Time for some real talk.

Most library marketing is an afterthought. A library will schedule programs, create exhibits, plan events, or buy services first, then decide how they’re going to promote it. And that, my friends, is backwards thinking.

When you put product before marketing, you are essentially putting the wants and needs of the library ahead of the cardholders. And that’s just wrong.

Why do libraries forget about marketing strategy? Because doing something feels better than thinking about doing something. Doing something seems productive. The results are immediate and obvious. Thinking about doing something seems like a bad use of time. Creating a strategy requires institutional knowledge, research, critical thinking, and the ability to look at the long view. It seems like a slow, difficult, meaningless step.

But it’s not. It’s not!!!

I want you to stop whatever it is you are doing right now and create a marketing strategy for your library. I’m serious! I don’t care if you’re reading this in June and you’re halfway through your promotional year. I don’t care if you’re knee-deep in summer reading with half your budget spent. I don’t care if you’re not fully staffed. Your 12-month library marketing strategy starts now–no excuses!

I’ve broken it down in seven easy steps. Using this method, it should take you anywhere from 3-8 hours to create a marketing strategy. That’s not a lot of time. I’m not a PhD. I’m not super intelligent. If I can do this stuff, so can you.

The first time you create a marketing strategy, it’s going to be uncomfortable and you might second-guess yourself about 500 time. You might feel like you’re a total fraud. Lean into it. Do the steps. Squirm your way through the first twelve months if you have to. Keep reminding yourself that a library marketing strategy is essential and if you don’t have one yet, you could be putting your whole library in jeopardy.

Here we go!

STEP ONE. Name the library’s overall goals–no more than three. What are the three big things your library wants to accomplish in the next 12 months? This is a conversation you’ll need to have with your director. Prepare to be fascinated. Most library directors have a big picture image of where they want their library to move in the next year. And most are not good at communicating that with employees. So when you sit down and ask your director what they want the library to do in the next year, it’s bound to be an eye-opening conversation.

Write those big goals on a paper and stick them up everywhere in your marketing office. Repeat them. Eat, breathe, and sleep them. Those are your goalposts for the year. Those are your big concerns. What your director wants to accomplish is what you want to accomplish. Everything you do needs to be in service of reaching these goals. If it isn’t, you have my permission to say “no.”

STEP TWO. Look at your current data and write what you know about your current cardholders and the residents of the community you serve right now.  Marketers call this a “situation analysis.” This will give you a starting point for your strategy–a defined beginning as you move through the next 12 months. What does your typical cardholder do with their card? Where do they live?  How do they view your competitors? How does your library currently fulfill a unique position in your community?

STEP THREE. Create a list of all your tactics and assets. Write down all the stuff you use to promote your library. It should include every social media platform you use, every website your library owns, every print publication you send out, plus emails, print collateral, influencers, in-person events, press releases, podcasts, and videos… every single thing you do to communicate with cardholders.

STEP FOUR. Broadly describe how you can leverage the above-listed tactics or assets to move your library toward accomplishing your strategic goals. If you can’t see a way to make any one piece work for your overall marketing goals, drop it. Seriously. I don’t care if you’ve done it for 20 years. Use only the things that can help you to achieve your goals and cut the rest.

Here’s an example of what I mean. You know all those mannequin challenge videos that libraries were releasing toward the end of 2016? They were cute and fun… and they drove me nuts. Creating cute and fun videos is a waste of valuable library marketing time. Those videos did nothing to fulfill the strategic goals of the libraries for which they were made–unless the goal was brand awareness (I’ll argue that that’s a fluffy and non-essential marketing goal for libraries in a future post). The most popular of the videos, done by the New York Public Library, only received about 20,000 views. That’s not very many at all, considering the NYPL’s reach. All the mannequin challenge videos were good, which means they took an enormous amount of planning and production time. And it was a waste. If you have that much time to invest in a video, create one that meets a strategic goal, like virtual story times to enhance early childhood literacy, or how-to videos for people looking to advance their careers. Those types of videos can be fun, engaging, and popular if you put the same amount of energy and planning into them as you would a mannequin challenge.

Okay, rant over.

STEP FIVE. Give a detailed description how each tactic and asset will be used to bring your library’s overall strategic vision to life. Here’s an example. For my print publication, I would write “We will use our quarterly print publication to emphasize the role of the library in helping job seekers find a new, more lucrative, more fulfilling career. We will do this by featuring a cardholder in each issue who used our library’s services to advance their own career, such as by taking our GED course or using our online job resume builder. We’ll do at least one story on a library work as a career. Every quarter, we’ll highlight a service or program that will help our cardholders reach their career goals.”

STEP SIX. Measure success and failure. Accurately document the results of every promotion you do. This will help you to adjust your strategy next year. Failure is okay, by the way. Marketing is an experiment. Sometimes the stuff you do will work, sometimes it won’t. Don’t repeat the things that don’t work! Spend more energy on the things that do work. It’s really that easy, but sometimes you won’t have a clear understanding of what’s working and what’s not working until you see the actual results in numbers on a paper in front of your nose.

STEP SEVEN. Just do it. In my opinion, libraries are too cautious. We wonder why we have a reputation of being traditional and old-fashioned. It’s partly due to the fact that any change is so slow in coming. I fully believe that the time has come for libraries to undertake grand gestures, to take leaps of faith, to be brave and bold. So don’t spend too much time obsessing over every little detail of your strategy. You can refine it as you move through the first twelve months, using the data you gather. It’s never going to be perfect, so once you’ve got a plan in place, just do it!

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