Fact: customers hate ads.

Researchers at IPG Mediabrands Media Lab asked 11,000 consumers about their ad-watching habits and published the results earlier this year. 65 percent of respondents told the surveyors they skip online video ads. The most recent survey I can find on static digital ads is from the research firm Lumen, which found only 35 percent of digital ads receive any views at all and only nine percent hold the attention of viewers for more than a second. I couldn’t find solid, current numbers on newspaper ad effectiveness but I did this fascinating study focused solely on people who admit to ignoring newspaper ads. Those respondents told researchers they see too many print ads that are not relevant or interesting to them, and that many ads focus on the needs of the company, not on the needs of the consumer. I didn’t find any reliable data on radio, but there is a reason Pandora and Spotify exist and are doing so well. I couldn’t find any study on billboards that wasn’t conducted by a billboard-sales company but, from my experience, they’re expensive and not very effective.

Yet there are times when your library will need to do some kind of advertising. I get that. I would hate for you to spend big money and get no results. So I want to share the four most effective ways we’ve advertised at my library. They’re all cheap, easy, and effective.

Buy targeted social media advertising. I beat this drum regularly but it’s cheap and effective. Facebook ads are so easy to make, my teenagers can do it. You can create very specific audience targets and watch results in real-time, adjusting the ad as needed. I always put this at the top of my list because it’s really the best way for libraries, or any budget-strapped organization to advertise.

Ask your local TV stations to run your ad for free. My library did this for our summer reading program this year. We created an English and a Spanish version of the same 15 second ad, shot it on an iPhone, and edited it in Adobe Creative Suite. It literally took us a day, and our ad runs at least once a day on a top-rated station. The only thing I had to do in return was add the station’s logo to the list of our summer reading sponsors! I found that all I had to do was ask for the time. Sometimes, you’ll get a yes! Then your biggest problem will be figuring out how to get the ad produced… but that’s a good problem to have!

Be super thoughtful with signage.  My library has permanent signage holders at the entrances, on the second and third floors, and in the elevators. For a long time, these extra sign spaces were not what I would consider to be prime advertising opportunities. Then, one day, I hung out where those signs are located, watching our customers come in and out of the library. I noticed whether they glanced at the signs, and where they went next. I took those observations back to my office and gave careful thought to the messages contained in those signs. For instance, I started using the signs at the library entrances to direct customers to our amazing exhibits, which are in an obscure space on the third floor. Lo and behold, as I watched customers after those signs were installed, they would glance at them and then head for the elevators or ask staff for specific directions to make sure they were headed to the right area or to get more information about the exhibit. Sometimes I stalked around the exhibit space and would approach customers, politely asking them how they found out about the exhibit.

I took the same approach in the elevators. We have three banks, and there are three very different sets of library customers using each bank. I rode up and down for a while, trying to notice who looked at the sign and whether they would comment on it or take action. I try to gear the signs in each bank of elevators to be relevant to the customer. It only took a few hours of my time, but it made a world of difference in how effective those sign spaces are and it changed my mind about whether that space was valuable. The best part? Those signs are free!!

Enlist the help of library staff.  Your staff can also be a huge help when it comes to marketing. When your library unveils a new service, educate your staff about how it works and encourage them to strike up personal conversations with customers. Make buttons that staff can wear that say “Ask me about (insert service name here)” to help get the conversation going and give them talking points to help them feel more comfortable answering questions. Talking to your cardholders is the best way to get a message across. They’ll retain what you say if it’s part of a personal conversation, as opposed to a potentially unwanted advertisement pushed into their face.

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