I’m a fan of Ann Handley… that’s not really a secret.

Handley is an inspiration because her approach to marketing centers on creative writing. I spoke to her last year and she was kind enough to do an interview for this blog.

I saw Handley speak at Content Marketing World this year. Her message was full of great advice and there’s one point she made which bounced around in my head ever since it rolled off her tongue.

If the label fell off your product, would your audience still know it belongs to you?

I have looked at everything we do here at my library through new eyes in light of that question. And the honest answer is… no. I think that’s probably the case for most libraries and for most brands, quite frankly.

How do we make sure our writing and our content is truly ours? We’ve all heard experts tell us to “find and use your brand voice” but what does that really mean?

I think it’s particularly hard for a library. Marketing experts warn brands not to try to be all things to all people–to find a niche audience. But that all-inclusiveness is at the core of every public library’s mission statement. We were built by everyone in the community and we serve everyone.

That doesn’t mean your institution can’t find and use its own unique voice. Your voice is about who you are as a library, why you do what you do, and what your customers experience as they deal with your services and staff. Your voice reflects your culture and amplifies your story. It creates empathy in your cardholders and shows you care about them. Here are some tips from Handley’s talk.


Don’t play it safe. Now, don’t get scared right off the bat. I know you are likely taxpayer-funded. You’re conscientious about everything, from how you spend your money to how you word your phrases. Handley isn’t asking you to be racy or provocative. She’s encouraging you to move away from “library lingo”… to speak conversationally, using words that real people use and understand. She’s asking you to stop assuming your cardholders know about all the services your library offers, how to use them, and where to find help. She’s saying you should look for stories from inside your library and from your cardholders and share those stories.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to create engaging content. Handley says compelling content is more about brains, hearts, and guts than budget.  Handley told us the story of a family member and his quest for the perfect coozy. It led him to the company Freaker USA, which makes unique coozies. Check out their “about” page. No fancy talk, no lingo. I also love their FAQ page. It uses humor to gain interest for a drink insulator. You have to admit that’s genius.  And there’s no reason libraries can use that same approach to make their information more accessible.

Deep value makes your customers smart. Consider how your library is leading your community. How do you make the world a better place? Through questions like this, you’ll find stories that you can tell through heartfelt, engaging writing. Those stories nearly write themselves. And that’s the stuff your cardholders really want to hear about.

Finally, Handley encourages you to disrupt your industry fairy tales. What is it that people think of when they think about your library? What stories and stereotypes has your organization perpetuated? When I tell people I work in a library, they ask me if I work in a Carnegie-designed building full of women wearing glasses and sensible shoes who are constantly telling people to be quiet. That’s so far from the truth! Today’s libraries are noisy, creative, modern places. Let’s start telling those stories and bust those myths.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.