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Everything You Need to Know to Create an Effective Marketing Plan for Any Library Promotion

I love planning. I am the queen of to-do lists. I am addicted to reminder notifications. I’m a fan of the Excel spreadsheet.

I rarely go into any situation without a plan. The same is true for my library marketing. I create a marketing plan for everything. And so should you.

A marketing plan has a lot of advantages. It ensures everyone knows the end of goal of your marketing efforts. It defines roles for all the stakeholders. It sets deadlines. It keeps people accountable. And it clarifies how you will measure your results.

Why a marketing plan is important

A marketing plan is NOT a strategy. A strategy is the path you decide to take to achieve your library’s long-term overall business goals: increased circulation, increased program attendance, brand awareness, etc. You can have an overall library marketing strategy that guides your actions for six months, a year, or longer.

A marketing plan lays out all the steps involved in one particular promotion. Everything in the plan should tie into the strategy. It must help to achieve your library’s overall goals. But the plan lasts for a shorter period, involves more specifics, and covers just one promotion.

You don’t need a plan for everything you market at your library. You do need a plan if you are creating a campaign that lasts for a month or more.

And here’s how to put one together.

Know the thing you are promoting inside and out. Be sure you can answer every single question known to man about the thing you are marketing. If it’s a new database, use it… a lot. Have non-librarians use it and then ask them to tell you what questions they have. Read and re-read the tutorials. Becoming an expert on the thing you promote means you can explain it to your target audience in a simple and clear way.

Clearly define your end goal. Use business terms. If you are looking to increase brand awareness, set an actual, measurable end goal like: “We want 50 percent of residents living within a 30-mile radius of our Main Library to know that we have renovated the building and to be able to name at least one new service available at the renovated Main Library.”

Don’t be vague. A defined goal keeps you accountable.

Determine your target audience. Many library marketers say their target audience is “our cardholders.” Be more specific. Which cardholders? How old are they? How often do they use the library? What exactly do they do? Do they have children? What’s their transportation situation?

Add in as many demographic characteristics as you can. This gives you and everyone working on the plan a picture of who you are trying to reach.

Analyze competitors. Research anyone providing a similar program, service, or product. What are they doing well? What are they doing poorly? What are the things that differentiate your library from their business? These are your marketing advantages.

Create the message. This might seem crazy, especially if the marketing campaign isn’t set to launch right away. You can adjust the wording later. But getting the message down in writing now, with everything fresh in your mind, an efficient and effective way to make sure all the main pieces of your marketing plan mesh right from the start. It also gives you time to make sure your main marketing message is clear, concise, and correct.

Choose your tactics. Go through all the available avenues at your disposable for marketing and decide which ones will work best to reach your end goals. You do not have to use everything that’s available to you. Not every promotion needs print materials or a press release or a digital sign. Sometimes, a video will work well and sometimes an email will do a better job. You know best how your core cardholder audience reacts to each tactic and which will bring you the best results. If you have budget, decide how you’ll spend it during this step.

Set the schedule. I am a huge fan of tiered distribution of marketing. The approach takes advantage of a consumer cycle of excitement. You release one or two promotional tactics at the beginning of your promotional cycle, like a social media post and a press release. The promotion gets some play, and excitement builds in the consumer base. 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. And so on!

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. This method has led to increased success for my library marketing. It also easier on the person running the marketing! It gives you a small break in between each tactic and creates time for you to measure the success of each tactic individually.

But you need to schedule your promotions, especially if you are using a tiered approach, so you can make sure you have room for them in your regular schedule. It also helps to create a picture in your own mind of how this marketing campaign will play out. Again, you can adjust this later if you need to. Nothing is ever set in stone at my library!

Assign tasks. Delegate jobs and deadlines for appropriate staff. If you need help from another library department, assign their deadline now so they have plenty of time to get you the information you need.

Measure results. Don’t forget to measure and record the reaction to each piece of your marketing plan. Analyze what worked and what did not, so you can put that knowledge to use next time.

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. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

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Eight Major Reasons To Add Content To Your Library Marketing {Infographic}

I’m so excited to be the keynote speaker for the Illinois Library Association Marketing Forum Mini-Conference in Chicago in a few weeks. My brain is entirely engulfed in content marketing as I formulate the talk. There are also some big content changes afoot at my library. I’ll talk more about those when we have our campaigns up and running. But, let’s just say that most of my marketing focus in my professional life is on content–why we should do it, how to make it work better, and how to be efficient in our content creation.

