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Targeted Email Marketing for a New Era, Part One: The Pros and Cons of How Most Libraries Segment Their Audiences

Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Bond Hill Branch.

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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Five Easy Fixes for the Little Mistakes That Threaten to Sabotage Your Library Marketing!

Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, showing a librarian and a boy interacting at the reference desk in the Children's Department circa 1925.

It’s been one year since I started working for NoveList.  

I don’t often talk about my day job here on the blog. But the work I do gives me a unique perspective on library marketing.

I get to meet (virtually, of course) with library staffers from all over the world and spend time talking about marketing. It’s a privilege to learn from the people who are kind enough to share their insights, problems, and dreams with me.

Part of my job includes offering advice to help strengthen the position of libraries. And one thing I’ve noticed is that libraries of all sizes and shapes are making some small but common marketing mistakes. All of these little mistakes are fixable!

What’s the most common mistake you think libraries make in marketing and promotions? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Little mistake #1: Trying to promote everything your library has to offer, all at once and all the time.

Libraries are amazing. They quite literally have a service or collection item that is perfect for every single person in their community. The difficulty libraries face in marketing their breadth and depth of service is centered in matching each community member to the right service or collection item.

In the quest to make that match, many libraries will try to market everything they offer, hoping that the person who needs that item the most will see it. I had a boss who would have called this “an error of enthusiasm.”

Promoting everything you offer all at once waters down your message. It makes your marketing come off as noise to the community you are trying to reach. And it’s less effective.

How to fix it: Focus with precision on your library’s overall strategy.

What goal is your library trying to accomplish right now? Are you hoping to increase your circulation to pre-pandemic numbers? Are you helping to bridge the pandemic educational gap for elementary school students? Are you implementing a step-by-step plan to ensure your library is truly accessible to everyone? Are you undergoing a facilities improvement project?

Your promotions should be centered on whatever your library is trying to accomplish this year. When you focus your marketing with precision on your library’s strategy, your marketing will be more effective. You will avoid spreading your message thin.

Little mistake #2: Sending every email to all your cardholders.

This happens as a result of mistake #1. Sending an email to all your cardholders feels like common sense. When you are hoping to get people to check out an item, use a database, or attend a program, you want as many people as possible to know about it for maximum success.

But imagine if you had the entirety of your library service community all gathered in the same place, like a large stadium. If you stood on a platform to survey the crowd, what would you see?

There would be all kinds of people, from different backgrounds, with different economic statuses, of different ages. And if asked just ten people in that crowd to tell you a little about themselves, you would hear ten different stories from people with ten different wants, needs, and interests.

Your service community is diverse. One email isn’t going to inspire action in all your community members. Think of your emails as magazines – is there a magazine that includes every interest? Even general topic magazines like Better Homes & Gardens have a target audience and covers matters of the home and garden – not political news or sports or celebrity gossip. (My thanks to my boss, Kathy Lussier, for this brilliant analogy).

How to fix it: Target your email marketing.

There are dozens of ways to segment your audience. To help you get started, read this two part series on targeted email marketing: Targeted Email Marketing for a New Era: The Pros and Cons of How Most Libraries Segment Their Audiences and Psychographics Are the Key to Powerful Email Marketing: How to Unlock the Motivations and Aspirations of Your Cardholders.

Little mistake #3: Assuming your community will see your marketing.  

Remember back before the pandemic when we were all exasperated every time we talked with someone about all the services we offer besides books? We were constantly asking ourselves how it was that there were still people in the community who had no idea their library had e-books or homework help or small business resources. We were certainly marketing them! But it kept happening because our community was not always seeing our marketing messages.

Think back again to your community, gathered in the stadium. Each person in that crowd has a different preference for how they consume marketing. Some are signed up for your emails. Some come into the branch and see your posters. Some have never been in a branch before and only interact with your website… and they may have the catalog bookmarked on their computer, so they never even see your homepage promotions!

How to fix it: Target your promotional tactics.

Tactics are the specific methods you use to market your library. They include social media, emails, your website, your catalog, your digital signs, your print promotions, and more.

You don’t need to market each of your library’s overall goals using every tactic. Instead, think about where your target audience is interacting with your library. Then, choose the tactics that your target audience is most likely to see during those interactions.

For example, if you are promoting your new themed storytime, your target audience will be parents, caregivers, and educators. They may interact with your library in emails, on social media, and when they pick holds or use your curbside service.

You can target your promotional tactics specifically to this audience in the places where they are! You’ll want to send them a targeted email message, create social media posts that speak directly to them with wording that focuses on skills their children will learn in the storytime, and slip a flyer or bookmark promoting the storytime into holds or curbside pickups that contain picture books or books about parenting.

Little mistake #4: Letting fear prevent you from implementing a great promotional idea.

The ability to trust your own marketing instincts takes time to nurture. You may be worried that your great promotional ideal will fail. Or you may face difficulty in convincing others that a new promotional idea has merit.

