Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

My husband is an optimist.

In April 2020, about a month into the pandemic, we learned that our planned family cruise was canceled.

“No problem,” said my darling spouse. “We’ll rebook for August. Certainly, this will all be over by August.”

You know the rest of the story.

Our cruise was rebooked a total of FIVE times over the course of the next 18 months. We finally set foot on a ship this year. And despite what you may have heard about the state of the cruise industry, our latest trip was wonderful. That’s due in part to the customer service on the ship.

And what I realized, as I was sailing through blue waters with a drink in hand, was that the marketing on the ship enhanced the customer experience.

So, I started writing down what I was learning to share with you. Here are the five big marketing lessons I learned while sailing.

Make it easy for your community to find the information they need.

It was easy to book on the company’s website. The cruise line walked us through each step of the pre-boarding process, with multiple touchpoints including videos, emails, and fliers mailed to our home. Any time we had a question, we could find the answer by heading to the cruise line website.

Your library’s website is as important a marketing tool as the sign on the outside of your physical location. In fact, I would argue that your library’s website is another branch of your library. Make certain your community can find what they need, when they need it, on your website.

If you have trouble figuring out how to organize your website, ask your front-line staff to make a list of the questions your community asks. Track questions for one week to one month, depending on the size of your library. Then arrange your website so your community can find the answers to the most asked questions on your website.   

Handholding makes the experience smoother.

Once we booked our cruise, the company we sailed with began sending us a series of email onboarding messages. They walked us through the process of finishing our paperwork, reminded us to get our passports and vaccinations, relayed important safety information, and gave us advice on packing and navigating the port on embarkation day.

Mind you, this was not our first cruise. But this onboarding made our vacation run more smoothly. We didn’t have to think about anything! We knew the company would give us the information when we needed it.

Show your community your library cares about the customer service experience of your organization by using onboarding email messages. Send new cardholders a series of emails designed to introduce them to services that your library has to offer.

And send current cardholders an onboarding series too! Once a year, re-introduce them to your select services. If they sign up for a program, send reminder emails in the days leading up to the event. For summer reading or other big initiatives, send periodic emails to encourage participation and remind them of incentives they can earn.

Repeating messages stick.

Remember the Marketing Rule of 7? The average person needs to hear a message seven times before it really sinks in.

On the ship, important announcements were repeated over the loudspeaker, on digital signs, in the daily calendar, and in automatic notifications from the cruise line app. Even on vacation, when I didn’t have 1000 things at work and home competing for my attention, I needed to hear messages more than once to absorb them.

Repeating marketing messages result in something called the mere-exposure effect. This phenomenon finds that people show an increased preference for a stimulus as a consequence of repeated exposure to that stimulus.

In other words, the more you repeat your library marketing messages, the more likely people are to remember them and do the thing you want them to do! You may notice that I often repeat advice on this blog. Why? Because of the mere-exposure effect!

This doesn’t have to involve a lot of work for you, the library marketer. When you’re creating your next promotion, focus first on what you will say. That’s your base message. Try to use as few words as possible. Write as if you were in conversation with your community member.

Example: Our Summer at the Library celebration begins May 31! Win prizes by completing reading goals and fun activities. Get ready by signing up for our digital tracker. Have any questions? Email us at

That language is short and direct. It can be repeated on social media platforms, email, digital signs, and posters. It won’t overwhelm readers. And it clearly tells community members how to participate.

One note: for some promotions, you won’t need to repeat your message on ALL channels. Think first about your target audience and where they are most likely to want to interact with your messaging.

For some programs, like summer reading, with a huge target audience, you may want to market on all channels. But for other, more niche promotions, you can focus on target platforms. This approach saves you time too!

People read signage when it’s done well.

The cruise ship’s wayfaring signage was placed in key public areas and was simple and direct. And that was the only kind of signage! We knew when we saw a sign, it meant something.

If your library puts too many signs in too many places, you’ll make it confusing for community members, who eventually tune out all that visual overload. Choose your sign placement carefully and strategically, and when in doubt, minimize. If you’re worried that people will get lost, then remember the next lesson…

Staff members are your secret weapon.

Every staff member on the ship was apparently trained to answer any question, from how to find the bar, to how to reserve seats at the nightly show.  If we needed any help, all we had to do was ask. What a treat!

This easy, comfortable staff interaction made the day so much better. We knew if we had any problems, the staff would have our backs.

With all the digital tools at our fingertips, it turns out that front-line library staff are the key communicators and customer service ambassadors. Train staff to understand that customer service is everyone’s job. They should be able to answer any question (or find the answer to any question) about any service, program, or department, even if they have never worked there.

More Advice

Libraries Have a Huge Competitive Advantage: Customer Service! Here Are 3 Promotional Tips To Drive Home That Message

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