It’s no secret that I’m a super fan of Jay Acunzo. This guy is smart and ambitious, yet he’s truly dedicated to making the marketing world a more creative place. He’s got credentials. He’s a former employee of Google and Hubspot. His current job is as VP of Platform at Nextview Ventures, an investment firm for entrepreneurs.

But I really connect with Jay’s ideas about how to be creative. On Jay’s podcast Unthinkable, he shares inspiring stories of craft-driven creators who decide one day to do something for fun. These side projects end up growing into something big and “unthinkable.”  If you’re not a listener, you need to.

What the heck does all this have to do with library marketing? One of Jay’s core ideas is that constraints in your job or side project can be a source of strength for you. And my gosh, how many constraints do we face in our jobs as library marketers? About a gazillion. We face budget constraints, staffing constraints, creative constraints, legal constraints… the list goes on and on. It’s a wonder we get anything creative and engaging done. It frustrates the heck out of me. Doesn’t it frustrate you? Wouldn’t you like to break free and do something amazing? Aren’t you tired of doing the same old thing, year after year? Why do we do that anyway?

I’ve had a couple of speaking gigs this year and that gave me the chance to meet a lot of library marketers. Most of them have a hard time pushing the boundaries because they’re scared of breaking tradition and they’re worried the bureaucracy of the library won’t be welcoming to creative ideas.

But I have also talked with fellow library marketers who are ready to push open the door of creativity and try new things. I think the time is ripe for some truly inspiring stuff to happen in library marketing. Our industry depends on it, now more than ever.

Step one, according to Jay, is to stop being a slave to best practices. Everywhere you turn, there is someone telling you how to do your job. Most of the time, these constraints come to us in the form of a tidy document called “best practices.” How many best practices do you adhere to at your library? At mine, we have social media best practices, website content best practices, and a host of best practices for dealing with our “clients” in other departments.

Jay says best practices have one flaw: They create one truth we feel we need to embrace. Good marketers follow best practices, but great marketers craft their own. Best practices tell you what you’re supposed to do. But what if your intuition is urging you to try something else?

So how about we begin the year by examining our best practices and seeing if we can rework them to allow more creativity, or better yet just throw them out and use creativity, intuition, and data to drive our marketing efforts. Give your team (or yourself) room to be creative and do creative work. That’s when the magic is going to happen.

When you make the leap away from best practices and toward pushing boundaries, Jay says you stop playing in the market and start shaping it. Are we proactively marketing what we firmly believe, or constantly reacting to the trend? Jay says no one buys a better pillow… they buy a better night’s sleep.This is so applicable to libraries. No one checks out books. They are borrowing an experience, a fantasy, a chance to get away from daily life or to learn something new about themselves or the world.

This year, I’m starting a creativity initiative in my marketing team. I ask them to meet once a month and do whatever creative thing they want to do. I don’t attend the meeting and I don’t prescribe how they conduct the meeting or even where they meet. I only ask that they pass on one great idea from each creative session that we can use in practical marketing purposes. Sometimes the group plays games. Sometimes they walk around the library taking photos. Sometimes they just talk through ideas. The point is that they set aside time every month to be creative.

But there are constraints. They only have an hour or two to work on creativity. And they have to come up with one actionable idea for our library marketing that won’t cost us any budget to implement. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Here’s another idea from Jay. Find 30 minutes each week to study one piece of marketing done by another library or company. Ask yourself … what emotion does it evoke in you? Why does it make you feel that way? How can you replicate that feeling in your own library cardholders?

Library marketing isn’t brain surgery. If you screw up, no one dies. Stop letting fear hold you back. Start putting creative ideas into practice. Use data to figure out if they work or not. What have you got to lose? If something doesn’t work, you just stop doing it and move on to the next creative idea. We used to do this all the time when I worked in TV news. When an idea didn’t work, we just called it “an error of enthusiasm” and we learned from it. No one took failure as a life or death outcome. Try stuff. There will be duds. That’s okay. When you find a creative marketing gem, it’ll be awesome.

So let’s lead the charge into creative territory for libraries. Let’s look at our constraints and find ways to work within them. The challenge to create within the constraints of regular library life might lead us to do something really innovative and cool. What a great way to start a new year!

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