Marketing is pretty much common sense. It has enduring values and ideas. Occasionally these are given a change of vocabulary, particularly when new consultancies come on the scene to re-imagine its key concepts. Having something worth telling your users about, a pretty clear message about the value they will receive from engaging with you and then sending these messages through channels that make sense to the users are at the heart of all marketing. However every now and then the emphasis within the marketing body of knowledge changes to suit the times. Here are 6 insights into the way in which the emphasis is changing at this moment in our turbulent times: 

  • The fight for attention is brutal and difficult to sustain. It is time to commit to creating more unique content and specifically content that inspires and develops positive emotions in those interfacing with the library. Library and information professionals have the opportunity to move some of their activities from curators and sharers to creators and developers. In a busy, noisy and uncertain world our services can only add value to the resources we curate if we present them creatively. Simple curation will position services as a maintenance cost – information really only has value in use – and in times of economic distress highlighting cost rather than value is positively encouraging cuts to the service.
  • An increasing recognition that any marketing plan must include activity across all parts of the engagement spectrum – advocacy, outreach, campaign marketing, external relations, user experience and customer service. These are not simply stand alone items and the synergies between them are the source of true engagement. Value is hard to create and easy to destroy. A brilliant campaign around a key library value can easily fall flat if badly supported at the front line of the library where staff deliver, or fail to deliver, your library’s promises. There is a need to have an integrated campaign across all of these to ensure outputs and outcomes are more than the sum of their individual parts.
  • Building upon the previous point there is now a widespread recognition that employee engagement is a key part of marketing activity and not simply a human resources function. Staff are not simply mechanical cogs in a machine. Staff deliver the library promise (assuming you make a promise better than “we’ll have a go”) and if they are not engaged and enthused with the values of the library service then what chance is there that users and governing bodies are going to engage? Services are human and emotional rather than mechanical and emotion free.
  • There is a practical need to be more experimental. Today there is often little time, or indeed resource, to undertake large market research projects or “boil the ocean” level change projects aimed to revolutionise the library service. Things change quickly and you may find that by the time you have evaluated and mused upon a new technology or mobile app the opportunity to make impact has vanished. Try a series of small scale low profile experiments which do not disrupt the whole library system. Scale up where there is clear success. Where there is no success – learn.
  • A shift from simply counting activity to assessing true engagement. Engagement can be defined and measured by how involved people are with the library and how sustained their connections are over time. Although libraries of all types need to show that they are being used there needs to be natural change of emphasis from counting basic things such as issues, visits or social media likes (all of which can form part of a reporting system) to more engagement driven items such as social media shares or comments. Stories of how users have been helped are a very important qualitative input to library performance. Collect positive stories and testimonials. They are always valuable.
  • This move from marketing to engagement requires library and information staff to be more visible. People usually engage with people rather than systems. Be more visible not just on the web but in person. It almost doesn’t matter which approach you take just as long as you strike up a conversation. The conversation, either in person or through a conversation via website comments, will enable you to speak, listen and build on the ideas exchanged. You have one mouth and two ears. The conversation should work roughly in these proportions – the time spent in listening and reflecting should be twice as much as you speak. But make sure you speak. Get invited to meetings, think of opportunities to contact people in a relatively informal sense even if it is just to say “thank you, for attending our event”. Use your creativity to encourage invites to radio sessions the major project teams of your organisation or the online blogs of influencers. Just try not to base your marketing solely on messages from a distance. The more up close and personal you are the more potential for meaningful engagement and repeat contact and usage.

At the very time when the values of libraries seem to fit well with the values of society funding is often under threat. It is hoped that these six insights above will spark the kind of conversations that underpin continued successful futures for libraries of all types.

Engaging your Community through Active Strategic Marketing: A practical guide for librarians and information professionals by Terry Kendrick is available now. 

Terry Kendrick has over 30 years' experience of delivering information and marketing training courses. Originally qualified as a librarian, Terry has run his own information and marketing training and consultancy company – Information Now Ltd – which was established in 1989. He specialises in strategic marketing planning facilitation and training, strategic risk management, management consultancy skills, internet search techniques and competitive intelligence. In addition to information activities Terry has in the past been Director of the MBA Programme at the University of East Anglia and Director of Executive Education at Leeds University Business School. In his freelance information and marketing activities Terry has worked on projects in over 20 countries. Terry is a CILIP Onsite trainer, presenting a number of tailored programmes for organisations. He has also written articles on marketing planning and is the author of Developing Strategic Marketing Plans That Really Work: A toolkit for public libraries (2006).