marketing libraries

How important is library branding? And other marketing questions...

Ahead of Internet Librarian International, where I'm running a workshop next week, I had an interesting chat about marketing with Caroline Milner. The Q&A is reproduced below because I thought there were some good questions!

What are the biggest challenges libraries face when marketing their services?
There are so many! A big one is that we have so much to offer - we're complex organisations, but complex marketing messages rarely work. So how do you boil down what we do into messages people can easily understand, without dumbing down? And not just understand our messages, but see how we fit into their lives? Another problem is constantly battling against the wider narrative that libraries are irrelevant or dying. Library use is astronomically huge when you compare it to other cultural activities, but I bet 99% of the public wouldn't guess that.

And of course, a major disadvantage libraries face is that most of us have little or zero budget for marketing. Everything we cover in my workshop costs time, but almost none of it involves shelling out actual cash, because for most libraries it's just not an option readily available to them.

How important is library branding?
It depends how you interpret branding... I don't think branding as in visual identity as important as other people say it is.

It's not that it isn't good to have great branding, it's that there are so many other things we need to get right before the branding becomes key from the user's point of view. If your message is simple, clear, focuses on the benefits, and has a good call to action, but looks average, that will be 20x more effective than most library marketing even if the branding is perfect on all those other examples. It's the message, and its relevance, that matters to the users.

The library branding should reflect the library brand. It should communicate who you are. It should help users identify us and remember us. Beyond that, the exact logo or colour scheme is really not that big a deal. The people who say it is are often (not always, but often) the people who make money as branding consultants.

What about the interaction between marketing in the physical space, and marketing online?
Library marketing works best when the two go hand-in-hand. You want people to see the same key message more than once. The online marketing should hook them in, but the messages in the building should reinforce those messages and deliver on the promise. People need to be reminded of the same things in different contexts.

How much emphasis should library marketers place on social media?
Loads and loads. It's hard to talk in general terms - for example, social media for a Law Library that almost exclusively markets to the Law firm it is attached to is less vital than social media for a public library trying to reach thousands of people in a geographical area. But for most libraries, social media was the last great marketing silver bullet. It was the last big thing we could do that completely revolutionises and improves our communication with users. From now on it's really all about making several small changes to affect greater results.

Don't get me wrong, social media can't exist in isolation. It's not as simple as just being on all the latest platforms and posting about the library. But used strategically in conjunction with other channels, it can be hugely productive. It suits libraries really well.

What about involving stakeholders – getting their buy in, and their active support? 
We mustn't forget to market upwards - an absolutely key stakeholder for libraries is the person or group who holds the purse-strings, or who decides on the future of the institution. We need to talk their language, and communicate how what we're doing with the library aligns with their aims. 

More generally, the stakeholders are our key user groups, and those groups are everything. Not just in helping you spread the messages - word of mouth marketing is the most effective marketing of all - but also understanding what those messages should be in the first place. Understanding the different segments of your audience, and tailoring the communications to each group accordingly, is a huge part of what we cover in the workshop. A small amount of marketing segmentation goes a long way.

A library marketing manifesto


I just delivered a keynote at the LIANZA Conference, #SHOUT15, in New Zealand. It outlines a Library Marketing Manifesto - an attempt to boil everything down into five things we must do to be heard and listened to above the clamour of modern life. I know some people are uncomfortable with the word marketing, but essentially this is all about communication between us and our communities.


1. We will be community orientated
2. We will do what people need, but market what they want
3. We will cater for library novices and for library experts
4. We will keep things simple
5. We will coordinate our marketing into campaigns

Here are the slides:

The talk was recorded. Although the video inevitably mortifies me a bit, I'm delighted to have a record of the whole thing because I was so excited to be there, and the audience were so fantastically receptive.

Watch the talk here.

And finally, here are some excellent tweets which help explain the slides a little more. (I'll write about the experience of actually being in New Zealand and the rest of the conference later on.) The embedded version doesn't cover the full thing - you can view that online here if you wish.

Library comms are like tapas: lots of small elements make an effective whole


A tweet from Matt Imrie alerted me to this blogpost from Scott Pack. It's about book reviewing and whether or not blogs about books make any difference to the sales of books.

It really resonated with me, because his conclusions mirror my own about library communication:

...those sort of sales [from blog posts] combined WITH sales prompted by newspaper reviews AND other bloggers AND tweeters AND further word-of-mouth from people who subsequently read it COULD make a difference. Which is why we do need all sorts of book reviewing in all formats across all platforms.
— Me & My Big Mouth blog

This is the absolute nub. No single method of communication carries THAT much weight on its own anymore - we live in a fragmented world and we have to adapt to that. Even compared with two or three years ago, there's less of a chance to use one platform to reach all the people. And crucially, even if it you DO reach all the people, seeing a message once is for the most part not enough to get people to do anything different to what they were going to do anyway.

We need to be nudged a number of times before we act.

Sometimes a library will set up a blog, and try really hard with it, and after 6 months be really disappointed that they're only getting 100 views for each post. But the thing is, it's a few people seeing messages from the Library AND on Twitter AND on a digital screen in the building which tips people over into thinking or acting differently. Click the little stats icon on any one of your library's tweets and be stunned at just how few people actually saw it. But that's okay too, because all of your communications channels combine into a holistic presence. It's about building ambient awareness rather than trying to hit loads of people with a one-off message and expecting that to produce a significant result.

It feels like you're doing a lot of work for not that much reward across a series of channels, but actually the reward comes from how they work together rather than individually. Which is why having a strategic approach to coordinate your messages and to know what each platform is really for, is ultimately worth the time it takes to prepare...

If you want an analogy, think of communication as being like tapas! No single dish is that significant on its own, but taken as a whole it's a really nice meal.

Marketing = this

Marketing = this

Australia! I am in you in April, running some marketing workshops...

Phil Bradley always said you could travel the world on a library degree, and that seems to be coming truer and truer. 

In April I'm running some workshops on marketing libraries, in Australia. If this is a side of the information profession you're interested in, I'd love to see you there! The dates and cities are:

  • April 20th: Melbourne
  • April 22nd: Sydney
  • April 24th: Brisbane

The training company who've asked me over to do these has put together a pretty comprehensive brochure detailing what we'll cover. You can see more info as well as booking details over on the PiCS site, and I've embedded the leaflet below.

This is brilliant: Broken library communications and how to fix them


Very occasionally I feature someone else's slides on this blog, and this is one of those times - because this presentation brilliantly elucidates almost everything I feel about modern library communication.

(Andy and Ange are on Twitter if you want to follow them for more.)

I worry that there's a sort of echo-chamber thing here, where people who already think like this nod and go 'yes absolutely' and people who don't agree shake their heads and say 'but what about [insert reason to carry on doing things ineffectively here]?' and none of us really change our thinking - but I hope that's not the case.

I think some people might think that the issues described in the presentation above are window-dressing or otherwise somehow superficial, but they absolutely are not - communication is at the heart of what we do in the information profession.

All of these things add up to make a huge contribution to the user experience - and ultimately the user experience defines whether your library is successful or not.

So in keeping with the advice in the slides, let's end with a call to action - is there one change you can make to the way you or your library does things, based on the above? Whether it's simply amending your signs so that if they say 'You can't do X here' they ALSO say 'but you can do it in location Y - here's how to get there' or a full-scale review of the communications in your institution, try and make a change!