I speak from experience. It took me five years to convince senior staff at my former library to let my department start a blog. It was frustrating. But my good idea did finally see the light of day.

How to fix it: Don’t give up.

Five years is a long time to advocate for a blog. But I did it because I knew it would be good for my library and good for my community.

I’m not advocating insubordination. But, if you truly believe in your idea, don’t give up. Be patiently persistent.

Your supervisors are a target audience, so use what you know about their priorities, motivation, and work beliefs to build your case. Keep gathering data to back up your idea. Recruit like-minded co-workers or peers to advocate for you.

Keep trying. The real winners will be your service community.

Little mistake #5: Thinking you must be an expert to be a good library marketer.

It’s a bonus to have formal training in communications and marketing. It gives you extra confidence. But for many of my readers, the role of promotions was handed to them as part of “other duties as assigned.” It’s hard to do good work when you feel unqualified.

How to fix it: You are already doing it.

If you read this blog or spend any time researching marketing trends, you’re already adding to your expertise. Keep seeking out advice from websites, videos, professional development courses, and conferences. No one understands the importance of lifelong learning better than librarians! 

Remember, the more promotional work you do, the more you will learn about your audience and what works for them. The better you will get at marketing. And the stronger your library will be.

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The Ultimate Library Marketing Checklist: How to Decide When and Where to Promote Your Library

I am a list maker.

This is going to sound crazy but one of the most enjoyable parts of my day is the moment when I get to check something off my to-do list.

Recently, one of my readers asked me if I have a checklist for library marketing. She wanted to make sure she wasn’t missing any opportunities to promote her library.

Of course I do! Scroll down for the master checklist for library marketing.

But just because there are so many tactics available to market your library doesn’t mean that you should use every one. There is a bit of science involved in deciding when and where to run a library promotion.

To help you make these decisions, there is a series of questions you need to ask yourself. Do this every time you create a marketing campaign for anything at your library. This will ensure your promotions are effective and you are working efficiently.

How does this event, service, or item serve your library’s strategy?

Every piece of marketing you do needs to be in service of reaching your library’s strategic goals. They are the reason you come to work every morning. So make certain there is a solid connection between your promotional efforts and your library’s overall strategy.

What do you know about your current cardholders and the people who live in your community? 

A clear image of the person who will consume your marketing messages will help you do a better job of marketing to them.

Where do these cardholders live? How do they engage with your competitors like Amazon and other bookstores? Where do they get their news? Do they have access to Wi-Fi? Do they have children? What is their living situation like? Do they work? What is their transportation situation?

The answers to these questions will help you create promotions that resonate with your intended audience.

Click here to download the master checklist for library marketing.

Now it’s time to decide what to promote, how to promote, and when to promote. Here are three rules to live by when figuring out the best channel for your library marketing.

Don’t feast at the buffet of tactics.

You don’t have to use every tactic available to you. Choose which ones will work best for each promotion. It’s a smarter use of your time and energy.

For example, my library held a teen poetry contest in April every year. We know that teens are typically considered to be a really hard audience to reach. So I went after their parents and teachers!

I marketed the contest on our website, in social media, on the digital signs in branches, with posters, and with email. Notice all the categories I didn’t use!

I didn’t send a press release because I had no evidence from past years to show that promoting this contest in the news would get us more entries. I didn’t use all the signage options available to me because teens don’t pay attention to signs. And I didn’t include the contest in our content marketing publication because the average reader of that publication was an older empty-nester–not the right audience for that promotion.

For each promotion, use only the tactics that work best for the intended target audience. You’ll be more efficient and effective!

Determine how you will measure success.

You must make sure that you accurately document the results of every promotion you do. This will help you to adjust your promotions to improve effectiveness. Keep meticulous records of data as it comes in.

As a starting point, you can measure every promotional request against two basic rules.

If the promotion doesn’t result in higher circulation, program attendance, or usage, don’t do it.
If the promotion is not tied directly to the library’s overall strategy, cut it.

When I worked at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, my marketing team conducted a year-long experiment to see if we could drive attendance at events. We hypothesized that emails sent to targeted cardholders would result in higher attendance.

We were wrong.

We did 118 branch promotional emails that year and only half were effective in boosting attendance AT ALL. With that data, we decided to cut way back on email branch promotions.

The next year, we sent only 34 emails promoting attendance at branches. Our effectiveness level increased to 68 percent. More than half of the programs saw a significant increase in attendance–at least ten percent–after their cardholders received an email. 

Why did the emails work the second year? When we cut down on the number we were sending, we were able to create messages that did a better job of resonating with people. Turns out, our audience responded to quality, not quantity!

At some point, you may realize there is an tactic that just doesn’t seem to work. You have my blessing to drop anything that fails. Use only the things that can help you to achieve your goals and cut the rest.

Share your results.

Talk about the results with your colleagues and share your results with other departments. Transparency in marketing is a good thing. It helps your co-workers and administrators have a clearer understanding of what you do. And they may look at the results and find some new insight that you missed.

