Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

My favorite library marketing season is about to begin.

The last two months of the year are when a library marketer must do in-depth work that will strengthen your library’s position for the coming year.

Every other business and competitor will be ramping up their sales and discounts as we go into the holiday season. You may be worried that any promotions your library does will get lost in the shuffle.

You should be worried! According to Sprout Social, your audience receives about 2,477 messages per month from retailers between January through October. But in November and December, that number goes up 13 percent to 2,804 messages per month.

That’s why I advocate pulling back on your “regular” push promotions during the last two months of the year. Instead, you can stand out by doing something different: focus on using this time to create a deeper connection with your community.

You’ll do that by strategically building library brand awareness and affinity.

What are brand awareness and brand affinity?

In its simplest terms, brand awareness is the extent to which your community can recall or recognize your library brand, no matter where they run across it. It means your community members know what you stand for and what you have to offer. Brand affinity, by contrast, is building an emotional connection between your library and your community.

Brand awareness and brand affinity are critically important to your library’s success. We want your community to recognize your content. And we want to create a lasting relationship between your library and your community.

When your library has strong brand awareness and brand affinity, your community members will choose to use your library over your competitors. They’ll recommend your services to friends and family. And they’ll support you with funding and volunteerism.

In fact, a study from eMarketer showed that 64 percent of people cite brand values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a particular brand. (BTW, your library is a brand!)

That’s why it’s crucial to make brand awareness a top priority for your library marketing over the next two months. Here’s how to do that.

Step #1: Inform, educate, and entertain your community.

The most effective way to build brand awareness and affinity is to position your library as a place that adds value to your community. You do this by helping people solve problems. 

For this to work, you’ll spend 8 weeks strategically educating and informing your audiences. This is called content marketing. It’s a strength that libraries have, and we don’t do this kind of marketing often enough.

Create and release a series of tips for your cardholders on how they can use your library to make their lives a little easier during the holiday. Brainstorm a list of ways your library helps ease the rush and craziness of the holiday season. Then decide on a sequence and schedule for releasing those ideas.

Create the promotional collateral to go with it: bookmarks, graphics for your website, email, social media, and short videos. Then, tell your cardholders you’re going to be helping them out this holiday. Reveal your plans and tell them exactly when you’ll be releasing each tip and on what platform. Create excitement and anticipation, then pay it off with your content.

Your tips can include:

  • Ideas for holiday gifts, recipes, and more–especially if they are literary-themed or items in your library of things that can be tested out before they make a purchase.
  • A special phone line or email inbox where you can take questions from community members who need help picking out a gift, cooking a big meal, or figuring out etiquette questions like which fork to use.
  • Curated lists of collection items for decorating, entertaining, wrapping gifts, and cooking.
  • A quick video tutorial on how to use their card to get free access to Consumer Reports.

Step #2: Promote your mission, vision, and values.

Libraries spend so much time marketing what we do that we don’t often talk about why we do it. In fact, I’d argue that we take it for granted that our community members know the importance of our work. So, during your two-month brand awareness and affinity campaign, make it a point to talk and promote your library’s mission, vision, and values.

Have a staff member or patrons (or both) write a blog post on the impact of the library. Here is a great example. Repurpose those stories for social media posts and print pieces like bookmarks featuring quotes from real-life library users.

You can gather patron stories by asking email subscribers to share how your library’s work has impacted their lives. When I worked for the Cincinnati Library, I sent an email to a portion of my cardholder base and asked them to share such a story. Our library received more than 900 responses! I was then able to pick a few of the best stories. Those patrons were more than happy to share them with the world at large.

Step #3: Show the contrast between your library and your competitors.

Start checking your competitors’ websites and ads as soon as they begin their holiday marketing. Figure out what their offers are and how you can counteract those offers with free stuff!

Stark Library, Winnipeg Public Library, Monroe County Public Library, and Brown County Library all are great examples of how this can work.

Step #4: Showcase your staff.

Other companies have employees. Libraries have experts who truly care about the work they are doing and the impact they have on the community.

That’s why your staff is one of your most valuable resources. They are what makes your library stand out from your competitors. Spend the next two months making sure your community understands the value of your staff.

Interview staff about their work, and why they got into this industry. Ask them to share the story of a time when they helped a community member. Then share those stories on your blog, on social media, and in emails. The Lane Library at Stanford University is a great example of how to write a profile.

You can also ask staff members to name their favorite book of the year. Release that as a special end-of-the-year booklist. You can cross-promote these staff picks on your social platforms and include an email message to cardholders. Make sure you ask all staff members to participate… even the cleaning staff!

Step #5: Re-educate your cardholders about all your library has to offer.

Your library should create a series of emails sent to cardholders once a week for the next eight weeks. Those emails will re-introduce your cardholders to the best features of your library. It will inspire them to use their cards again.

To create this campaign, you’ll make two lists. The first will be for the most popular resources at your library. This could include things like your Makerspace, popular storytimes, laptop terminals, or your extensive e-book collection.

Next, make a list of your library’s hidden treasures. These may be items or services that you know will solve problems for your community. This list should include things that are unique to your library, like online Homework Help, your small business resources, your vast historical resources, or your Library of Things.

Finally, look at the two lists you’ve created and narrow your focus. You want to highlight the best and most helpful things at your library without overwhelming your recipients. Choose to promote one resource from your list of popular items and one from your list of hidden library treasures for each of the emails you send.

More Advice

The Top Four Reasons To Use Content Marketing To Promote Your Library on Every Platform

Feeling Overworked? There’s a Secret Trick to Get More Mileage Out of Your Library Marketing Content!

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