I was listening to the This Old Marketing Podcast hosted by Contest Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi, and I realized there is one giant, gaping hole in the way most libraries are set up to do their marketing. We don’t know much of anything about our cardholders!

Most companies know their customers backwards, forwards, and standing on their heads. We know how our customers use their cards but that data is pretty narrow. It only gives us a passing glimpse–really, a shallow clue to the life our users lead outside of the library building. We don’t have answers to the important questions that will actually help us to serve them better:  Where do they get their information? What are their hobbies? What are their problems? What are they worried about? 

A giant part of this problem is tied to our budgets. Put bluntly, we are strapped for cash. The idea that we would use precious marketing budget dollars on surveys and focus groups seems absurd and frivolous. But it’s not. The more we know about our cardholders, the better our overall marketing efforts will be.

When we just guess at what our cardholders want and need, we are doing them a disservice. So without the money to do what the big brands do, how we find out what our customers are worried about? Here are some tips for getting to know your cardholders better, for free.

Survey them… regularly. Keep it short and offer incentives for completion. If your library doesn’t already have a subscription to a survey software program like Survey Monkey or Zoho Survey, get one.  It only costs around $25 a month for unlimited responses and it’s easy to set up. Keep the survey short–for a great read on how to create a survey, here’s a wonderful post from Hubspot.  Offer incentives to get cardholders to fill your survey, like a discount on fines or free library swag.  Another survey option is to ask cardholders to give you a Net Promoter Score.

Observe them.  Spend some time in your branches, watching how the cardholders move through the building and taking note of the questions they ask of staff.

Use outreach events as a way to get personal.  Most of us use outreach events as a chance to give out bookmarks, fliers, aNd swag. But what if we used those opportunities to interact with the public as a way to also get to know them? While handing them their brochures, ask a simple question: What is it that you need or want from the library?

Visit a bookstore. What better way to get ideas about what your cardholders love than by spying on the competitor? Wander around, noting how the store is arranged, signage, and eavesdrop on customer service.

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