The most important part of the speech I’ll give next month is the “why.” Why is content marketing important to libraries? This was actually the focus of one of my early posts here on blog. The argument for content marketing hasn’t changed. You can make all the posters and fliers you want. People don’t pay attention to those push promotional tactics. That’s why marketing seems frustrating.

You want desperately to break through the noise of life and become a subconscious part of your cardholders’ thought process. You want them to think of you every time they face a problem. You want them to remember they can come to you for pretty much anything they need. This is the common struggle for libraries everywhere, no matter their size, staffing, or service area. Honest to goodness, the only way to achieve that is through content marketing. I know this from experience.

There is now a lot of data to back up the assertion that content works. I want to share some of that with you. I’m hoping that, if you are hesitant or nervous about working content marketing into your overall library marketing strategy, these stats will convince you. I truly believe this is an opportunity for libraries that cannot be missed. If we are to survive and thrive as an industry, we need to do more content marketing.

Here are the facts for why content is key to library marketing.

Why Content is Key to Library Marketing

80 percent of people prefer to get information about your library from a series of articles versus an advertisement.

71 percent of people are turned off by content that seems like a sales pitch. Which means, if you are doing mostly traditional promotional marketing, it’s not working.

75 percent of people who find local, helpful information in search results are more likely to visit a physical building. We want to get more bodies inside our libraries. Content is the key.

Only 45 percent of marketers are using storytelling to create a relationship with their audience. Most big brands are still running ads and push promotion. This is our open door. It’s a huge opportunity for libraries. This is how we sneak in and take away audience share… by telling stories. And who doesn’t love a good positive story about a library?

95 percent of people only look at the first page of search results. Optimized content (that’s content that uses keywords that are likely to be picked up by Google and other search engines) is incredibly helpful. If your library’s content appears on the second page or later, people won’t see it.

Blog posts are the content that get the most shares. And if your post is helpful to others, it’s more likely to be shared. 94 percent of readers share a blog post because they think it can be useful to someone they know. And the more often you publish blog content, the more often your content will show up in search, which increases the likelihood that people will find your library while doing a search. Amazing, right?

90 percent of the most successful marketers prioritize educating their audience over promotion their company’s promotional messages. Education is our main industry. Libraries are perfectly aligned to make this work for us.

But here’s a stat that really surprised me. 78 percent of effective content marketers use press releases as part of their strategy. Yep, press releases can be content marketing too. Use your releases to be informative but to really pitch amazing story ideas to the media. If you have a great story and you can make all the elements available to the media, you can let them tell it and take advantage of their built-in audience to spread the word about your library.

These stats come from a variety of great blogs including Impact, Marketing Profs, OptinMonster, Elite Copywriter, Cision, and Forbes. I hope they’ve convinced you to do content marketing at your library.

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 Create a Social Media Strategy That Actually Works

The most effective, free marketing tactic in the library marketing professional’s toolbox is social media. Personally, I love it. I think it’s fun. And interesting. And despite the trolls, I’ve made some actual friends and professional connections in the social space.

For my library, it’s the easiest way to get our message to the masses. But with so many platforms intended for different audiences, it’s also overwhelming. Should you post on every channel?  What should you post? How often do you have to post? If you work alone, you need to be efficient. You don’t want to spend a lot of time experimenting with social media. You want to know what works, and how to be successful. You need goals.

A few months ago, Marcy Timblin, Public Relations Specialist at East Bonner County Library, sent me this email: You always have such timely, comprehensive advice for getting the most out of social media marketing for libraries. I dream of putting it all together to formulate an amazing social media plan that I can implement – even though I am the “numero uno” social media marketer at my library district.”

I appreciate the vote of confidence. Really, any success in the social media space centers on strategy. A strategy lets you take your library’s overall strategy and use social media to make those goals a reality. But telling you to have a strategy and putting one together are two totally different things.

I am blessed with a social media specialist on my staff. Part of her job is to create and maintain our specific social media strategy. And it’s a big job. We’re a large library system (41 locations, 600,000 cardholders) and we post on multiple channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Tumblr). It takes time to sort out how to make each channel work for us. But we do have a process for creating a strategy. Here is how we do it.

Consider what you already know. Go through each of the social media platforms that your library already uses. Look at the analytics for those platforms. How are people using the platform? Which kinds of posts do they respond to?

Most platforms now offer analytics (Facebook is best by far) so you can evaluate success. And if your library is using a scheduling platform to manage your social media posts, you can use those analytics. For those libraries posting organically on platforms without the use of scheduling software, there are options for free analytics. Read this blog article to find one that works for you.

