This is the first in a two-part series on email marketing for libraries. Part two is here.
If there is one thing that I know about library promotion, it’s this:
If you want to be successful in library email marketing, you must target your messages.
This isn’t just my personal belief. It is a method which worked, with impressive results, during my years at a public library. And I see it working now for hundreds of libraries around the country and around the world in my day job at NoveList.
Why are libraries hesitant to do targeted email marketing?
There are two big reasons that libraries fear the idea of segmenting their email audiences.
First, libraries are worried about email marketing in general. They feel it’s too promotional and that email messages from the library will be received as spam. They may even believe that people don’t want to receive email marketing from anyone, even a library.
This is not the case. The average consumer is accustomed to giving out their email address in exchange for marketing messages targeted specifically to them. Opt-in Monster research shows 99 percent of people with an email address check their inbox at least once a day.
Why? Because they are looking for messages from friends, family, and places they love. They love the library. Your cardholders and community members feel excitement when they receive an email from you.
Libraries worry that, by sending targeted messages to segmented audiences, they will miss out on the chance to get a message to all their cardholders.
Many libraries are sending the same message to every cardholder, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people in one burst. It feels like the natural thing to do. “Everyone needs to know about this!”
The problem with that approach is that your cardholders are individuals. One message never fits them all.
This is particularly true if your service area covers a range of incomes and demographics. The needs and interests of your cardholders vary greatly.
By targeting your message, you are more likely to say something that matters significantly to your cardholders, which makes them more likely to take an action, which makes it more likely that your email will be successful.
Targeted email marketing for libraries is effective because it serves the right message to the right group of people. And it works for all kind of messages.
Do not let your fears about email set you up for failure. Your cardholders want to hear from you. There are not very many industries which can say that. Let’s take advantage of it and give the people what they want!
Libraries who do segment their audiences tend to use three main methods. There are benefits and drawbacks for each.
Segmenting by library card use
Some libraries group their cardholders by the type of material they most frequently check out: kids’ books, print books, e-books, etc. Then, they send targeted email messages about those formats or collection types to those specific users.
This was the method we used when I worked a public library. For example, we would send an email promoting three new e-books every month to people who appear to favor e-books.
Benefits: This method is great for collection marketing. Most libraries will notice holds and checkouts increase, sometimes exponentially, when they send messages about items to people who have shown a previous interest in those items.
Drawbacks: The way a person uses their library card may not correspond to their true library interests.
For instance, an adult who frequently checks out children’s books for their kids may also love to read e-books. By focusing solely on the fact that they more frequently check out children’s books, a library may miss a key opportunity to market e-books to that cardholder.
A second drawback is that your library will want to promote things besides your collection, like programs, big events, and advocacy messages. Segmenting audiences solely by their favorite collection format gives you no clue as to your cardholders other potential interests.
Finally, this kind of segmentation often requires sophisticated email marketing programs that are expensive and time-consuming to manage. Smaller libraries without a dedicated marketing department and libraries with limited budgets may find these programs cost prohibitive.
Letting people self-select
Many libraries have an opt-in page on their website listing email interest groups. Visitors can self-select which emails they prefer to receive.
Benefits: When a person chooses to receive an email from you about a certain subject, they are also likely to open and engage with that email. They have already indicated their interest by selecting it.
Most library email opt-in pages do not require a person to be a cardholder to sign up. So, a second benefit of this method is that you can send marketing messages to people who aren’t in your cardholder base but can be enticed to use your library. That’s a fantastic way to expand your cardholder base!
Drawbacks: A library using this method must commit to intentionally market the marketing lists. They must make sure the community knows the opt-in page exists and convince people to sign up.
Segmenting by cardholder location
Some libraries have sent messages to people who have indicated a certain branch is their home branch or to people who live in a certain portion of the community.
Benefits: This is a great method for in-person program promotion. People are more likely to attend events that are near their home. Segmenting your audience by their location is an efficient use of your time for program promotion.
Drawbacks: There is a certain set of library cardholders who are willing to travel to attend programs and events at branches far from their home. They may be interested in hearing from your library about certain types of events, no matter where they are held.
In addition, the branch a person most frequently uses may not actually be near their home! Many people frequent the library branch near their workplace or some other important and frequently visited location.
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