Failure is okay, by the way. Marketing is an experiment! Sometimes the stuff you do will work, sometimes it won’t. If something doesn’t work, don’t do it again. Spend your energy on the things that do work.

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Five Relevant Library Marketing Lessons Learned at the American Library Association Annual Conference (#ALAVirtual20)

Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

At my former job at a large metropolitan public library, there was an unspoken rule when it came to library conferences. Librarians got first dibs on training money to attend. I thought that was totally fair. But I also found myself suffering from a serious case of envy every time I saw my coworkers headed to the airport for the American Library Association Annual (ALA) Conference, the Public Library Association (PLA) Conference, or our state library convention.

When I took my new job at NoveList earlier this year, one of the perks was knowing I would see my library friends again at these conferences. I would finally get to attend. I’d be one of the crowd! I’d be in on the action!

Alas, it was not meant to be (thanks, Coronavirus). So, my first ALA Annual turned out to be virtual. That had some advantages. On-demand video meant I could jam more sessions into a day. I could pause sessions to get a drink or take a bathroom break. I could leave sessions if I wanted to without worrying about embarrassing the panelists. And I could attend in my outdoor workspace.

It had some disadvantages too. I got more exhausted than normal. And boy, did I miss the personal interaction with librarians and library staff.

I did end up learning a lot. Here are my key library marketing takeaways from three days of sessions.

Good internal communication reduces workload and duplication of work.

We could all do with a little more internal communication and a less work. In the session Happy Together: Collaboration and Communication between IT and Technical Services, staff from the University of Washington Libraries shared the ways in which a concentrated effort on improving staff communications made their workday easier.

Good internal communication helped them to be less reactionary and more proactive. They were able to put the focus back on the customer, rather than always thinking about how the work was affecting staff.  They found it easier to remember why they wanted to work in a library and to stay excited and positive about their jobs. They felt more empathy for each other, which improved relationships between departments.

The panelists encouraged attendees to focus on their library’s strategic plan to find common ground with coworkers in different departments. They designated a “gatekeeper” or “key contact” for each department, so everyone would know who to go to if they had a question or suggestion.

Key quote: “Remember we are all on the same team even with different deadlines and project objectives.” 

Smart libraries use messaging to advocate for more funding.

Most library staff are under the presumption that the public knows their library is essential. They do not. And past perceptions of the library are a real hurdle. People imagine the library as it was 20 or 30 years ago and have no concept of how much it has changed. 

In the session, Advocating for your Library: The E’s of Libraries and Collecting Stories, Alan Fisher told attendees to use messaging to address those hurdles. He encouraged us to message around activities your supporters will want to fund like story times, meals for kids, and literacy programs. He also told attendees to be intentional about using common language so supporters can understand your message. Finally, he says libraries must make their message memorable.

Key quote: “Use messaging that affectively addresses the hurdles so people can understand that we are essential. Don’t say everything you want to say… say what THEY need to hear.”  

Libraries must share the monetary value of author events with publishers. 

Author events at libraries drive book sales. But publishers have no idea that we are helping them make money.

In the session, How to Measure the Value of Library Marketing on Book Sales and Discovery, Guy Gonzalez said most libraries work with authors, not publishers, to schedule events. As a result,  publishers are often unaware of library event’s positive impact on sales. The people who attend author events at their library are library borrowers who often also become book buyers. So, events are a unique marketing opportunity for the publisher.

Gonzalez encouraged libraries to track, measure, and communicate their full impact on book sales back to publishers. He encouraged attendees to develop a media kit that defines the audience of the event, and the actual monetary value of promotional platforms like email, social media, and press coverage. Once the event is over, send that data to the publisher directly. 

Key quote: “Author events are hyper-targeted with deep engagement. Don’t undervalue how much you provide.”

Library marketing must elevate ideas that can improve our society, not around ideology, but around purpose.

In the Presidential program, politician and author Stacey Abrams gave a remarkable and inspiring interview that covered voter suppression, the census, and the role of libraries in helping disenfranchised communities.

Abrams urged the audience to remember that libraries are essential because they are a trusted source of information. She said that libraries are a microcosm of America and are perfectly positioned to address the inequities that persist in the rest of society.

She also asked libraries to be intentional about placing themselves in the same space and in communion with those who need them the most. Finally, Abrams called on the library industry to name the barriers to diversity, to call them out, and to build strategies to overcome them.

The daughter of a librarian, Abrams slept in the stacks of the college library where her mother worked and often got in trouble with the librarians for checking out too many books! She shared the books she’s currently reading: Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.

Key quote: “Advertise yourself. We take libraries for granted. We know they exist, but we rarely think about them.” 

Virtual story times may or may not violate copyright laws.

I attended the session, Trouble in Paradise: Are you violating copyright by using social media read alouds? hoping for clarification for my library clients. What I got was more confused, at no fault of the presenters. They did an excellent job laying out the many intepretations of copyright law.

Many publishers gave libraries permission to read their titles aloud at the beginning of the pandemic. That grace period ends tomorrow, June 30.

