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Library Marketing Strategy

Powerful Things You Can Do to Convert Cardholders

This is the second in a two-part series on how to improve the metrics that really matter for library marketing emails. To read the first part on how to improve your library email click-thru rate, click here.

The other important metric to measure for email library marketing is the conversion rate. Conversion rate refers to the percentage of people who received the email AND end up taking an action, such as checking out an item, registering for or attending a program, or using an online service.

Conversion rate really is the gold standard for the success of any email campaign. Your goal should always be to get people to act!  For every email you send, you should be able to state in one sentence what it is you want email receivers to do when they read your email. Then you need to follow-up and track the results to see if your email led to the desired action. If it doesn’t, you need to adjust your email strategy.

Here are the tips I’ve discovered, through years of email marketing success and failure, that work to drive up the conversion rate.

Do deep research to find the right target audience. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the best audience for your email. It takes a lot of research. But this is an incredibly important step.

My library recently sent an email to promote a service we’ve had for many years called Career Online High School. COHS is a course that helps people who never finished high school to get their diploma and career certification. Finding the right target audience for this message is problematic. My library doesn’t ask cardholders if they also have a high school diploma, a job, or any kind of career skills. My library also doesn’t keep anything more than superficial demographic statistics on the people who already graduated from the COHS program. I don’t really know who my prime audience would be. I can’t say with accuracy what motivates a person to take this 18-month course. So, I had to do some deeper research.

I found some local studies that laid out the high school diploma concentration in geographic regions inside my library’s service area. This helped me narrow the email audience down to a few neighborhoods within my county. I also asked staff to help me create a subjective profile of past COHS students. I asked the staff to guess at the COHS program applicants ages. I asked if the applicants identified the part of the city they live in. I asked if the applicants typically have a library card when they sign up, or if they have to get one (the service requires you to be a cardholder). Finally, I asked staff if the applicants ever talked about how they first heard about COHS. The staff helped me craft a cluster that I thought *might* work.

We sent this message to about 18 percent of our cardholder base. That’s a wide net. But it worked in this instance. Five percent of the people who opened and clicked on the message are now in the process of filling out applications and completing paperwork to join the class. I consider that a huge success! The staff who run the COHS program told me they were incredibly pleased with the number of new applicants.

Sometimes, your targeted email audience will be obvious. And sometimes you’ll have to ask some questions and dig around to determine your audience. Try not to guess. Base your decisions on the information available and you’ll find success.

Experiment to determine your goal conversion rate. When I started sending emails to my cardholders, I had no idea what success looked like. Through experimentation, I set a goal. Each email must create a ten percent or higher bump in circulation, program attendance, or usage. If the email falls short of these goals, it’s not worth my time or my cardholders’ time.

This isn’t an arbitrary number. It’s a number I’ve landed on after many emails and lots of calculations. For my library system, a ten percent increase in any one of these numbers is significant enough to warrant the effort it takes to create and send an eblast.

You’ll set your own optimum conversion rate. Your optimum rate will depend on the size of your cardholder base, your staff’s capacity to handle increased circulation, program attendance, and library visits, and your overall library goals. But you must have a goal.

Make your call to action clear and persuasive. You’ll notice the call to action on the Career Online High School email is very direct. When you create a call to action (CTA), say the words “I want to…” before the CTA. In the COHS email above, that sentence ends up being, “I want to apply to Career Online High School.”  If that sentence is short, direct, and easy to follow through on, you’ve got a good call to action. Some other good CTA’s are:

Register for this program.

Put this event on my calendar.

Place a hold on this book.

Get reading recommendations.

I think you get the picture. In my emails, I put the CTA inside a button or box so it draws the eye and is intuitive for clicking.

Change focus of your email from the library to your cardholder. To persuade cardholders to act on your emails, stop talking about how great the library service is and to instead talk about how it will change or improve the life of your customer. You can do this even with a simple collection-based email.

We do this with our book recommendation service. We might be tempted to say, “Our Librarians are book experts. We give the best reading recommendations anywhere!” And we do! But by slightly pivoting our message, we show how this service helps our cardholders. Our re-focused sentence is: “You’ve got a lot to do. Let us help you pick out a good book to read.”

See how subtle it is? But it really works. You’re just changing all the “we’s” in your copy to “you’s.” By pivoting the focus of the message from how great your library is to how much you can help the cardholders, you increase the chances that cardholder will take an action.

Include humans in your emails. When you create your email, using a photo that includes a human face or faces expressing an emotion. Your cardholders will look at the faces and identify with one. That face will humanize your message. They’ll be more likely to take an action. We use one or two human faces in most of our email marketing campaigns.

Now, there is some science to suggest that human faces negatively affect conversion rates, particularly if the faces don’t align with the email’s target audience. So, you must choose the photos carefully. For instance, this email promoting our Memory Cafe accurately represents the audience and the activities at the cafe (there is often dancing!). And it worked to drive people to this recurring program. If you make a thoughtful photo choice, you’ll see good results.

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

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Expert Advice on How to Work Diversity Into Your Library Marketing

A few months ago, the Urban Library Council’s Marketing and Communications team organized a conference call with library marketers across the United States. Part of the conversation focused on diversity in library marketing. It’s an important topic and frankly, I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. In fact, I’m embarrassed by my ignorance. Libraries serve a diverse population. Why haven’t we done a better job of working that into our marketing?