In this step, you are looking to replicate past success and trim past failures. You may find a platform you are using that is not working for you. Drop it. You may also discover a platform that is working really well for you. Concentrate your efforts there.

What are your library’s goals for the year? As with everything you do in library marketing, your social media work must be in service of advancing your library’s overall goals. So, get that list in front of you for the next two steps.

Create a mission statement for each social media platform. Look at your library’s goals for the year and what you know about each platform. Then write a one to two sentence mission statement for each of the social media platforms, lining up your library’s goals with the current audience for that platform. This mission statement should be something your staff and your cardholders will understand. Here’s an example:

LinkedIn: Discover career advice, business tips, and free resources that will help you succeed at work.

Twitter: Get regular updates on our collection, library events, and the literary and entertainment world.

Instagram: Photos tell the library’s story, one snapshot at a time.

And so on. Once you have created the mission statement for the platforms, you can create a persona for the people who will follow you on that platform. The mission statement and persona will help you visualize your audience every time you post. You’ll be able to connect with them because you’ll know who they are, and what they expect from you.

Experiment with scheduling. Look at your current analytics to see which time of day and day of the week work best for social media posts. Use that as a starting point for deciding when and how often you’ll post. Be consistent with your posts. And set a cadence that you know you can keep up with.

Track metrics and be flexible but not overly reactive. It takes time to achieve your library goals using any kind of marketing. The exception is social media. That’s because the platforms themselves are transforming and changing at a rapid and unpredictable rate. Algorithm adjustments and new features can throw off your strategy.

Here’s my general rule: keep an eye on changes in the social media landscape. When a big change occurs, like when Facebook changes its algorithm, sit tight for a while. Give it a month at least and see how the platform’s change affects your reach. Watch to see how your audience reacts. Watch to see how other brands adjust based on the change. Then, if you see your reach is changing negatively or positively, make the adjustment. Don’t wait until your strategy cycle (six-12 months maximum) is over to make your change. You’ll lose months of audience reach if you wait.

Never stop researching. I follow a couple of websites and podcasts religiously to keep up on social media trends. Of all the marketing tactics, that’s the one that takes the most personal learning upkeep! I rely on the Social Media Examiner Podcast, Social Media Today, Social Media Explorer, and Rebekah Radice.

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!

This Advice Will Boost Your Library Marketing Email Click-Thru Rates

A few months ago, I wrote a post about email vanity metrics. Those are the statistics like open rates that make us feel good. But if we’re being honest, they’re relatively meaningless.

The meaningful metrics like click-thru and conversion rates are harder to obtain and must be tied to your library’s overall strategy to provide any meaning. Humans naturally like doing the easy stuff! But it’s the hard metrics that make our work valuable and worthwhile.

So, I want to spend the next two posts sharing some of my strategies for improving your library email click-thru and conversion rates. I learned most of these tips through trial and error and a lot of failures. Remember that failure is okay! It teaches us lessons that lead to success.

This week we’ll focus on improving your click-thru rates. The click-thru rate is the percentage of people who, after opening your email, will click on a link. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to improve that rate.

Promote the best possible content. Don’t send an email to promote every program or service your library carries. Choose your promotions strategically. Put the best content into your emails to make it more likely that your cardholders will click on your links.

For collection-based marketing, make sure the books you choose to promote in your email are buzz-worthy, newer, have a great cover (you’d be surprised how much the cover art affects click-thru rates!). For program promotions, of course you’ll choose events that are fun and interesting. But the programs you promote through email should either in demand by your cardholders or unavailable at any other organization or community group in your area. If you are asked to promote new or existing services like databases, movie streaming platforms, or reading recommendation services, pick the best of parts of those services to promote. For example, I recently did a three-month series of emails promoting the Great Courses section of the Kanopy video platform. Instead of trying to promote the entire Great Courses section, I promoted three specific video series–yoga, family history research, and weight loss. Promoting parts of a service makes it easier to target your message. Speaking of which…

Target your message. Click-thru rates skyrocket when the message you send is targeted to the audience most likely to be interested in it. Sounds like common sense, yes? But I still hear from lots of libraries who are afraid to stop sending emails to all their cardholders. If you have the technology to segment your audience, you should do so. Try to target your email messages to about ten percent or less of your existing email list. Don’t worry if that number seems small. If that audience is getting an email about something they’re interested in. you’ll see results in big click thru rates and engagement.