To help you decide what to do once that deadline passes, I suggest reading these two articles recommended by the session presenters: Online Story Time & Coronavirus: It’s Fair Use, Folks and Do Online Storytimes Violate Copyright?

The presenters suggested you post your virtual story time on YouTube but make the recording private. Your library can send a link to view the video to patrons, making it more a “classroom-type” setting which is not in violation of copyright. They also suggested adding a graphic to your virtual story times to warn viewers not to share or download and store your virtual story time.

Finally, the presenters asked attendees to remember that authors make their living from publishing books. Broadcasting the reading of a book, especially a picture book, is essentially giving the book away.

Key quote: “Fair use is not used to try and get around something. It’s in the law and it’s a right of users.”

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Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on the “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. 

Seven Big Revelations I Had About Library Collection Marketing and How You Can Avoid Making the Same Mistakes

Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Four weeks ago, I started my new job.

In my previous role at a major metropolitan system serving a population of nearly a million people, I thought I knew people who were wild about books. But these folks at my new company love books on a whole new level.

I have learned so much in my first month. And I’ve come to realize that, as much as I loved collection marketing, I was making mistakes. In fact, I did a lot of things wrong.🤷

Because promoting the collection should be the core of any library’s marketing efforts, I want to make sure I pass on what I’ve learned.

Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Promoting Books

What I did wrong: I recommended books.
What you should do instead: Suggest books.

It sounds like semantics, but there is a real difference between recommending and suggesting books to potential readers.

Readers advisory consultant Becky Spratford of RA for All points out that library anxiety is a real thing. People come into your building or log onto your website to find a book they love. But they have a certain amount of anxiety. They feel like they absolutely must read a book that is recommended to them by a library staff worker. If they don’t finish it, they worry that we will judge them.

So, let your library users know that your book recommendations are just suggestions. No one will judge them for not reading the titles you suggest. And let your customers know it’s okay to return books unread!

What I did wrong: I used plot to promote books.
What you should do instead: Use story elements to promote books.

Most readers advisory experts rely on something called the Vocabulary of Story Appeals to make books suggestions. This is a way of describing the book without talking about the plot.

When picking their next book, readers don’t look for a certain plot line. They are looking for factors that appeal to them, including pacing, characters, tone, style, and the story line. Story line, I have learned, is different from plot in that it focuses on the WAY the story is told, as opposed to what happens in the story. Mind blown.

Library marketers can learn about story elements by requesting a free copy of The Secret Language of Books. I got my copy at the 2019 Library Marketing and Communications Conference. It expanded my vocabulary and gave me new words to use when marketing my library’s collection.

It’s so much more interesting to describe a book in terms of story elements. It intrigues readers and may lead them to place holds on books they would otherwise ignore.

What I did wrong: Promoting only new books.
What you should do instead: Promote new books AND offer a readalike available right now on the shelf to help soften the hold wait.

At my library job, I stopped promoting older books because the data told me that new books were the ones that got the most circulation from my targeted email marketing.

My change in philosophy doesn’t mean that the data was wrong. But there was a piece I was missing.

Sometimes, the most popular books are also the ones with the longest hold list. Most library lovers are, in my experience, okay with waiting awhile for a book they really want to read.

In the meantime, library marketers can do a better job of suggesting a currently available readalikes to our readers. This helps to create satisfaction for our readers. It also can expand their worldview. It keeps them engaged with the library while they wait for the new title. And, it helps our circulation numbers!

What I did wrong: Thinking I really didn’t have the skills to suggest books.
What you should do instead: Everyone in your library can suggest books. And I mean everyone!

I had a real hang-up with suggesting books to others. I can’t tell you how many times I said the words, “I’m not a real librarian but…”

But what I’ve come to learn is that I am a book expert because I love reading! I don’t have a degree, but I do read… a lot.

I also read about books a lot. I listen to podcasts about books. I talk to other book lovers. I have resources at my disposal that I can use like NoveList and Goodreads.

You don’t have to have a degree to be passionate about books or connect with another reader.

What I did wrong: Limiting the book genres I suggest to what I have know or read.
What you should do instead: Use resources to make recommendations from genres you’re not familiar with.

Consciously push yourself to suggest books outside your own comfort zone. It’s better for you, for your friends, your fellow readers, and for the world in general, when we broaden our horizons to suggest books outside our comfort zone. We should strive for equity, diversity, and inclusion in all areas of our lives—and that includes our reading materials.

What I did wrong: Putting more weight on New York Times bestsllers list for book suggestions.
What you should do instead: Promote books on the USA Today best seller list and on Amazon.

By using more than just one list of bestsellers, I could have gotten a better idea about what was truly a best seller. Lists from USA Today and Amazon include books from every age, genre, and publishing house.

Don’t discount sales of a book. If a book is making money, it’s popular. And your community is full of people who can’t afford to buy those books. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to read those books. We need to let them know they have access.

