Do you remember when you learned to read? I was in the first grade. I had some big motivation–the school was holding a “read aloud” contest to find a student to deliver a PSA about education on a local radio station. My mother was incredulous when I shared my plan for my broadcast debut. How could a kid who could not yet read learn to read well enough in time to get that radio spot? It was an insurmountable obstacle in her eyes.

I proved my mother wrong through sheer will and determination, and with a little help from the “Dick and Jane” series. Flash forward 20 years… I was working as a producer at a television station in Cincinnati. My job was to put two shows on the air, at 6 and 11 p.m. It wasn’t easy on a good night–I never seemed to have enough time or resources or good stories. And then one day, the station suffered a huge power failure. Even the generators were dead. We had no way to get on the air. But failure was not an option and with air time fast approaching, we came up with a plan–we’d broadcast live from the parking lot using our live truck. It worked. We felt like heroes. Journalism won the day and after that, I felt like there was no problem that I could not solve.

We all face obstacles every day. Your attitude plays a huge role in determining whether you overcome them, particularly for those of us working in the library marketing sphere. Many of our problems are unique to this industry. Do. Not. Fear. You can find ways around anything.

To prove it, here are the top five problems we face in Library Marketing along with some ideas for solving them through content marketing.

Not Enough Time

The library year is kind of like the “lazy river” at my local YMCA-a constant swirling movement of events that keeps pushing us forward. It takes some force and a change of direction to break free. When you’re under pressure to promote each big event, it can leave you feeling like you never have enough time for your collection or service marketing. Heck, you might feel like you don’t even have enough time to think or be creative. The first thing we HAVE to do is create a content marketing strategy. It not only helps you drive your marketing for the year in a measurable way, it will also provide a concrete reason the next time you have to say that small and yet very important word… “no.” Say “no” to promotions that don’t serve to drive your library’s strategic mission. Say “no” to promoting every exhibit, program, and author visit at your branches. Empower your branches to do some of their own promotion by providing them with simple guidelines for doing their own community marketing and set them free so you can focus on the big picture… your library as a whole.

Not Enough Money

Ah, budgets. It’s really the thing that separates us most from the for-profit marketers. But let’s not use a small budget as an excuse. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t advocate for a larger marketing budget. But start small. Ask your administration for a small increase in the amount of money you can use to fund social media advertising. It’s cheaper than traditional ad buys and your administrators might not realize how targeted the ads can be, making them super effective. You can easily prove that you can make a good return on their investment. Also, look for partnership opportunities to promote more than the big programs. At my library, we created a standard document for media sponsorships for our major programs, which lists the action items we’d like our potential sponsors to fulfill and what benefits we can offer them in return. Those kind of media sponsorship pitches are usually reserved for our On the Same Page or Summer Learning initiatives but why not pitch a media sponsorship to promote your digital collection or your fantastic database resources? You can also find the blogging influencers in your marketplace–the mommy bloggers, tech groups and book clubs with blogs–and invite them to write about your organization. We did this recently when we opened our new MakerSpace and got lots of publicity outside the traditional media (this article is a good example).

Not Enough Staff

If you alone comprise the marketing department, trying to take on content marketing can be a scary proposition. You probably feel like you’re already just hanging on by the skin of your teeth. Ask for more help. Every organization has people with multiple talents. There are likely a number of librarians who have an interest and a proficiency for social media, writing, video, and design. Ask around and recruit those staff members to help you create content. Ask for permission to engage an intern or two. You’ll have someone to handle the grunt work and you’ll have the joy that comes with mentoring and encouraging the career of young marketers.

Not Enough Data About Customers

This one sounds like the most difficult of the problems to solve but it’s actually one of the easiest. If your library isn’t already collecting data about your current customers, make the case to start. Any number of companies will take your cardholder data and translate the ways in which your customers are using your resources into personas. You should also be sending surveys to your cardholders. Create a new cardholder survey to gauge the interests of people just entering your library system. A yearly satisfaction survey for all cardholders is also extremely helpful, particularly when you can take the results and split them into your different persona groups.

From there, you can map your customer’s journey: When they get a card, how long does it take them to use it? What do they do with it–are they checking out books or using your digital collection or your computers, or do they simply let it languish? Do you have some customers who got a card years ago, used it a specific way, and then stopped altogether? Do you have some customers who are making the transition from print items to digital materials? Do you have some customers who are only interested in one particular kind of item–DVDs, audio books, or computers? Break your customers into groups based on what they do with the card and start creating pieces of content that target those groups. Maybe you’ll want to focus your efforts at first on one group in particular. At my library, we’re targeting a persona we call “Occasionals”… people who use their cards infrequently, as in once every six months. We focus on moving people from that cluster into a more active user persona, by targeting them with messages about the convenience of our digital collection.

Not Enough Courage

This problem is the biggest, in my opinion. We are too set in our ways. How many times have you heard someone in your library say, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it!” It’s the phrase I dread. It takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to change the minds of our fellow library staff members and our administration. It seems like it would just be easier to stay the course.

Do. Not. Give. In. Marketers have a reputation for being talkative, a little eager, a bit bold, and maybe a tad whacky, and these are all GOOD traits! We have to remember our main objective–to get customers to move through the cardholder journey and engage with the library. Without that engagement, the people who argue that libraries are obsolete will win! We can’t have that. So I challenge you, fellow library marketers, to shake off the chains of the past and to help slowly and thoughtfully steer your library into the future. It works best when you start small. Think of it like a staircase. On the bottom step, you make an small argument and you try a new thing. You see results. You report the results and chances are, you’ll get to climb to the next step. The more you do this, the faster you’ll get up the stairs–at some point, you might even be allowed to take the stairs two at a time. Keep the end goal in mind but set smaller goals that help you to get there.

If we are able to surmount these five obstacles during 2015, imagine how fantastic the state of libraries will be when January 2016 rolls around. Content is what will save the libraries. It’s not a coincidence that you work in a building surrounded by content. It’s not a coincidence that content and storytelling has been alive and relatively the same since the beginning of time. Let’s use the power of words to put libraries in a competitive position in the digital, personalized, customer-driven world.

What obstacles do you face? Share your problems and solutions in the comment section!

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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.