This year, my staff began a concerted effort to include more diverse faces and stories in our marketing. But I had this nagging feeling that there was a lot more we could do. I just didn’t know where to begin or how to frame my thoughts. The ULC conference call made me realize I wasn’t alone. It also made me realize that there is an expert in this area; a library marketer who has pushed her team and her library to look for ways to be inclusive on all fronts of marketing.

Kim Crowder established a communications department as Director of Communications for the Indianapolis Public Library. She is the winner of multiple national awards for her work and has spoken on panels and given talks covering a variety of marketing and communications topics. Prior to her role at the library in Indy, she spent 15 years working in marketing and communications for several Fortune 500 companies and was a published journalist for one of the largest newspapers in the United States. Her experience includes working with national and international media on outlets such as Conde Nast, The Oprah Winfrey Show (Yes, she met Oprah!), MTV, BBC London, CBS News, The Learning Channel and more.

Kim believes diverse points of view, flexibility, and creativity are keys to producing the best marketing and communications strategies possible. Kim took a lead role in the conversation on that ULC conference call and afterwards, I asked her to share her thoughts on diversity in library marketing with us.

Libraries inherently serve a diverse population, yet we don’t always include diversity in our marketing. There’s a bit of a disparity there! Why is diversity in marketing important for libraries?  The populations we serve are diverse, and our marketing efforts should be inclusive and truly represent our audiences. This is basic marketing 101. And I’m not talking about only focusing on certain populations for certain services and events. That should happen too, but this is more a conversation about overall strategy. Typically, public funding pays for libraries, which means acknowledging citizens of ALL backgrounds, because it is their dollars that keep our lights on. And we are all (or should be) aware of campaigns such as #weneeddiversebooks. Also, the American Library Association cites equity, diversity and inclusion as key action areas. For us to be unified on this topic, we must embrace it fully.

As our country becomes more diverse in a plethora of ways (not only regarding race) and knowing that it is predicted that in 2040 we will be majority-minority nation, libraries must plan now to stay relevant in the future. To do that, we must demonstrate our necessity and make as many people as possible aware of our benefit to their lives; it makes good business sense to be inclusive. Diversity in marketing is a needed and necessary aspect that must be earnestly examined and executed. And frankly, it’s the right thing to do, period.

Diversity in marketing is more than just making sure we include people of different races, religions, and abilities in our marketing photos and campaigns. What other ways can we market to a more diverse audience? This is a great question! Here’s where nuances matter. For instance, knowing what is important to certain populations and targeting specific programs and services to those markets by using the language, messaging, and imaging that most speaks to them is imperative.

An example of this would be to create marketing campaigns that are translated into different languages and really working with a native speaker (if possible) as well as a translator, to be sure the interpretation is correct, including knowing which regional dialects are most common in your market. Also, being aware of the vernacular that is correct when addressing the LGBTQ+ community, such as using sexual orientation instead of sexual preference. Making sure that you are aware of holidays and times of celebration and using social media to point to those is paramount. These are only a few ways to reach audiences in ways that are respectful and inclusive. It really is about intentionality and research to respect different groups within your service area and to make sure you have a real sense of who those segments are.

Will diversity in library marketing help to change the mindset of communities and how people view their fellow citizens? What an interesting thought! My answer is that it could help, absolutely. Change takes time and a village, and libraries can certainly contribute to the greater conversation. And remembering that diversity includes more than race, disabilities, socioeconomic status, gender, etc., but also includes experiences as well, should be acknowledged and considered. The more commonalities within humanity that are highlighted, the better.

Think on themes such as wanting great educational tools and programs for kids; a place anyone can feel safe to learn freely; and the ability to find books, movies, music, and more that speak to people’s core values. All these are ways to make library services more connected on a human-interest level to the populations in which we serve. The more stories that are shown using real customers, the more engaging. Finding a way to create emotional connection, whether through video, a news story, social media, community partnerships, print materials, blogging, etc., is key, and can certainly create an environment of shared interests. At the end of the day, we are all people, and finding that common thread using diverse representation is the way to go.

How do we convince our library colleagues that diversity in all areas that the library touches, like programming, exhibits, and services is important to our mission and to our cardholders? Everyone receives information differently, so think about the myriad of ways in which this fact can be demonstrated. Whether it is through anecdotes about individuals we serve or looking at pure data to find out the population breakdown in your service area, this case is best won by combining these different forms of information so that people can get a full view of the importance of diversity and inclusion.

And having them think through target audiences as they are planning services, exhibits, programming, etc., allows real dialogue about who these different groups may be so that the conversation of diversity is immediately valuable to the person doing the planning. And convey the message again, and again, and again, throughout your department and the system overall, as well as finding staff who will be ambassadors who speak to this as well. The more managers who are on board and empowered to pass along this information to staff, the better. Particularly, we have an African American History Committee and a LGBTQ+ Committee, run by staff members, who plan events and speak on behalf and are allies of minority groups.

What role does diversity in staffing play in the way libraries market themselves? Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the library world. Most of the workforce in libraries only speak English, are women, white, and not considered disabled, so naturally, there are going to be blind spots. Blind spots would be so no matter who the majority were. There are, however, some real statistics about why a diverse workforce is so important. And diversity is at its most valuable when gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are combined with acquired diversity that is gained from experiences like living and working abroad or regularly interacting with a marginalized group. There are also statistics that state a lack of diverse leadership means women are 20 percent less likely than straight men to receive support of their ideas; LGBTQs are 21 percent less likely; and people of color are the most vulnerable at 24 percent.