What I did wrong: Not asking my readers often enough what kind of books they like.
What you should do instead: Ask your readers about the books they love!

Survey your patrons. And do it regularly, because their tastes change. Your population changes. You don’t even have to do this using a formal survey. Just ask on social media. People love to talk about what they’re reading or what they want to read!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on the “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. For more help with your library marketing, email me at ahursh@ebsco.com.

Six Truths Learned at #LMCC19 and What They Mean For the Future of Library Marketing

The Future of Library Marketing

Well, that was fun!

I am back from a three-day trip to St. Louis, Missouri, where I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the fifth annual Library Marketing and Communications Conference.

It. Was. Amazing.

I learned stuff, made friends, and I felt supported as I was surrounded by 450 fellow library marketers. Here are the top six things I learned while at this spectacular event.

Library marketers everywhere are struggling with the same problems. We’re all fighting to keep our branding clear and consistent. We’re all stumped about the best way to market programs. We are searching for ways to find success in internal staff communications. And we all feel like we could use more support from senior leadership.

It doesn’t matter if you’re working at a public library or an academic library. It doesn’t matter where your funding comes from. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter how big your staff is! We’re all in the same boat.

Many of the people I talked with at the conference found these problems frustrating. But we also found some comfort in knowing that everyone is facing the same issues.

Library marketers are on the forefront of a major push to make our libraries more diverse, accessible, and inclusive. It seemed like every time I made a new friend, the conversation turned to diversity and inclusion. Library marketers are pushing staff and senior leaders to make service accessible to everyone. They are pushing to make sure people of all backgrounds have a seat at the table when it comes to important decisions. They want to make sure their marketing messages and their library’s service are open to as many members of the community as possible. It’s inspiring! And library marketers are tenacious. So, get ready, because we’re going to be changing things!

Library marketers are obsessed with data. I’m so heartened to see how many of my colleagues are in a constant search for data. They want to make sure their messages are getting to the right audience at the right time, and they’re using data to make sure that happens.

They use data to make the case for libraries to add services and to demonstrate the value and impact of programs and services. They’re using data to make work easier for front-line staff, to understand their current users, to find non-cardholders, and to send targeted messaging in various forms to diverse audiences.  It was fun to be surrounded by fellow data nerds!

Library marketers have conflicting emotions about social media. But they’re no longer afraid! Library marketers of all ages are willing and eager to learn how best to use each platform. but they’re also frustrated because most platforms make it so dang difficult to get any organic reach and don’t seem to have any plans to make life easier for nonprofits and social service agencies.

But we’re not giving up! The session on creating memes was one of the most popular at the conference! The insta-stories session also got a lot of buzz. And at my own session on social media success, I got a lot of in-depth questions from the audience. I also talked to some Gen X library marketers who were eager to learn about “younger” social media platforms like Instagram. I’m a Gen Xer! If I can do it, I have no doubt you can too!

And speaking of social media, one of the weird and frustrating things I’ve noticed about most library conferences is the lack of live-tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts during the conferences. This was not the case at LMCC! If you were stuck in room sick, as a good friend of mine was, you would have still been able to learn from the attendees who used the hashtag.

The proliferation of social media posts were also helpful for attendees who are torn between attending two sessions. I was able to get a lot of tips from sessions I couldn’t attend by checking the hashtag feed.

And when one of the conference board members asked members to turn on a special LinkedIn feature to connect with other attendees, they did it! I made a lot of new connections.

Library marketers who don’t have a library science degree often feel judged and misunderstood by the librarians in their systems. This was really disheartening. I am lucky in that I don’t think the librarians at my library think less of me because I don’t have a masters in library science (or if they do, they don’t make me feel like they do!).

I spoke with a great many library marketers who came to this profession from journalism or from marketing jobs at big companies and brands. They have a sincere desire to do work that is meaningful and to give back to the community. I hope that librarians will begin to view the marketing staff at their libraries as advocates and partners. We are here to help make sure your work reaches a large audience and to help sustain the library industry by communicating its value to the public and to stakeholders. Let’s work together!

Librarians are too humble and don’t brag enough about the work they do. The clear consensus among library marketing professionals is that humility is holding back the industry.

We’re all working hard to make sure the great work of front-line staff gets noticed, applauded,  and rewarded. This important task is made harder when librarians aren’t willing to talk about what they do. We all agreed that librarians are amazing and their work doesn’t get enough recognition. Let us help with you that!

Check the Upcoming Events page for a list of webinars and conferences where I’ll be next. Let’s connect! Plus, subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.  

You Can Fix It! If Your Library Marketing Is Failing, Here are the Top Eight Solutions

Do you remember when you learned to read?

I was in the first grade. The school was holding a contest to find a student to deliver a public service announcement about education on a local radio station. I was determined to win.

My mother, who was a first-grade teacher, was incredulous when I shared my plan for my broadcast debut. How could a kid who hadn’t learned to read yet get good enough to get that radio spot? She thought I was crazy.

