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email marketing

You’re Doing Marketing Wrong: Why Targeted Emails Make Your Cardholders Happy


I’m going to make a statement. You can agree or disagree. But if there is one thing that I know about marketing a library, it’s this:

If your library is not sending regular, targeted email messages to your cardholders, you are doing marketing wrong.

This isn’t just my personal belief–it is a method which has worked with impressive results at my library. It wasn’t an easy process. It took us a good year to get into the groove. We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. But we found our niche in collection marketing–sending regular emails with links to new materials in our catalog that are of interest to our cardholders, based on their way they use their card. This method increased circulation. It helped us maintain visits to our physical branches. We even used these emails to convince occasional and inactive cardholders to start using the library again.

We’re not perfect at it, by any means. We’re still experimenting. But what I can tell you after a year of emailing and tracking email results is this: it works.

It pains me to see so many libraries shying away from email marketing. I know there’s a long-standing fear among libraries that cardholders will view library emails as spam. Many libraries worry that cardholders will resent getting emails from the library, will unsubscribe, and stop using the library in protest. It’s simply not true. Our unsubscribe rate is near 0 percent. You read that correctly. Zero percent. Last month (March 2016), we had an average open rate of 32 percent and an average click-thru rate of five percent. Our cardholders want to hear from us and when we get it right, they are engaged with our collection and with our locations.

There are three big fears keeping libraries from gaining cardholders, visits, and circulation through targeted email message.

Libraries are worried about asking cardholders for their email addresses. Your cardholders won’t be put out by the request. The average consumer is accustomed to giving out their email address in exchange for marketing messages targeted specifically to them. I did this when I went shopping at Yankee Candle a couple of years ago and now I buy candles several times a year because I get messages based on the kind of fragrances I purchase and the sales I like to shop. It’s convenient for me and it’s beneficial to Yankee Candle, I’m sure! The same thing happened with my local grocery store–I signed up for their rewards system and regularly get emails for deals based on items I purchase. I expect to be marketed to–so do your cardholders.

Libraries worry that segmenting cardholders into clusters is an invasion of privacy.  There are software systems which allow you to segment cardholders without actually seeing what they’re checking out. At my library, we are only able to see that a customer checked out an eBook from Overdrive or borrowed a song from Hoopla… we can’t actually see the title of either checkout. I admit that seeing the title would be nice and would help us to target our cardholders even more effectively. Think about the marketing potential you’d have if you knew that a particular person checked out a dozen cookbooks every time the holidays rolled around… or that they are a mega-fan of Stephen King! In any case, I can’t see the titles and therefore, I cannot breach the privacy of any of my cardholders.

Libraries worry that by sending targeted messages to segmented audiences, they will miss out on the chance to get their message to all their cardholders. Many libraries are sending the same message to every cardholder, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people in one burst. It feels like the natural thing to do. “Everyone needs to know about this!” The problem with that approach is that your cardholders are individuals. One message never fits them all. This is particularly true if your service area covers a range of incomes and demographics. The needs and interests of your cardholders vary greatly. By targeting your message, you are more likely to say something that matters significantly to your cardholders, which makes them more likely to take an action, which makes it more likely that your email will be successful. Some of my most successful marketing emails were sent to less than 2000 cardholders.

In addition to cardholder usage, most email software systems will allow you to target emails by location. We did this for a recent branch anniversary celebration, sending notice of the party only to people who had listed that branch library as their home location–which amounted to 14,000 cardholders or 2.3 percent of the total number of cardholders in our system. The branch manager thought 250 people might show up for the celebration. She was surprised when 400 eager cardholders came to the party! That’s success, my friends.

Do not let your fears about email set you up for failure. Your cardholders want to hear from you. There are not very many industries who can say that their customers are begging to be marketed to… let’s take advantage of it and give the people what they want!


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 and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.



Make it Damn Near Impossible to Ignore Your Emails!


I have to confess that one of my favorite parts of marketing for a library is email marketing. I love the challenge of creating an email with content my cardholders want and need. I love writing a really good subject line that makes it DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE for my cardholders to ignore the message.  I want them to be so curious about what’s inside that they click on the email as soon as they see it.

Writing a good subject line is a science. I do a lot of reading and research. I get a lot of marketing email from companies and I pay more than a passing glance at their subject lines. I study then! Sometimes these companies say things I could never get away with–including profanity and suggestive comments. That craziness won’t work for a library. Well, it would work but…

I digress.

Your email subject line is the first–and maybe only–chance you have to hook a reader into opening an email. In a future post, we’ll talk about the actual contents of your email marketing, and how you’ll make that important first click pay off for your cardholders.

But for now, let’s concentrate on getting through the door. The Radicati Group, Inc. released a study that shows the average person receives about 90 “business” emails a day. That’s a lot of competition for a little old library with a teeny tiny budget.

But don’t you worry. As librarians have done for centuries, we will fight back with words. We’ll use words to create an emotional reaction in our cardholders, which will cause them to take action… by clicking on our email.

Here are five best practices to keep in mind when writing your email subject line.

Don’t use clichés. Nothing demonstrates a lack of creativity more than a cliché. Clichés are old, they’re unimaginative, and they’re corny. And they’ll make your cardholders groan, not click.

What you want to be is clever. A clever email subject line is inventive and intriguing. I endorse cleverness. Hubspot has a great list of examples. My favorites are from the eyeglass company Warby Parker: Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring and  from the social media site Buffer, which sent this email after they were hacked: Buffer has been hacked – here is what’s going on.

Tease the best feature.  What is the one piece of content in your email which your cardholder cannot live without? Find a way to incite curiosity about that one feature. Example: When the video streaming service Indieflix updated their website to include an intuitive movie selection tool, I sent an email with this subject line: New feature helps you pick which free movie to watch.