The impact is that staff who would notice missteps in the way a group is messaged to or represented in campaigns, including recognizing lack of representation, may go ignored because they do not have the support when they do speak up. Having several points of view in any situation is extremely helpful, and a more diverse staff who can contribute and truly be heard, naturally creates an environment for this.

Can you give us some examples of how you have worked diversity into your marketing at the Indianapolis Public Library? We are constantly working on this, and it isn’t always simple, comfortable, nor easy. In 2018, all my staff participated in a racial equity training given by a third-party community partner that was extremely eye-opening for all of us. I wanted us to have context as to why we were focusing more heavily on this topic and to be able to has some real data on the issues. The first step was to be willing to openly have conversations around this, and to invite others to do so, resulting in bettering our marketing and communications efforts.

Regarding marketing tools, social media is a big part of how we do this; particularly focusing on highlighting diverse materials and topics in posts and event listings. Using kid-focused materials is a great way to introduce diversity to wider audiences, as it tends to disarm people a bit more. Also, making sure that we use videos to tell stories about our patrons being touched by library services is major strategy. We highlight users from all walks of life, knowing that stories connect on a human level, even beyond initial differences.

We are extremely conscious of this when in situations such as building a new branch or closing one in a neighborhood that is largely minority or has high numbers of residents below the poverty line (this is happening currently, and it’s not easy nor pretty). The goal is to always respect and honor people and that community overall, no matter what. And equally as important, being sure to position the Library as a support to those communities, not a savior or a “fixer.” We must be sure we are always viewed as a partner coming alongside those who are already doing great work and living in these communities. We are supporters who are always actively listening. That means our messaging must uphold that secondary position in the most respectful way possible, and if we miss that mark, we are immediately transparent about it and ready to learn however we need to. We are here to serve.

Kim is a native of Houston, TX (and VERY proud of it), and a lover of music and social issues dialogues. When Kim is not enjoying her professional endeavors, you can find her singing at church or jazz at a bar (with the occasional musical and national anthem at a sporting event sprinkled in here and there), listening to podcasts and audiobooks, Latin dancing, brewing tea, attending an artsy event or live concert, shopping, enjoying the sunshine, or laughing hysterically with family and friends. Her Instagram is the bomb! You can also email Kim at Kimberly.Crowder@live.com and say hi!

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Avoid Email Vanity! Here Are the Results You Should Measure

I love email marketing. It’s one of the most effective tools in the modern library marketer’s toolbox. Emails are a direct way to interact with your cardholders and your community. They are easy to create. You can share stories, collection items, explain new services, and promote events directly with your audience. And library cardholders love getting emails from us. We don’t have to worry about unsubscribe rates the way other industries do.

Many libraries are now emailing their cardholders. And they’re reporting success with those campaigns. I’m so happy! But I’m also worried about something I hear often in conversation with other library marketers. I’m worried that we’re focused on the wrong measure of success–open rates. I’ve attended two events with other library marketers this summer. At both, there were deep and interesting discussions about success in email marketing. But at both events, the conversation about success centered on how to raise open rates.

Now, I have a confession to make. When I started targeted email marketing back in January of 2015, I was obsessed with my email open rates. And so were thousands of marketers in industries across the world. During my first trip to Content Marketing World, I attended several sessions on email marketing and every speaker mentioned open rates as a measure of success.

Open rates do mean something. They are a sign of customer loyalty. A high open rate means that your cardholders are eager to see what you’ve sent them. And that’s good. But it’s kind of like buying a house because it’s got a beautiful exterior. You may sign all the paperwork, open the front door and find all the walls are unfinished! Open rate is a vanity metric. It makes you feel good. But it’s what happens AFTER your cardholders open your email that counts.

I’m not suggesting you ignore open rates. They do give you information you can use to improve your emails. If your open rates are high, and your click-thru rates are low, you can be certain that you are writing compelling email subject lines (Good job, you!). You have a loyal and eager audience. But the content you are sending to your cardholders isn’t what they want. Now you can fix that problem!

Keep tabs on your open rate. But you should focus on two other valuable ways to really measure the success of your emails.

Click-through rates: The higher this number is, the more excited I get. It means that my cardholders opened an email, saw something they liked, and took an action! Most of the time, my library emails direct cardholders to do one of two things: click a link for a specific item in our collection or go to the event calendar where they can register or put an upcoming event on their calendar. Convincing a cardholder to take one of those actions is a huge victory. It also gives me data about what that particular cardholder is interested in. And I can use that information to craft future emails that are also compelling for that cardholder.

Conversion rates: A conversion rate is the most accurate way to measure email effectiveness. It is the percentage of people who take an action after clicking through an email. For example, let’s say 100 people click-through to look at a book I’ve promoted by email. If 50 of those 100 people put the book on hold, my conversion rate is 50 percent. Once I know what my average conversion rate is for a certain type of email, I can set goals to raise that conversion rate. I can  accurately compare my emails to one another.  I might see a high conversion rate for a certain genre of book and look for similar books to market to that cardholder. I might notice a spike in registration rates for a particular kind of program coming from an email and look for similar kinds of programs to market to my cardholders. Conversion rate is the most accurate measurement for determining the likes and dislikes of your cardholders.