And maybe I was. But I proved my mother wrong through sheer will and determination, and with a little help from the “Dick and Jane” series. By the end of first grade, I was reading well enough to tackle Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. And I was on the radio.

Twenty years later, I was working weekends as a newscast producer at a television station. That meant every Saturday and Sunday, I had to 8 hours to produce two shows… the 6 p.m. news and the 11 p.m. news. On a good night, it was a fast-paced and stressful proposition.

One day, the television station suffered a huge power failure. The station had backup generators that were supposed to kick on to keep us on the air. But a surge had fried the wiring and we were dead… really most sincerely dead. We had no way to get on the air. And the newscast had to get on the air.

Failure was not an option. We needed to get the show on the air because thousands of homes were also without power and those people looked to us for information. We also needed to get on the air because when the ads that are supposed to be a part of the newscast don’t air, the station loses money.

With airtime fast approaching, we came up with a plan. We would broadcast live from the parking lot using our live truck. It was crude but it worked. We felt like heroes. Journalism won the day and after that, I felt like there was no problem that I could not solve.

We all face obstacles during our work every day. Some are big, some are small. Your attitude plays a huge role in determining whether you overcome them, particularly for those of us working in the library marketing space. Many of our problems are unique to this industry. But trust me when I tell you that you are smart and you can figure anything out!

To prove it, here are the top five problems we face in Library Marketing along with eight solutions… because there are always more solutions than problems!

Problem: we simply don’t have enough time to do all the stuff we’re asked to do. The library year is kind of like the “lazy river” at my local YMCA… a constant swirling movement of events that keeps pushing us forward. It takes some force and a change of direction to break free. When you’re under pressure to promote each big event, it can leave you feeling like you never have enough time for your collection or services. You might feel like you don’t even have enough time to think or be creative.

Solution: a strategy gives you freedom. It not only helps you drive your marketing for the year in a measurable way, it will also provide a concrete reason the next time you have to say “no.”

Say “no” to promotions that don’t serve to drive your library’s strategic mission. Say “no” to promoting every exhibit, program, and author visit at your branches. Empower your branches to do some of their own promotion by providing them with simple guidelines for doing their own community marketing and set them free so you can focus on the big picture… your library as a whole.

Problem: we don’t have enough money. Tiny budgets really separate us most from the for-profit marketers. I do see more libraries spending big budgets but they’re doing it in smart and strategic ways, for re-branding and full production media ad buys, slick content marketing magazines, and direct mail to non-cardholders.

If you don’t have a big media budget, you can spend a little money to boost the effectiveness of your social media posts. Honestly, you can’t get much social media reach without a little spending.

Solution: social media advertising is cheaper than traditional ad buys. Your administrators might not realize how super effective targeted ads can be. You can easily prove that you can make a good return on their investment.

Solution: partnership opportunities to promote more than the big programs. At my library, we created media sponsorship guidelines which list the action items we’d like our potential sponsors to fulfill and what benefits we can offer them in return. Why not pitch a media sponsorship to promote your digital collection or your fantastic database resources?

Solution: find super library fans or influencers in your marketplace and invite them to write about your organization. At my library, when we opened our new MakerSpace and got lots of publicity outside the traditional media (this article is a good example).

Problem: we don’t have enough staff. If your handling a one-person marketing department, trying to take on marketing can be a scary proposition. You probably feel like you’re already just hanging on by the skin of your teeth.

Solution: use the talents of non-marketing co-workers. There are likely a number of librarians who have an interest and a proficiency for social media, writing, video, and design. Ask around and recruit those staff members to help you create content. Ask for permission to recruit interns. You’ll have someone to handle the grunt work and you’ll have the joy that comes with mentoring and encouraging the career of young marketers.

Problem: we don’t know enough about our cardholders to target them effectively with messages they will love. I suffer from this and many of my library marketing friends do too! It’s not a hard one to solve.

Solution: create a new cardholder survey to gauge the interests of people just entering your library system.

Solution: a yearly satisfaction survey for all cardholders is also extremely helpful, particularly when you can take the results and split them into your different persona groups. From there, you can map your customer’s journey. When they get a card, how long does it take them to use it? Are they checking out books or using your digital collection or your computers, or do they simply let it languish? Do you have some customers who got a card years ago, used it a specific way, and then stopped altogether? Do you have some customers who are making the transition from print items to digital materials? Do you have some customers who are only interested in one particular kind of item–DVDs, audio books, or computers?

Break your customers into groups based on what they do with the card and start creating pieces of content that target those groups. Maybe you’ll want to focus your efforts at first on one group in particular. At my library, we’re targeting a persona we call “Occasionals” which are people who use their cards once every six months. We focus on moving people from that cluster into a more active user persona, by targeting them with messages about the convenience of our digital collection.

Problem: we are resistant to change. This problem is the biggest, in my opinion. We are too set in our ways. How many times have you heard someone in your library say, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it!” It’s the phrase I dread most.

It takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to change the minds of our fellow library staff members and our administration. It seems like it would just be easier to stay the course.

