I’m going to start this post with a downright cynical assessment of the state of library marketing.  This probably isn’t going to come as a surprise to you, but I gotta speak the truth. What we’ve done for years is no longer working. Cardholders are tuning us out. They’re visiting us less and less. They’re buying more books online. (Does that drive you as crazy as it does me? What a waste of money!)

So, now what do we do?

Content marketing isn’t new, but it’s getting a lot of attention as more marketers prove it can be a successful way to approach an increasingly cynical customer base. People who tune out traditional promotional pitches and marketing noise will respond to stories about brands and their fellow customers. It’s a hard concept for many library marketers, myself included, to wrap their heads around but this pivot may just be the thing that saves your library.

Robert Rose, who is Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute, says the key to content marketing is to create pieces of content which add value to your customers lives–value which is separate and discreet from your product, the library card. Weird, right? How the heck does that help your library? Here’s how: A good content marketing program can make a personal connection between the people in your community and the library. And once you’ve created that connection, your cardholders will look to you when they have a problem that needs solving. It builds loyalty. It builds trust.

Don’t take it for granted that everyone knows how invaluable the library is to the community. They don’t. The numbers don’t play out in our favor. The truth is that customers of most libraries rarely process the messages we constantly blast at them. Have you ever wondered why customers say, “I didn’t know you were holding that program!” or “I didn’t know I could do that at the library!” even though you’ve plastered every surface of your library with posters and fliers? It’s because we’ve tried talking at them so many times that they automatically tune us out.  We need to start talking with them. They will remember how you make them feel. That’s the key… you’ve got to make your cardholders feel something!  

It’s a radically nontraditional approach. Instead of talking about you and your library in the first person and making your library the center of the conversation, content marketing turns the conversation around to your customer and asks

  • “What can we do for you?”
  • “How do you use the library?”
  • “How can we help you solve the biggest challenges in your life?”

Another content marketing genius, Jay Bauer, has some insights into content marketing based on a principle called “The Mom Test.” Baer points out that our moms love us and want what is best for us… but they’re also one of the few people we can count on to give us an honest assessment of our work. So, what would your mom say about your library and your work promoting it? Are you just creating content, campaigns, posters, fliers, and bookmarks because that’s what you’ve always done or because it’s on your checklist of things to do and by gosh, you gotta check off your checklist? Or are you truly, honestly meeting your cardholders on their level?

This is good news for you, fellow overworked library marketer. It means that you should probably start thinking about scaling back the amount of marketing you do and taking a new approach–one where quality is valued over quantity. Maybe the poster-flier-bookmark thing isn’t working anymore but if you’ve got a great program or service, you now have permission to do some creative things to promote it.

The key is to create an experience for cardholders… one that they will remember and share with others. Try approaching your library marketing with experiences in mind–and see if that doesn’t make a difference over time with your cardholders.

Have you created an experience that marketed your library and connected with your cardholders? Share your ideas and concerns in the comments section. 


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.