I love planning. I am the queen of to-do lists. I am addicted to reminder notifications. I’m a fan of the Excel spreadsheet.

I rarely go into any situation without a plan. The same is true for my library marketing. I create a marketing plan for everything. And so should you.

A marketing plan has a lot of advantages. It ensures everyone knows the end of goal of your marketing efforts. It defines roles for all the stakeholders. It sets deadlines. It keeps people accountable. And it clarifies how you will measure your results.

Why a marketing plan is important

A marketing plan is NOT a strategy. A strategy is the path you decide to take to achieve your library’s long-term overall business goals: increased circulation, increased program attendance, brand awareness, etc. You can have an overall library marketing strategy that guides your actions for six months, a year, or longer.

A marketing plan lays out all the steps involved in one particular promotion. Everything in the plan should tie into the strategy. It must help to achieve your library’s overall goals. But the plan lasts for a shorter period, involves more specifics, and covers just one promotion.

You don’t need a plan for everything you market at your library. You do need a plan if you are creating a campaign that lasts for a month or more.

And here’s how to put one together.

Know the thing you are promoting inside and out. Be sure you can answer every single question known to man about the thing you are marketing. If it’s a new database, use it… a lot. Have non-librarians use it and then ask them to tell you what questions they have. Read and re-read the tutorials. Becoming an expert on the thing you promote means you can explain it to your target audience in a simple and clear way.

Clearly define your end goal. Use business terms. If you are looking to increase brand awareness, set an actual, measurable end goal like: “We want 50 percent of residents living within a 30-mile radius of our Main Library to know that we have renovated the building and to be able to name at least one new service available at the renovated Main Library.”

Don’t be vague. A defined goal keeps you accountable.

Determine your target audience. Many library marketers say their target audience is “our cardholders.” Be more specific. Which cardholders? How old are they? How often do they use the library? What exactly do they do? Do they have children? What’s their transportation situation?

Add in as many demographic characteristics as you can. This gives you and everyone working on the plan a picture of who you are trying to reach.

Analyze competitors. Research anyone providing a similar program, service, or product. What are they doing well? What are they doing poorly? What are the things that differentiate your library from their business? These are your marketing advantages.

Create the message. This might seem crazy, especially if the marketing campaign isn’t set to launch right away. You can adjust the wording later. But getting the message down in writing now, with everything fresh in your mind, an efficient and effective way to make sure all the main pieces of your marketing plan mesh right from the start. It also gives you time to make sure your main marketing message is clear, concise, and correct.

Choose your tactics. Go through all the available avenues at your disposable for marketing and decide which ones will work best to reach your end goals. You do not have to use everything that’s available to you. Not every promotion needs print materials or a press release or a digital sign. Sometimes, a video will work well and sometimes an email will do a better job. You know best how your core cardholder audience reacts to each tactic and which will bring you the best results. If you have budget, decide how you’ll spend it during this step.

Set the schedule. I am a huge fan of tiered distribution of marketing. The approach takes advantage of a consumer cycle of excitement. You release one or two promotional tactics at the beginning of your promotional cycle, like a social media post and a press release. The promotion gets some play, and excitement builds in the consumer base. It gets shared and people talk about it… and then the excitement dies out.

Then, you release the second tactic, like an email, and the people who see the email get excited and start talking about it and sharing it, and then their excitement dies out.

Then you release a video, and that builds excitement and gets shared, and the excitement then dies out. And so on!

When you use the tiered distribution approach, you get a longer promotional thread. Your promotions will be more successful because the excitement around them builds over time, not in one big burst. This method has led to increased success for my library marketing. It also easier on the person running the marketing! It gives you a small break in between each tactic and creates time for you to measure the success of each tactic individually.

But you need to schedule your promotions, especially if you are using a tiered approach, so you can make sure you have room for them in your regular schedule. It also helps to create a picture in your own mind of how this marketing campaign will play out. Again, you can adjust this later if you need to. Nothing is ever set in stone at my library!

Assign tasks. Delegate jobs and deadlines for appropriate staff. If you need help from another library department, assign their deadline now so they have plenty of time to get you the information you need.

Measure results. Don’t forget to measure and record the reaction to each piece of your marketing plan. Analyze what worked and what did not, so you can put that knowledge to use next time.

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