Do. Not. Give. In. Marketers have a reputation for being talkative, a little eager, a bit bold, and maybe a tad whacky, and these are all GOOD traits! We have to remember our main objective–to get customers to move through the cardholder journey and engage with the library. Without that engagement, the people who argue that libraries are obsolete will win! We can’t have that.

Solution: with patience and persistence, you can thoughtfully steer your library into the future. It works best when you start small. Think of it like a staircase. On the bottom step, you make a small argument and you try a new thing. You see results. You report the results and chances are, you’ll get to climb to the next step.

The more you do this, the faster you’ll get up the stairs–at some point, you might even be allowed to take the stairs two at a time. Keep the end goal in mind but set smaller goals that help you to get there.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Frustrated with Your Library Marketing Newsletter? Here’s Why You’re Not Getting the Results You Want AND How to Fix It

I hold a controversial opinion. Newsletters are an ineffective tool for library marketing.

I totally understand why libraries create them. Our customers are a wide and diverse audience and our budget is limited. Newsletters are an easy and efficient way to get information to our audience.

But many libraries are frustrated by the lack of demonstrable results from their newsletters, both the print and email versions. And there’s a reason you can’t get good results from a newsletter.

The mistake is: You’re sending the same message to all of your cardholders.

It’s understandable. It feels like the natural thing to do. Your library has great stuff and you want everyone to know about everything.

The problem with that approach is that your cardholders are individuals. One message never fits them all. The needs and interests of your cardholders vary greatly.

I’m not suggesting you ditch your newsletter. By transforming the way you approach your current print and e-newsletter, you can make it actually work! The trick is to make changes that increase your newsletter’s value by refining the message.

Tips that work for both print and e-newsletters

Give your cardholders LOTS more of what THEY want. I know you’ve been keeping track of attendance at events and holds or checkouts of books you promoted in your previous newsletters. If you notice that your newsletter audience turns out for a particular type of event or that they like a particular genre of books or collection items, put MORE of those in your newsletters.

Library marketers are often pressured to promote what their co-workers or bosses think is interesting. Or worse, what their co-workers think the audience NEEDS to hear.

I’ve actually had to gently explain to my colleagues that, while reading classic authors like Ernest Hemingway and Jane Austen are good for the brain, most people are not looking for an intellectual challenge when they reach for a book. It’s like getting kids to eat their vegetables. Veggies are healthy, but if your child doesn’t like them, they’ll clamp their mouth shut and refuse to take a bite.

The newsletter audience is the same. You can’t make people attend events or read books because they’re healthy or intellectual. Library marketers sometimes have to be an advocate for their audience; you have to be persistent in your defense of what your cardholders want.

At my library, we pivoted our newsletter to focus more on our the parts of our collection that our cardholders like. We had the data to back it up. We know that our cardholders really love content about coding and coding classes. We know they love mystery books. We know they love workshops about writing and publishing their own books. We learned all of these nuanced preferences by carefully measuring our audience’s response to marketing in all areas. Patterns emerge. And now, we do a lot of promotion around these areas because we know, for a fact, that our cardholders love this kind of content.

Make your content helpful, not promotional. Your cardholders are regularly bombarded with offers, sales, and promotions, both in their inbox and in your mailbox. To get people to read your newsletter, the content needs to be interesting, useful, or helpful.

Hundreds of studies and surveys about consumer behavior show us that content that is educational or entertaining gets better results that content that is promotional. So how can you promote something while being entertaining or informative? Content marketing in the answer.

Content marketing is a strategic approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience–ultimately, to drive profitable consumer action.

Content marketing breaks through the noise and the clutter by providing compelling, useful information for your cardholder–any type of information. It addresses whatever pain points your cardholders have. It positions your library as the go-to place for information. It builds trust.

And through content marketing, your library gets a better and deeper understanding of your cardholders. You can use that understanding to do a better job of addressing your cardholders’ needs. It’s a constant circle of giving and it carries more weight for a longer period than a traditional newsletter promotion.

Stop thinking of your publication as a newsletter. Start creating news magazines. Most library newsletters that come to my inbox or mailbox are long and contain a ton of text and images. There isn’t much white space and scanning them is difficult, because there is so much to scan.

At my library, we increased the effectiveness of our print newsletter by transforming it into a magazine. We trimmed it from 16 to 12 pages. My graphic artists started to give the publication a magazine feel in layout, using bolder visuals and shorter, more engaging articles. We left some white space. We changed the balance of the articles from 100 percent promotional to 50 percent informational and 50 percent promotional (even I have to fight the battle with my library to be less overtly promotional!).

What happened when we made these changes? Our news magazine became a must-read. People started asking when the next issue would be out. We had to order more copies. Library staff and outside partners vie for space in the publication. The news magazine is popular!

Tips specific to e-newsletters

Keep the text short and scannable. Your e-newsletter is a touch point, not the end of a conversation. Readers should get enough to be left with the feeling of wanting to know more about a particular subject. Drive your recipients to your website or another platform where they can get more information with compelling text and enticing calls to action.