For more on tracking the success of your email marketing, you can also read this article. And if you want to learn more about targeted email marketing and get more secrets for library email success, don’t forget the free webinar 

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Call It What It Is: Toledo Public Library Explains Their New Brand Strategy

A couple of weeks ago, a Tweet from the deputy director of the Toledo Public Library caught my eye.

Our marketing manager here at the library is leading a charge to “call things what they are” to reduce confusion for customers. We should be doing more of this in libraries and resist the urge for cutesy branding.

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Jason went on to explain, “When I joined the library three plus years ago, we had just launched a kind of umbrella branding for all of our making activities at the library. We called it Make U. It was clever, had a nice logo, and generally served a purpose… for us. Three years later, it’s still a confusing ‘second brand’ for our library (one of many tertiary brands, actually). Terri Carroll (our marketing manager) is working really hard to make the library’s brand the key identifier for all things library. Every time we roll out a new program or service, we have the urge to give it cute or clever branding. It’s just more education we have to do with our customers. So rather than trying to constantly educate people about our new brands, services, and programs, we focus on the library’s brand: a welcoming and accessible space where anyone has access to resources they need to make their lives, their communities, and their futures better. Now we call Make U what it is…tech tools. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Terri in the short time she’s been with us about how we cut through a very noisy marketplace to reach people where they are when they need us.”

This is a major hurdle for my team and library marketer’s across the country! At my Library, I’ve counted no less than TEN branded services. And each one requires education for the staff and public. The names are cute but their meaning is obtuse.

Library marketers struggle with branding. We need to do a better job of defining who we are. We must create a consistent emotional connection with our cardholders if we’re going to compete with the likes of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Netflix, and Google.

Jason’s co-worker, Toledo Public Library Marketing Manager Terri Carroll, graciously agreed to share her insights on the process.

So many libraries have a set of tertiary brands for their various programs and services. Why is that a problem? Each day, our current and potential customers are bombarded with media messages from well-funded and sophisticated retail, fast food, snack food, entertainment, sports, news, and service companies. While these organizations aren’t competing with us to provide library services, they are competing with libraries for people’s time and attention. If libraries hope to have people notice our message in a noisy marketplace, it is imperative we have one clear brand that makes it easy for people to know who we are and what value we provide. Tertiary brands dilute our message and make it more challenging to connect with customers.

Before the redesign, the Toledo Public Library struggled to bring a host of tertiary brands together to create one cohesive brand.

What prompted you to decide to focus less on giving everything a cutesy name and instead develop and nurture an umbrella brand? I started working at the Library in November and was struck by the fact that each program had its own look and message. The emphasis was on program names and unique graphics, rather than the Library as a whole. For example, a great deal of energy was spent on “logos” for programs such as Kindergarten Kickstart, Ready to Read, and Make U instead of thinking about messaging that clearly connects a valuable service (early literacy or access to technology) with the Library. This approach puts the burden of connecting the dots about the Library’s value and relevance on our customers. It also keeps the Marketing team from thinking strategically as they instead spend energy making everything look different. This is an unfortunate use of resources. Having things look similar within a brand compliance strategy makes it easier for customers to identify Library materials and messaging.

Terri laid out brand elements to create a clear and consistent message that can be understood by staff and library cardholders.

Have you seen positive results from this type of strategy yet?  We’ve been working on implementing this strategy since December, so it is tough to extrapolate data yet. For now, positive anecdotal comments to Library staff and leadership such as, “The Library is doing so much,” (when in fact we are doing a similar amount of work) and increased earned media attention are indicators of success. Ultimately, we should realize increases in circulation, door count, and program attendance as well as community and regional stakeholder invitations to be at the table on important issues, speaking opportunities, organizational partnership creations, and election results.

How can other library marketers make the case to their stakeholders, like their board of trustees, the senior leaders, and their staff, that developing a strong brand sense is more productive than creating brands individually as services are unveiled? Stakeholders repeatedly express interest in making sure the community knows about everything the Library does. I have invested a lot of time meeting with all of our internal stakeholders to show them how strong brand management is necessary to meet that goal.

My staff and I also work to keep a focus on making sure all materials and messages are customer-focused. We ask ourselves and our colleagues if our materials and messaging are giving customers all the information they need to engage with the Library. Focusing on how customers understand our Marketing keeps everyone externally (brand) focused and not internally (tertiary brand) focused.

A clear, consistent look helps Toledo Public Library create a connection and makes it easier for their cardholders to recognize their messages.

Do you have any other advice for library marketers looking to strengthen their own brands? It is essential to have senior leadership support for strong brand management. If people are used to the tertiary brands and have enjoyed the creative process (either working with Marketing and/or doing their own design work at the department or branch level), moving to brand compliance can be painful. If those concerns/complaints are taken to senior leadership and exceptions are granted, then the entire brand strategy is compromised.

It is also important to expect some resistance and be willing to talk with people about their questions and concerns. In these conversations, something that seems to really resonate is when I say that we don’t want to re-educate people every time they see something from the Library. We want people to immediately identify a Library program or service. And while staff sees all the materials and, may in fact get a bit tired of the same colors and fonts, this easy identification and brand recognition is essential for customers who are wading through a marketplace of messages and materials.

