Imagine you are going to dinner with someone special. You decide to visit your favorite Italian restaurant. A waiter seats you. The music is playing softly. Candles are flickering. The wine is fantastic. You’re primed for a spectacular meal.

But instead of handing you a menu, a waiter appears and simply places a plate of spaghetti and meatballs in front of you. He looks at you expectantly, waiting for you to bite in and express your appreciation.

But you don’t like spaghetti. Maybe you’re gluten-free. Maybe you prefer penne with pesto. Maybe you had dreams of a big, cheesy calzone.  Spaghetti is not what you had in mind this evening. You’re disappointed and upset and you end up walking out, vowing never to visit this crazy backwards restaurant again.

It’s common sense to treat restaurant customers like individuals, with individual tastes. You would never open a one-dish-fits-all restaurant and expect it to do well. So why do library marketers often treat their cardholders like they all love or want the same thing?


We have a lot to excuses for why we don’t get more personal with our marketing messages to library cardholders. Most often, we blame our budget. We don’t have the money to buy software that would allow us to deliver personalized messages to thousands of cardholders.

It’s true that targeted email marketing is the most effective method I’ve come across for delivering the right message at the right time to the right customer. And it’s true that it usually costs some money to do it right. But it’s not the only way to do personalized marketing. There are two other effective methods that cost nothing or next to nothing.

Personalized social media marketing: Simply put, this is making a concerted effort to keep an eye on as many social media channels as possible for as many hours of the day as possible to answer customer questions and feedback on your library and services. Customer service through social is extremely important. If possible, your head of marketing should be non-exempt and should  be available to monitor social media channels during off-hours. I know that’s a lot to ask but it’s what customers expect us to do. It’s what our competitors do. If you really want to compete with Amazon, Netflix, and your neighborhood store, you’ll need to monitor your social channels as often as possible and respond to questions or comments as quickly as possible. That’s all there is to it.  For some amazing examples and inspiration, read this post.

In-person marketing: Front-line library staff are your marketing partners. When you have an important message for a certain segment of your cardholder population, you should enlist the front-line staff to help you deliver it.

Recently at my library, we welcomed author Lee Child for a book signing and talk. To help build excitement for the event, we created bookmarks that we put inside every Child book checked out during the month of November. Then, when cardholders came to pick up their holds or when they grabbed a Child book from the shelf, our front-line staff members started a conversation with the cardholder, giving them more information and talking up the event. We had 350 people at our author event, even though the evening was cold and it was pouring rain. It was that personal contact with cardholders that helped to make the difference. It helps to make sure cardholders remember the event, because they remembered the personal pitch made to them by front-line staff.

Don’t let fear or worry stop you from doing personal marketing. There are easy and free ways to deliver relevant, meaningful messages to your cardholders and to build relationships and make connections they’ll remember.

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