Here’s my strongest example. A few months ago, my library started a short, monthly eNewsletter targeted specifically at young professionals. This newsletter goes to about 300 people once a month. For my library, an email sent to just 300 people is really tiny… that’s only about .10 percent of our total email list. But it pays off! This email gets huge engagement numbers because those 300 people are really, really interested in the contents of the email. In October, the click-thru rate was 37 percent. I wish all my emails were that successful.

Give yourself time to create and revise your emails. This is the maybe the most important step. Plan your email schedule as far in advance as possible. Set aside time to write the copy. Then, walk away.  Come back later-preferably another day-and look over your work. Revise it. Walk away again. Repeat this process until the copy and structure of your email is as good as it possibly can be. Too many of us (myself included) rush through the creative process.

If you recognize that you are the kind of creative person who feels like he or she can never release anything into the word because it’s never perfect enough, set some boundaries. Give yourself a deadline for when you’ll send the email up the chain for approval and tell your supervisor when to expect it so he or she can hold you accountable. That will help you break the endless cycle of revision!

Write like a Buzzfeed blogger, not like a librarian. Write to entice. Make the text interesting. Use conversational language within your emails. Write short sentences. And don’t write too much! Less copy is better. Make your cardholders curious to find out more and then give them the means to do it by doing this next step, which is…

Embed clickable links in more than one location within the email. My personal rule of thumb is to include a link to the book, program, or service about three times in varying places within the email. This gives your cardholder the chance to act at various points as their eyes or mouse or thumbs roam your message. It also increases the chance that they’ll be able to act, if they so choose, by making it super easy for them.

Next read: How to improve your library email marketing conversion rate!

Finally, would you be so kind as to answer a question for me?

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!

I’m Thankful for You

We’re getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. I’m taking a break from posting tips for a week so I can catch up on post writing! While I do that, you can bet that I’ll be thinking about you, and giving thanks for you. I’m thankful for your support, encouragement, and insight. I’m thankful to be an email away from a group of professionals who know exactly what I’m going through! And I’m thankful for your commitment to keep libraries strong.

I’ve been thinking about 2019, both professionally and in the context of this blog. I need your help figuring out what to write about next year. While you enjoy this week-long break from regular posts, would you be so kind as to email me using this form with the answers to a few questions? I want to get your thoughts on a few things. It should only take a couple of minutes. And I would be so grateful.

Thank you so much!

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!

One Gigantic Library Email Marketing Mistake To Avoid

This post is a short. That’s because I want to share just one tip this week. No need to blow up the wheel or create a whole new strategy or have a bunch of meetings. This week, there is just one thing I’m asking you to do. But this one thing will completely, utterly, and totally change your library’s email marketing effectiveness for the better. Are you ready? Here it is.

Change your marketing emails from opt-in to opt-out. That means every cardholder who gives your library their email address, in the past or in the future, is on your marketing list. They need to start receiving your marketing emails… immediately. If they want to opt-out, they can (but they won’t!).

Now, I know many libraries will find this to be a radical shift. I’ve been in conversations with libraries as they evaluate the pros and cons of opt-in versus opt-out. It’s clear that many library marketers, particularly those who come from a library science background, are deeply concerned about creating the best experience for their cardholders. They worry about angering their cardholders by sending them emails. They are convinced that library marketing emails are spam and they don’t want to be one of the “bad brands” that sends spam.

I do understand. I don’t blame them for their fears. But I know for a fact that those fears are unfounded.

A library is NOT a normal company. The rules about spam do not apply to you. I don’t mean legally. I mean that your cardholders want your emails.

People love the library. They love what you offer them. They want to know to know what’s going on at the library. They want to know when you have new books. They want to know when you add new services. They want to know when you’re improving buildings. They love watching stories about library workers. They want to know when you publish a podcast. They want to buy tickets when you bring a big author to town. They’ll come to community events where the library has a presence. THEY LOVE YOU.

You are not going to spam people or make them mad by sending them emails. Unwavering cardholder loyalty is the one, big advantage libraries have over their competitors in the profit world. And we should use it!

My argument for opt-out emails comes from lots of experience. My library is fortunate to have a good-sized staff in our marketing department. We send marketing emails nearly every day of the week. These emails do not go to all cardholders. We segment our cardholders based on several factors, including how they use their card, where they live, their age, and more We have a rather large service area. So, most weeks, I send tens of thousands of my cardholders. And my library’s unsubscribe rate is ZERO percent.

