Prepare the pitchforks. I’m about to say something unpopular.

A lot of libraries list brand awareness as one of their strategy and marketing goals. They believe their community doesn’t know the library exists.  In the past, I’ve not objected to this assertion as long as the library marketer had a defined way to measure success and a documented strategy.

I’ve changed my mind. I think libraries should abandon the idea of generalized brand awareness as a marketing goal. In fact, I think it’s kind of lazy to do overall brand awareness campaigns, unless your library has recently changed names, location, or made some other major operational change.

Libraries need to be more focused, more specific, and more concrete. Brand awareness is too broad and it’s too difficult to measure. But more importantly, recent studies show people know the library exists. In a 2016 study by Pew Research Center on public libraries, 77 percent of respondents said they felt their local library offered them the services they need. That means 77 percent of adults know the library is in the community! 48 percent of people have visited the library in person the past year.  And 27 percent have visited the library’s website.

Getting people to understand that your community has a library isn’t the problem. Your problem is more specific. That same Pew study shows 44 percent of adults think libraries should loan eBooks. A University of Maryland study found that 90 percent of libraries have an eBook loaning vendor. That disparity is one example of where your opportunity lies!

The Pew study focused on public libraries but I think most communities understand that libraries exist at schools and universities as well. And I think school and university libraries face the same problem as public libraries–your cardholders are unaware of the specific services you offer.

So here’s what your library, whether you are public, private, university, or school-based, should focus on with more targeted brand marketing.

We’re not phony. In all your marketing messages, emphasize truth and trust. “You can trust us, we mean what we say.” The core mission of all libraries is to deliver truthful information in a way that’s easy to understand. We don’t make false promises. I think it’s time for libraries to start celebrating that core mission!

Market your well-trained staff. Librarians and library staff are constantly in a state of training. This is pretty unique in any industry… only doctors and teachers get more training than librarians. Your cardholders likely don’t realize this. So we should emphasize the excellent skills of our librarians in specific areas. For example, if you have a MakerSpace, you can market it by talking about the training those staff members undergo and how they use that training to help specific customers. Same with your reference and children’s librarians, who are more like teachers than general store support staff. They know their stuff! We should be marketing their extensive subject knowledge and expertise.

Focus on connecting niche audiences and specific collection pieces or services. There are segments of your service population that are not aware that you have job and career readiness resources and who desperately need to be connected to those services. This more focused approach takes work. You have to spend time finding the target audience and figuring out where they are so you can deliver the message to them. You have to figure out ways to make your message resonate with that specific audience, paying attention to language, tone, and delivery. But more-focused marketing gives better results. Don’t limit it to one message. Do it consistently, over time. At my library, we send emails every month to our cardholders letting them know about specific new eBooks and eAudiobooks added to the collection. And we do specific, collection-based marketing for eBooks and eAudiobooks on a consistent basis on our social media platforms. Over time, this has driven circulation of those digital collections. It will work for you too!

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