, don’t even want to put themselves out there. The old “people who need us will come to us w/o outreach” mentality is a threat to our survival. To sum up: the library field already has great trainers and thought leaders. But they don’t reach outside their own field, and on the rare occassions that they do, too few people find them worth listening to.

So here we are again.  Our challenge is to communicate the value we can offer, whether it’s through providing collective access to resources, or being intellectual leaders. The thing is, this challenge has been around for a few years now. My dream is that by the end of this decade (in fact way earlier than that!) librarians have this sorted – we have upskilled our profession about how we can use all aspects of the marketing discipline to enhance what we do, and we are experts at communicating our own value and that of all the resources we provide.

Article: Working with campus marketing classes to improve reference visibility

This article* describes how a library worked with marketing classes at Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) to improve students’ interest in using reference services. This gave the opportunity for students to engage in a real-world problem, while meeting the academic needs of the course and providing the library with ideas as to how they could improve the visibility and usefulness of the service. Some key points from the article for me were:

  • the Library only specified two questions, the students generated the bulk of the survey questions
  • the survey results confirmed that the students love the library facility but fail to use its resources, specifically the reference desk to the fullest
  • students tended to be technology savvy, time poor, and unwilling to ask for assistance
  • students used Google as their main resource, and would ask peers and lecturers for help, but were unlikely to ask librarians
  •  the words “reference” and “information” were meaningless to students

Students provided recommendations for improving reference services, which were then considered by the librarians. As a result of this project:

  • a secondary sign was added to the “Information desk” sign – a large yellow “help” button
  • an instant messaging (IM) service was initiated (apparently marketing students “strongly advocated” this – Meebo was eventually chosen)
  • promotional materials were developed for the IM service and for the email reference service
  • walk-in workshops on specific topics were suggested by students, but were not pursued as they had failed to attract student interest in the past. As an alternative the library did decide to work on relationships with student groups – a “handful” of these scheduled time on sessions to improve research skills
  • the seating arrangements of the student assistant/librarian at the reference desk was reversed, with the librarian taking the front and center seat and the student assistant moving to the back

The article notes that the number of reference transactions jumped as a result of the changes, but overall “aggregate numbers continued to trend downward, though less dramatically”.

A second round of marketing class/library collaboration was undertaken with students developing marketing plans for the library. Ultimately this was considered less useful than the original collaboration as “the suggestions did not fit for the image that we wanted to portray and were not as appropriate for the real world as they seemed on paper”.  Of the suggestions that did fit, one was the adoption of a  standardised visual identifier (which eventually replaced the help button), that was used in a consistent manner across the website, on handouts etc. This identifier – the “AskeAmes” logo was created by a graphic design student.

I’m wondering now if there would be scope for something like this at the university I work at. I’d be very interested to hear if anyone else has undertaken similar collaborations.

Spotted on the M Word – Marketing Libraries blog

* Duke, L. M., & MacDonald, J. B. (2009). Working with campus marketing classes to improve reference service visibility. Marketing Library Services, 23(6). Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/mls/nov09/Duke_MacDonald.shtml