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Seven Ways to Do the Best Library Promotions

This is part two of a series from a presentation my boss and I gave at the 2018 OrangeBoy Idea Exchange. Read part one here.

Now comes the fun part: deciding what, how, and when to promote specific library events, services, and collection items. Here are seven rules to live by when figuring out the best channel for your library marketing.

Learn to say no

Let’s start with the big problem facing everyone who works in library marketing. We are treated like short order cooks. Promotional requests come in from various coworkers, and we are expected to fill them. That sucks. It’s not effective and I think it’s the reason why we suffer a lot of failure in library marketing. The first step in library marketing is to say “no”. It’s good for you and for your marketing strategy.

Busyness feels wonderful. We’re doing something! Stuff is happening! Progress is being made! But if your promotional schedule gets too busy, three things are going to happen. Your staff won’t have time for creative thought. You’ll make mistakes. And your cardholders will feel like the only thing coming from your library is noise. A constant stream of promotions starts to feel like static. So I urge you to practice saying “no.” That’s easier when you have a strategy which aligns with your library’s overall goals.

Determine your benchmarks

I measure every promotional request against four basic rules. These are my benchmarks. They give me a framework for saying “no” to projects. I suggest you create something similar. Use past data to predict future results with promotions.

My basic rules are:
If the promotion will not give us more than a ten percent bump in circulation, program attendance, or usage, we don’t do it.
If it’s a service that’s difficult for the cardholder to use, we don’t promote it.
If the program presenter is free, we don’t promote them.
If it’s not tied directly to the library’s overall strategy, it gets cut.

My version is simple. This past week, I visited with Chuck Duritsch, manager of External Relations for the Dayton Metro Library System. He has a whole color-coded chart that he uses to say “yes” and “no” to various promotions. Use whatever works for you!

Here’s an example of something we cut from our promotional schedule after an experiment failed to reach the benchmarks. In 2017, 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 in 2017 and only half were effective in boosting attendance AT ALL. With that data, we decided to cut way back on branch promotions this year. As of June 2018, we’ve done 34 branch promotions and our effectiveness level is up 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. We cut the fat and were able to create messages that did a better job of resonating with people.

Weed your marketing content and cut out the stuff that doesn’t help your library reach its overall goals so you can be more creative with the promotions you have left. Evaluate your promotional schedule twice a year to keep your marketing lean. Your benchmarks might change over time. It’s important to always evaluate your results and re-think your strategy.

Don’t feast at the buffet of tactics

Once a promotion passes the test and gets into your schedule, it’s time to start figuring out how to promote it. 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.

In April of each year, our library holds a Teen Poetry Contest. Teens are typically considered to be a really hard audience to reach. This year, I decided to promote it on our teen 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 teens don’t typically read the news. Their parents do, but I don’t have any data from past years to show that promoting this contest in the news will get us more entries. So, I weeded that tactic. In addition, I didn’t create a video, although teens respond to video. I just don’t have the resources to create a video they would like and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I also didn’t use some 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 Library Links because the average reader of that publication is an older empty-nester. It’s just not the right audience for that promotion.

Timing is everything

The “when” part is just as critical as the “how” part of promotional planning. Use past data to make future decisions when you determine the timing of promotions. When I started at my library, we released a promotion in one day on all channels. We’d send out the email, the press release, put up the homepage graphic, and do social all in one day. But I’ve embraced a new timing concept with success over the last year and a half. It’s called the tiered distribution approach.

I was at a conference where I heard marketing expert named Andrew Davis talk about tiered distribution. The approach takes advantage of a consumer cycle of excitement. You release one or two promotional tactics at the beginning of your promotional cycle.  The promotion gets some play, and excitement builds in the consumer base. Maybe 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. Do you see the pattern? Keep releasing tactics over time and not all at once. 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.

My library used a tiered-distribution approach for this year’s Summer Reading program. Our summer reading, which we branded as Summer Adventure, runs from June 1-July 31. For years, we’ve done the same promotional schedule. We started the excitement building portion around May 1. And our registration numbers and check-in numbers have been flat for the past few years. I don’t have a survey to tell me this for sure, but my gut says that by the time we got to June 1, our audience was already tired of hearing about Summer Adventure. We used up all their excitement before we even got to the event.

This year, we took a tiered approach. By June 30, registrations were up 18 percent from 2017 and weekly check-ins increased by nearly 67 percent. And while there are a lot of factors for that, one is that we didn’t spend all our promotional energy at one time. We did a better job of building excitement.

Measure and share

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

Failure is okay, by the way. Marketing is an experiment. Sometimes the stuff you do will work, sometimes it won’t. Don’t repeat the things that don’t work! Spend more energy on the things that do work. Don’t spend too much time obsessing over every little detail of your strategy. You can refine it as you gather data. It’s never going to be perfect, so once you’ve got a plan in place, just do it!

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 in your marketing department! And they may look at the results and find some new insight that you missed.

Focus more on the content and less on the container

Focus MORE on the content of your message and LESS on how you deliver it. When you focus first on the content, you put your customer first, not your own promotional needs. Think more about the insides of your message, not the way it will be delivered. That’s how we differentiate ourselves from the competition.

