A couple of weeks ago, a Tweet from the deputy director of the Toledo Public Library caught my eye.
Our marketing manager here at the library is leading a charge to “call things what they are” to reduce confusion for customers. We should be doing more of this in libraries and resist the urge for cutesy branding.
— jason kucsma (@J450NK) August 2, 2018
Jason went on to explain, “When I joined the library three plus years ago, we had just launched a kind of umbrella branding for all of our making activities at the library. We called it Make U. It was clever, had a nice logo, and generally served a purpose… for us. Three years later, it’s still a confusing ‘second brand’ for our library (one of many tertiary brands, actually). Terri Carroll (our marketing manager) is working really hard to make the library’s brand the key identifier for all things library. Every time we roll out a new program or service, we have the urge to give it cute or clever branding. It’s just more education we have to do with our customers. So rather than trying to constantly educate people about our new brands, services, and programs, we focus on the library’s brand: a welcoming and accessible space where anyone has access to resources they need to make their lives, their communities, and their futures better. Now we call Make U what it is…tech tools. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Terri in the short time she’s been with us about how we cut through a very noisy marketplace to reach people where they are when they need us.”
This is a major hurdle for my team and library marketer’s across the country! At my Library, I’ve counted no less than TEN branded services. And each one requires education for the staff and public. The names are cute but their meaning is obtuse.
Library marketers struggle with branding. We need to do a better job of defining who we are. We must create a consistent emotional connection with our cardholders if we’re going to compete with the likes of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Netflix, and Google.
Jason’s co-worker, Toledo Public Library Marketing Manager Terri Carroll, graciously agreed to share her insights on the process.
So many libraries have a set of tertiary brands for their various programs and services. Why is that a problem? Each day, our current and potential customers are bombarded with media messages from well-funded and sophisticated retail, fast food, snack food, entertainment, sports, news, and service companies. While these organizations aren’t competing with us to provide library services, they are competing with libraries for people’s time and attention. If libraries hope to have people notice our message in a noisy marketplace, it is imperative we have one clear brand that makes it easy for people to know who we are and what value we provide. Tertiary brands dilute our message and make it more challenging to connect with customers.
What prompted you to decide to focus less on giving everything a cutesy name and instead develop and nurture an umbrella brand? I started working at the Library in November and was struck by the fact that each program had its own look and message. The emphasis was on program names and unique graphics, rather than the Library as a whole. For example, a great deal of energy was spent on “logos” for programs such as Kindergarten Kickstart, Ready to Read, and Make U instead of thinking about messaging that clearly connects a valuable service (early literacy or access to technology) with the Library. This approach puts the burden of connecting the dots about the Library’s value and relevance on our customers. It also keeps the Marketing team from thinking strategically as they instead spend energy making everything look different. This is an unfortunate use of resources. Having things look similar within a brand compliance strategy makes it easier for customers to identify Library materials and messaging.
Have you seen positive results from this type of strategy yet? We’ve been working on implementing this strategy since December, so it is tough to extrapolate data yet. For now, positive anecdotal comments to Library staff and leadership such as, “The Library is doing so much,” (when in fact we are doing a similar amount of work) and increased earned media attention are indicators of success. Ultimately, we should realize increases in circulation, door count, and program attendance as well as community and regional stakeholder invitations to be at the table on important issues, speaking opportunities, organizational partnership creations, and election results.
How can other library marketers make the case to their stakeholders, like their board of trustees, the senior leaders, and their staff, that developing a strong brand sense is more productive than creating brands individually as services are unveiled? Stakeholders repeatedly express interest in making sure the community knows about everything the Library does. I have invested a lot of time meeting with all of our internal stakeholders to show them how strong brand management is necessary to meet that goal.
My staff and I also work to keep a focus on making sure all materials and messages are customer-focused. We ask ourselves and our colleagues if our materials and messaging are giving customers all the information they need to engage with the Library. Focusing on how customers understand our Marketing keeps everyone externally (brand) focused and not internally (tertiary brand) focused.
Do you have any other advice for library marketers looking to strengthen their own brands? It is essential to have senior leadership support for strong brand management. If people are used to the tertiary brands and have enjoyed the creative process (either working with Marketing and/or doing their own design work at the department or branch level), moving to brand compliance can be painful. If those concerns/complaints are taken to senior leadership and exceptions are granted, then the entire brand strategy is compromised.
It is also important to expect some resistance and be willing to talk with people about their questions and concerns. In these conversations, something that seems to really resonate is when I say that we don’t want to re-educate people every time they see something from the Library. We want people to immediately identify a Library program or service. And while staff sees all the materials and, may in fact get a bit tired of the same colors and fonts, this easy identification and brand recognition is essential for customers who are wading through a marketplace of messages and materials.
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