No kidding.  I see about 10-15 unsubscribes for every 10-thousand emails I send. Across the non-profit world, the average unsubscribe rate is about .19 percent, according to Smart Insights.

I worked the library outreach table at a book festival last week. Without prompting, customers asked about the library’s marketing emails. One lady said she heard her friends talking about them and wondered why she wasn’t receiving them! Several others mentioned they learned about new books and services from our emails. I had people GIVING ME their email addresses to check their status.

Do you think customers of other companies ask about their emails or talk about them with fondness to other customers?  I never have, and I sign up for A LOT of marketing emails from other companies.

Change that one thing and start sending your emails to every customer. They want to hear from you!

Now, I need your help. I want to write a post about self-care for the library marketer. What do you do to make sure you don’t lose your mind when you market your library? Please fill out this form to share your tips for other library marketers. What do you do at work and at home to maintain your sanity? If you don’t wish to share your name or where you work, just say so in the appropriate lines. Thanks!

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!

Be the Best Library Marketer! Take These Free Courses

I love to learn. I’m lucky that my library ties performance management goals to learning. So, I am professionally rewarded for doing something I love. But the real value is seen by my cardholders. When I learn new ways to do my job, I do a better job of connecting with my audience. There is also a value for my staff members. When I learn new marketing techniques, I can pass that knowledge on to my direct reports. Learning has a ripple effect–everyone benefits!

Most library marketers face two major obstacles to continuous learning. The first, of course, is time. We’re all so busy that we can’t setting aside the time to take an online or in-person course. Also, most libraries don’t have a budget for professional growth and development (unless you want to get your Library Science degree.) But continued professional learning opportunities are a priority. If your library is going to stay competitive and creative, you need to be a continuous learner.

Time and money are no problem with this seven websites I’ve discovered. Each contains free classes where you can learn new marketing skills. Almost all take about an hour a session. So now, you have no reason not to keep up to date with changes in the industry, become a better writer, improve your email skills, and practice content marketing strategies!

Lynda.com. My favorite website for professional development courses, because you can basically learn anything you need to do a better job at library marketing. There are courses on social media, GDPR, photography, graphic design, ideation, time management, generational marketing, using Excel… etc. Thousands of libraries across the country offer Lynda.com for free to their cardholders. Your library, or one near you, probably offers access. It’s under-utilized. USE IT!! Courses are well-constructed. Skill levels are marked so you can gauge whether the course is right for your needs. Most classes run about an hour and a half. If you only watch one a month, that’s more than 12 hours of training you’ll get over a year!

Hubspot Academy. I’ve completed two courses in the Hubspot Academy–Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing. They were free. Each class is about 45 minutes and comes with free downloads to supplement the online portion. At the end of each class, you take a practice quiz to test your skills. At the end of the course, you take a test and if you pass, you receive a certification that you can put on your resume, social media accounts, and LinkedIn profiles.

Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People. I just learned about this! It’s a free, 20-part course that covers four areas of digital marketing: relationships, content marketing, copywriting, and product marketing. I’m planning to take this course in a few months and I’m super excited. It comes with weekly newsletters. And I’m familiar with Copyblogger from their blog and social media presence, so I know their expertise will add value to my library marketing.

edX: I also love this site, which offers free online courses from top universities around the world. Their marketing course offerings are impressive! You can take classes in market segmentation, data analysis, and social media. There’s even a public library marketing course offered by the University of Michigan. Most classes are free, but you can pay about $50 and work toward a certification, which is great for your resume! Courses take about two to three hours a week for about a month to complete.

Udemy: Here’s another site I just stumbled across. Filter the search options to show you free marketing classes. There are pages and pages of options, from evaluating digital marketing statistics to how to write your own social media strategy.

Facebook Blueprint: That’s right. Facebook offers a whole host of free courses to help you figure out the best way to use their product. They’ll teach you pretty much anything you want to know about Facebook and Instagram, including how to use Messenger, build awareness, and promote your Library’s app. I know it’s easy to be cynical about anything Facebook offers for free. But this is legit, and it makes sense for them from a business perspective. The better you are at using their platform, the better the experience will be for your user. So take advantage!

Skillshare: I like the “trending marketing courses” section, which contains new and popular course. If you want to see what’s changing in the industry and be current on your skills, start with that section first.  Courses take about an hour and are easy to follow with beautiful graphics. Some courses are taught by well-known marketing professionals, like Gary Vaynerchuk and Rand Fishkin.

For more ideas about how to improve your marketing skills, read this post about How to Become a Better Library Marketer.

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!

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