How to Approach Library Marketing

My high school science teacher was remarkable. A fantastically organized woman who wore a lab coat for every class and demonstrated a clear penchant for polyester pants, Mrs. Margraf was the creator of memorable learning games like “Periodic Table Jeopardy” and “Bowling for Molecules.” She also taught us about scientific experiments–and these were the classes I loved the most. I loved the process of looking at the evidence I had on hand, making a hypothesis, and then formulating and executing the right experiment to prove or disprove my theory. I found it highly satisfying to work with data, to watch how elements reacted to one another, and to have a clearer idea of how the world works when I finished. The gathering of new data is revelation and usually leads to more questions that require more experiments. The quest for answers is never dull.

Experimenting in the marketing space is very important. It improves the customer experience. Like the scientist working in a lab, a marketer’s experimentation is vital to the success of your organization.

For the past six months, I’ve experimented with our library system cardholders. This is just the first step in an ongoing effort to keep in touch with our customers, to measure their responsiveness to certain kinds of messages, and to get the maximum value for the efforts of our department. Let me say this clearly: My work will never be done!


Except it’s not evil!

I want you to think of yourself as a kind of scientist. All your efforts should be part of a larger experiment. They should move your organization towards the end goal of fulfilling your library’s key strategic initiatives. But the path to get there isn’t clear–particularly in the world in which we market, with its ever-changing digital platforms. Each piece of marketing you create–the successes and the failures–will all count for something larger if you approach your work with this scientific mindset.

1. What is your ultimate goal? Are you trying to increase circulation? Are you hoping to get more butts into the seats at programs? Are you trying to raise awareness about your homework help services? Your strategy should guide all your experiments.

2. What do you know right now about your cardholders? Write down what you know right now about how your cardholders behave when interacting with your library. At my library, we know that people will often go to the front page of our website and skip to the catalog to search for items. They aren’t seeing the special reading recommendations our librarians put together and they aren’t seeing announcements about improved or new services in the rotating carousel. So we need to get those messages to them in some other way.

3. Experiment in a way that allows you to collect data. Be meticulous. Every day, I’m watching the holds on certain books which are front and center in our promotions. Over time, I’ve been able to form a clearer picture about how our customers come to find out about new books and which genres they like. For example,  we were sending cardholder emails that were graphic-based–one big graphic promoting a collection of reading material. Our customers had to click on the graphic, and then scroll through the list to find a book that interested them. On a whim, we switched to link-based messages, so customers could see all the new books in the list in their email. They could then click on a link that let them check out the one that interested them. It reduced the interaction by one click and made it more convenient for the customer. And holds increased!

4. Analyze-regroup-experiment again. I think many times we get stuck marketing the same way we always have, even when it’s clear the methods we’re using aren’t producing the results we want. STOP IT. Don’t be afraid to look at the data and say to your boss, “This isn’t working. Let’s try this instead.” If you have data to back up your experiments, you’ll be in a better position to argue for change. Conversely, don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong. More than once, I thought I’ve had a brilliant idea for a promotion only to watch as readers didn’t respond. I certainly learned from it and the next time, my promotions were that much stronger.


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