Make it easy to share your e-newsletter. Include social share buttons that link directly to your library’s social pages.

Segment your e-newsletters. You can segment your e-newsletter in a number of ways… by age, by interest, and by location. This means you’ll need to create more than one e-newsletter. But each one will be targeted to a specific audience, which increases effectiveness. This step will be more work for you but it’s worth it for better results.

By targeting your message, you are more likely to say something that matters significantly to your cardholders. That individualized message makes them more likely to take an action, which makes it more likely that your newsletter will be successful.

More help for library marketers

How the Best Newsletters Get-and Keep-Reader’s Attention from Content Marketing Institute

NoveList’s Guide to Best Practices for Library Newsletters

7 Tips for Creating Engaging Newsletters from Mailjet

Great examples of targeted library newsletters

Dallas Public Library’s Young Black Readers Newsletter

Indian Prairie Public Library’s DVD Preview

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

 

The Step-by-Step Method for Figuring Out the Best Time to Send Library Marketing Emails and Why You Should Never Stop Experimenting!

I spend a good portion of my day as a library marketer trying to figure out how my cardholders live their lives. What do they do? When to they do it? What parts of their life are difficult? What parts are enjoyable? When do they have free time?

We do know a lot about the people who use the library, thanks to our own library surveys and great organizations like Pew Research Center. But you can also figure out what your cardholders are doing by email marketing experimentation. And your findings can increase the effectiveness of your marketing.

On the Library Marketing Live Instagram show, Dari from Cook Memorial Public Library District wanted to know how to figure out the best time to schedule marketing email to different audiences. The answer, in general terms, is between 6 p.m. and midnight. But I want to dive a little deeper into how I came to this conclusion and why this might NOT be the case for the people using your library!

If you’re just starting out with email marketing, check with the experts. There are a lot of companies (mostly email marketing software companies) which publish research on the best time of day and the best day of the week to send marketing emails, plus a bunch of other data points. So, start by gathering the latest research from these companies. Some of my favorites are Hubspot, AWeber, and Convertful.

Think about the daily life of your cardholder. If you are sending an email to a group of people who use a particular branch, or who are in a particular age group, try to imagine what they do all day. This generalization method will help you identify points in the day in which your target audience might have time to check their email.

Here’s an example: When I’m sending emails to parents of school-age children, I avoid 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., when parents are usually racing to get their kids ready to go to school. I also avoid 2:30 p.m. to dinner time, because many parents are picking up their kids, running them to extra-curriculars, and tackling homework.  I send marketing emails very early in the morning, like 5 a.m., so they are sitting in their inbox when they wake up but before their kids are up. I also send them after 8 p.m. when most school-age kids are in bed.

When I send emails to teenagers, I never, ever, ever send them in the morning. I exclusively email teenagers at night, and the later the better. That’s because most teens don’t have time to relax until 9:30 p.m. or later, after homework and after-school activities. They will likely check their email right before they fall to sleep at night, and they’re more likely to act on email in the late evenings.

Experiment. Send emails for a 3-6 months period of time. If you’re just starting out, try all hours of the day and night. Keep meticulous records of the results including open, click through, and conversion rates on all your emails.

After your allotted experimentation time, comb through the data and figure out which times of day resulted in the most click-throughs and conversions. Those are your optimum times to send emails! Focus most of your email scheduling on your proven best time of day.

And never stop experimenting. Start another experimentation period of 3-6 months, and then re-analyze data. If you notice a decline in click-through and conversion rates, go back to the drawing board.

My latest six-month analysis shows the best time to send email is between 6 p.m. and midnight, for all age categories and for all card types. This was not always the case. Two years ago, I could send my emails any time of the day EXCEPT between 7 a.m. and noon. But, at the end of 2018, that changed and the only emails that did well were the ones I sent at night.

Why did the effective time change? Because people’s lives change. Your cardholder base changes. The way that email gets delivered by various email providers changes. All of these factors mean that you’ll need to be in a constant state of experimentation. Don’t get married to any one time of day. Have an open mind and be ready to change your email scheduling strategy when the data tells you it’s time to change.

The most important thing is to have good content. If your emails contain stuff that your email audience wants to know about, they will engage with them, no matter what time of day it is. Try and keep your emails short. Focus on a few lines of really compelling text and one or two clear calls to action.

Bonus controversial opinion: I am not a fan of email newsletters. They usually contain too much information and too many calls to action. Their subject matter is usually too broad for their audience. I know a lot of us have to send them because senior leaders love them. But they aren’t an efficient use of email marketing. It would be better to take each section of your newsletter and send it separately to a targeted audience.

Don’t forget to join us for the LIVE LIBRARY MARKETING TALK ON INSTAGRAM every Tuesday at noon ET. We’ll talk about library marketing topics for about 20 minutes each week. My handle is Webmastergirl. You can email questions and topic suggestions ahead of time. Just fill out this form.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.  

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