Leave room to market on the fly

Your library promotional schedule should leave room for Drop-in Marketing Campaigns–those pushes that come at the last-minute and are sent to your audience in a few days–or less! Maybe you’re seizing on an opportunity from a vendor or a partner organization. Maybe you’ve got a connection to an event in pop culture. Maybe you find a piece of user-generated content that’s so fun and engaging that you don’t want to wait to promote it. If it makes sense and the timing is right, get it out there in front of your audience. The key lies in purposeful planning. When you’re laying out your regular marketing campaigns, including your email messages, be sure to deliberately leave holes where you might be able to drop-in promotions. Keep in mind which promotions have drop-dead dates and which ones could be shuffled and released to the public later. Then… go for it!

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

How Do You Decide What and How to Promote?

Last week, my boss and I were honored to present at the OrangeBoy Ideas Exchange, a small conference and gathering of OrangeBoy users. Presenters talk about all kinds of issues related to library marketing including email, customer privacy, and analytics. It is valuable, particularly because the small group of attendees leads to big discussions and the sharing of ideas. It’s also a great networking opportunity. There’s nothing like being in a room with other library marketers to make you understand that you are not alone in your struggles. If you’re an OrangeBoy client, you should definitely go!

My boss is Chris Rice, Marketing Team Manager for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. We spoke about choosing the right channel for your marketing efforts. And let’s face it, that’s not always an easy choice. There are so many ways to market your library! But that also opens the potential for your team to work themselves to death trying to check off all the boxes. So Chris and I tried to explain the framework we use at our library. It guides us to make decisions about exactly how we promote events, services, and collection items. It gives us the freedom to say “no” and keep ourselves sane.

I have taken my portion of the presentation and turned it into two blog posts. This week, I’ll explain the process I use before I actually start programming my editorial calendar. I run through a series of three exercises to help me get ready to make those big decisions. These exercises give me a clear idea of who I’m marketing to. They also force me to define how I’ll use assets and tactics to achieve the library’s goals. I do this about once every six months. It sounds tedious but it is really valuable. I always feel more confident about the decisions I make afterward. I think you will too!

QUESTION ONE: What are your library’s three main overall goals? What are the three big things your library wants to accomplish in the next 12 months? Write those big goals on paper and stick them up everywhere in your marketing office. Repeat them. Eat, breathe, and sleep them. Those are your goalposts for the year. Those are your big concerns. Whatever your director or your board wants to accomplish is what you want to accomplish. Everything you do needs to be in service of reaching these goals. Every decision you make about promotion is going to be laser-focused on making sure those goals are reached. They are the reason you come to work every morning.

QUESTION TWO: What do you know about your current cardholders and the people who live in your community? This is a classic marketing situation analysis. It’s a tedious exercise. But it will help you to clearly imagine the person who will consume your marketing messages. That will help you to 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? Every piece of data you can get about your cardholders is a guidepost that will help you make the best decisions.

QUESTION THREE: What promotional assets do you have at your disposal? Write down all the stuff you use to promote your library. It should include every social media platform you use, every website your library owns, every print publication you send out, emails, in-person events, press releases, podcasts, and videos… every single thing you do to communicate with cardholders. Then, create a description of how you’ll use each asset to bring your library’s overall strategic vision to life.

For example, my library produces a quarterly content marketing publication called Library Links. One of our overall library goals this year is to help job seekers find a new, more lucrative, more fulfilling career. I think Links can help us achieve that goal. So, I wrote a description of how that would work. “We will use our quarterly print publication to emphasize the role of the library in helping job seekers find a new, more lucrative, more fulfilling career. We will do this by featuring a cardholder in each issue who used our library’s services to advance their own career, such as by taking our GED course or using our online job resume builder. Every quarter, we’ll highlight a service or program that will help our cardholders reach their career goals.” This keeps me accountable and reminds me, every time I go to put Links together, that I need to include these kinds of stories in each issue.

If you start this process and you realize there is an asset that just doesn’t seem to work for your overall marketing goals, drop it. I don’t care if you’ve done it for 20 years. Use only the things that can help you to achieve your goals and cut the rest.

For example, for a while, my library was all in on Slideshare. We had an editorial calendar and we were churning out Slideshares every six weeks to promote services. It took a considerable amount of time to create the graphics. But we weren’t getting the results we wanted. When I do any marketing, I am looking for action. I want consumers of our message to click on a link and use something at the library.  But our Slideshares were not producing action, or at least not in any number that I could be proud of. So, in mid-2017, we decided to drop Slideshare. It’s okay to drop something that’s not working for you. Don’t waste your energy!

Now that you’ve laid out all the stuff available to you, it’s time to decide what to promote, how to promote, and when to promote. That’s the fun part! Next week, I’ll share tips on how to manage that part of your job.

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

The One Mistake Your Library Can Never Make On Social Media

I was riding furiously on my parent’s elliptical machine, trying to distract myself from the fact that I absolutely HATE exercise by scrolling through Facebook, when I came across a post that nearly made me fall off the machine.

It was on a politically charged page dedicated to libraries. And it advocated the use of clickbait for driving engagement. I won’t post the example this person used here. It was a provocative post but it wasn’t well-constructed. There was no image and no link for action. It was also posted by a librarian, not a library. I suspect he was just trying out the line on the fly to gauge the reaction. It doesn’t really matter what his motivation was or how it played with his audience. And to be fair, the post technically was not clickbait. Clickbait is the act of writing a headline or a post that over-promises, oversensationalizes or misrepresents whatever content you are linking to. The easiest clickbait headlines to spot are the ones that contain the words “You’ll never believe” or “What happened next will shock/embarrass/outrage you.”

What matters to me is the assertion that libraries need to resort to clickbait to get followers to like, comment, and share their posts. You absolutely do not. And in fact, you should avoid clickbait at all costs.

Listen, we’ve all fallen for clickbait headlines before. I am a sucker for those slideshow galleries of photographs that promise to show me something shocking or new about historical events.  But once you’ve scrolled through a gallery of 45 shots and realized you haven’t seen anything new or shocking, you leave mad and vow never to visit that particular website again. We do not want to cause anger, disappointment, and distrust in our users. Using clickbait in posts could do serious damage to your library’s reputation. As an arbiter and protector of truth in an era of attacks on facts, we need to hold ourselves and our social media accounts to a higher standard. Clickbait headlines might get you more initial clicks, but they won’t deepen the relationship your cardholders have with your library.

We’re all fighting to get noticed in each of social media platforms. Algorithm changes mean we have to craft every post to match the demands of that particular platform. It’s exhausting. The temptation to use a clickbait headline to get more engagement is real, and I understand why it might seem like a good option. But it is not. We are better than that.

Your cardholders are smart. Treat them as such. Speak conversationally and openly, but don’t be sensational. You’ll be rewarded by your fans in trust, loyalty, and respect. And those three things are way more valuable than any engagement numbers you might garner in the short-term thanks to clickbait.

Instead, follow these guidelines for creating headlines with examples from my library’s social media platforms. Kudos to my library’s social media team for their amazing work: Danielle, Lisa, Veronica, and Andrea!

  • Be inspirational

  • Use keywords

  • Answer questions

  • Promote facts and figures

Incorporate numbers when possible

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms! 

 

How to Get Over Fear and Other Big Challenges to Library Marketing

When I was in first grade, I wanted to be famous. My big break arrived in the form of a school contest. The winner got to read a public service announcement about education on the radio. “IT HAS TO BE ME!!!” I exclaimed to my bewildered mother when I learned of the contest. She gently explained that I couldn’t win. She knew I faced a huge obstacle. I did not know (yet) how to read! The time between the contest announcement and the audition was short. How would I ever learn to read well enough to do it on the air? My mother is a very practical person. This was an insurmountable obstacle in her eyes.

I proved my mother wrong through sheer determination, and with a little help from the “Dick and Jane” series. I learned to read and won the contest! That was likely the first time I realized this powerful fact: there really isn’t any problem out there that can’t be solved.

20 years later, I found myself in a similar situation at my job as TV producer. The station suffered a huge power failure. The generators died. We had no way to get on the air. But failure was not an option and with airtime fast approaching, we came up with a plan. We would broadcast live from the parking lot using our live truck. It worked. We felt like heroes. Once again, I realized there was no problem that could not be solved.

We all face obstacles every day. Library marketing is not an easy job. You deal with deadlines, staffing issues, tiny budgets, and bureaucracy. Despite these obstacles, you make it work, day after day.  Your attitude plays a huge role in determining whether you overcome obstacles. Many of our problems are unique to this industry. Do. Not. Fear. You can find ways around anything. Here are some ideas to help.

The obstacle: there is never enough time. The library year is like the “lazy river” at my local YMCA; a constant, swirling flow of events that keeps pushing us forward. It takes some force to break free. When you’re under pressure to promote each big event, you may feel like you never have enough time to do anything well. All the emphasis is on the result and most people don’t give too much thought to the process.

The solution: Create a marketing strategy and STICK TO IT. The strategy must be clear, with expectations and goals set in writing. Get it approved by your supervisor and administrators. Explain it to staff. A strategy will help you stay laser-focused. Your marketing can be consistent. Library users will start to recognize the strategy of your organization without reading the mission statement. You’ll be able to accurately measure results. And, most important, you’ll be able to say “no” to promotions that don’t serve to drive your library’s overall strategic mission.

The obstacle: there is never enough money.  Budgets are a pain. Nothing can make you feel like you can’t reach your goals like facing the cold, hard reality of zero cash flow.

The solution: start small and partner up. Ask your administration for money to fund social media advertising. It’s cheaper than traditional ad buys. Your administrators might not realize how effective targeted social media ads can be. You can easily prove that you can make a good return on their investment. Look for partnership opportunities to promote more than the big programs. Create a standard agreement for media sponsorships of major programs, listing the action items your potential sponsors will fulfill and what benefits you can offer them in return. For every big program or marketing push, brainstorm partnership opportunities. For instance, my library uses partnerships for author events and to promote our collection.

The obstacle: too much work, too few people. Trying to take on a concerted, strategic marketing initiative can be overwhelming when you work alone. It’s a struggle just to keep up with the day-to-day stresses of social media, press, and meetings.

The solution: Ask for more help. You’ll find librarians who have an interest and skill in social media, writing, video, and design. Ask around and recruit those staff members to help you create content, with their supervisor’s permission of course. Ask for permission to engage an intern or two. Every organization has people with hidden talents!

The obstacle: There is never enough data about customers. This one sounds like the most difficult of the problems to solve but it’s actually one of the easiest. If your library isn’t already collecting data about your current customers, it should. I know libraries have a long and proud tradition of protecting the data and privacy of users and I respect that. I think there is a balance that can be struck. We can’t serve our cardholders well and point them in the direction of the items and services they need and want unless we know something about them. Collecting data on their card use preferences isn’t intrusive and I bet if you ask your cardholders, they’d confirm my assertion as long as we don’t share the data or lose it.

The solution: Ask, ask, and ask again. When people come to programs, hand them a three-question survey: How did you find out about this program? Do you have a library card already? What other kinds of things would you like to see at this library?  Create a new cardholder survey to gauge the interests of people just entering your library system. A yearly satisfaction survey for all cardholders is also necessary, particularly when you can take the results and split them into your different persona groups.

There are a number of software companies that can help you sort through cardholder use while masking the names of the actual items checked out by your cardholders, like Savannah by Orangeboy. 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 computers? 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. Start creating pieces of content that target those groups.

The obstacle: fear. After five years of sharing library marketing information, this is still the biggest problem we face. Libraries are afraid of change AND afraid of failure. 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. 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.

The solution: no one will die if you try something and it doesn’t work. It’s just marketing. Try stuff. Just try!  We have to remember our main goal–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. Do not be afraid. Marketing 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. If you fail, it’s just failure. No one dies. You stay on that step and you try something else! You’ll never get to the top of the stairs unless you try.

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, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms! 

Eight Easy Secrets to Create Competitive Emails For Your Library

I spend the majority of my day working on email marketing for my library. Marketing your services, collection, and programs to your cardholders by email is powerful. And it’s easy. I want to be very clear–you need to be emailing your cardholders. You can do it, no matter how big or small your library is. It is more than important… it is necessary. Failing to email your cardholders is a huge mistake.

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of experimentation to learn what to do and what not to do when I email my cardholders. I want to convince you that email marketing is doable. Start with these eight easy tips to create amazing library emails. You can compete with other companies for a space in your cardholders inbox. Done well, your cardholders will even begin to look forward to your emails! Try it and watch how emails help you reach your overall marketing goals.

Don’t be afraid to email. The most common comment I receive from other libraries when we’re discussing email marketing is a fear of sending too many emails. “I don’t want to be viewed as spam.” I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again here: you can’t send too many emails. The rules for avoiding the spam box which apply to other companies don’t apply to libraries. Our cardholders love us. They love what we offer. They want us to reach out to them. It’s the biggest advantage we have over other industries. I send tens of thousands of emails to my cardholders every week and my unsubscribe rate is zero percent. I’m not joking. Our library uses the OrangeBoy product Savannah for emailing. It divides our cardholders into clusters based on their card activity. My general rule is to send 2-3 emails every week to cardholders who use our digital services, like our eBooks and online databases. The rest of the clusters get 1-2 emails a week. And still, our unsubscribe rate remains at zero percent. Let go of the fear of becoming spam. Reach out to your cardholders. They love you, I promise.

Embrace the fear of failure. The second most common fear I hear from libraries considering email marketing is the fear of failure. It’s totally natural. And it’s easy for me to tell you not to be afraid. I don’t work for your boss and I don’t know the expectations of your library. But I truly believe that failure is a natural and necessary part of learning what works for your library. So my best advice is to tell your boss upfront that failure will be a part of the email marketing process. You’ll do your best to avoid it, but you’ll also learn from it when it happens. Be clear that you’ll keep an eye on the successes and failures of your emails, you’ll report periodically with the results of those emails, and you’ll change course once it’s clear that something isn’t working.

Planning is key. Create a planning calendar for your emails in the same way you do for your other promotions. Whenever possible, plan your emails six months in advance. Send emails to promote your programs at least three weeks before the program. Fill the rest of your calendar with your collection-based emails. Leave space for those last-minute emails you might want to add to the calendar.

Timing is everything. Think about your own email box. It gets overloaded during certain times of the year, especially around the holidays and at the beginning and end of the school year (right when most of us are launching summer reading programs). Avoid sending emails during the times when other companies are sending. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid sending emails related to the holidays but do it early. For example, I send my holiday reading book list the week before Thanksgiving to avoid getting lost in the Black Friday and holiday emails.

Write a killer subject line and keep it to seven words or less if you can. Sure, shorter subject lines are harder to write. We’re librarians–we want to make sure people have all the information! But short subject lines will inspire the curiosity of your cardholders. And, more importantly, of the biggest reasons to keep it short is technical. Most email providers have a character cutoff and beyond that, the rest of your subject line is truncated. Here’s some more advice for writing subject lines for library emails.

Be a giver. Your emails should always offer something to your cardholder. They should be as closely matched to the cardholder’s persona as possible. Market your collection, particularly your new materials. Include a short description of the item and a direct link to the catalog. Market your programs in the same way. Include a short description and a link to the event calendar or registration form.

Less text is more. Try to keep the wording of your email to a minimum. A few lines about what you’re offering with a call to action and a link to more information is your best tactic. You don’t have to worry about writing a paragraph. A few, well-crafted sentences and you’re off to the races.

Measure results. You must measure the results of your emails and adjust your strategy if necessary. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time. I wrote a whole post about how to measure results. You can read it here.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms! 

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