Be current.  If you can, invoke a sense of urgency and currency in your email subject line. I try to do this with an email we send once every few months for a book list called Sneak Peeks–books we know we’ll have on our shelves in two-three months. I’ll say something like,  Your exclusive first look at new books headed to your Library! or Place the first holds on these new books!

You might also tie your email to current events when appropriate. For example, after David Bowie’s death in January, I realized that our cardholders could download or stream his new album through Freegal. So I sent an email with a link to the album and the subject line: New music–including David Bowie’s latest album. Patrons downloaded the album more than 400 times in the three days after the email was sent.  Normally, we get 10-15 downloads in that period.

Be local. If you can refer to a city, neighborhood, or branch in your subject line, do so. Most of the libraries I know can’t afford personalization software for emails, but we can come close to invoking the feeling of intimacy with our customers by making our subject lines local. Example: You’re invited to a special celebration at the Woodville Branch Library or Author Jon Jones only at the Woodville Branch Library!

Keep it short. In all likelihood, more than half of your recipients will first glance at your email on their mobile device. Keep your subject line less than 50 characters. That’s a challenge but it can be done. Let me illustrate why it’s important. Here’s a 35 character subject line:


New books are in–place a hold now! See those first few words? The rest are lost in the formatting of the mobile device. Replacing this subject line with New books are in-read now! might work better.

Here’s a better example:


“Listen to new audiobooks from your library!”  It’s 43 characters with the action verb and the enticing “new” both visible.

BONUS TIP: Every few months, I find the latest list of subject line spam words, print it, and post it in my office. These are words that will trigger spam filters. It’s important to try to avoid these words as much as possible. Here’s the latest list of words to avoid in your subject line.

Experiment with subject lines. If you have email software that allows A/B testing, this is a great use of that feature. Beyond that, track your emails. After a few months, you’ll be able to see a pattern with the emails that get the best results and the subject lines and you’ll get a better feel for what works with your cardholders.

If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to write a guest post for this blog, let me know in the comment section below.

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 and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.


The Perfect Time To Send Cardholder Emails

Perfectly Timed

Now that I’ve convinced you to send more powerful customer emails to your library cardholders, it’s time to talk about the right time to hit the send button.

I have one simple rule for library emails–shoot for your cardholders’ downtime. A great headline and great content is only half the battle for your cardholders’ attention. You’re also competing with their personal schedule, other messages sitting in their inbox, and social media. Your message is more likely to catch their attention if it lands in their inbox at the right time of day.

Why is timing so important in our on-demand world?  Urgency has a role in this phenomenon. If you’ve done your best job at crafting a compelling headline and a relevant message, then you’ve also created a sense of urgency for your cardholder. Your cardholder should say to him or herself, “I need to read this and act on it-right now!” Getting that message in front of your audience at the right moment increases the number of opens and click-through’s because it takes advantage of that sense of urgency.

We’ve done a lot of experimenting with time of day emailing over the course of the last year at my library. I’ve found there are three key times of day to send messages–really early in the morning (by 5 a.m.), lunchtime (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and before bed (between 8 and 10 p.m.). I’ve also landed on two successful days of the week–Sunday and Tuesday. But what works for me might not work for you, so it’s crucial that you do your own experimentation. Here are a few tips to guide you!

Think about your target audience’s daily schedule.  Sending a message in the early morning, like 3 or 4 a.m., means the email will be sitting in your cardholders mailbox when they first wake up in the morning. It’ll be among the first things they check. Sending an email at lunch means it’ll be sitting there when they check their messages over their tuna sandwich.  Sending before bedtime means it’ll be there when they scroll through their emails right before they fall asleep.

Experimenting is crucial–don’t fence yourself in. Try sending email messages on the same day of the week, but different times of day. So for instance, you’ll start on the first week by sending your email on Monday at 4 a.m., then the next week send another message on Monday at noon.  The following week, try Monday at 4 p.m. and finally, Monday at 8 p.m. See which message gets the most opens and click-throughs. Work through each day of the week to see which days get you the most traction. And remember that habits change. In six months, you may need to re-experiment if you see numbers slipping and adjust to your cardholders’ schedule.

Be patient. Give your audience time to open the email. I usually don’t begin worrying about opens and click-throughs until 24 hours after the message has gone out. Cardholders might find your message relevant, but don’t have time to open it right away. They won’t delete it, and that’s a victory too! You’ll notice opens and click-throughs will continue to build a week and even a month after a message is sent.

Track and adjust. Once you have that data and can clearly show a correlation between the send times and click thru rates, use it to your advantage!

Are you actively sending emails to your cardholders? What has worked for you–and what hasn’t? Please share in the comments section!

Subscribe to this blog for updates every time I post. Click on the little “Follow” at the top left of this page.

Connect with me on Twitter. I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn,  Instagram and Pinterest.

Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Four Secrets For Sending Powerful Library Emails


There’s no arguing this point: next to the face-to-face, daily interaction between librarians and customers, a card holder email list is your most effective library marketing tactic. If your library isn’t already collecting, tracking, and sorting card holder email addresses, please start… now.

How do your cardholders learn about new services? How do they find the book they didn’t know they should read? How do they figure out how to use parts of the collection they didn’t even know existed, like video streaming or eAudiobooks? Tell them all about your library’s awesome resources by talking to them through their inbox.

Here are four secrets that I’ve learned in the process of creating email messages for my library. These key points have led to higher circulation rates and card holder usage stats for us. They’ll work for you too!

Be super-targeted.   Start by picking one customer persona and creating an email which specifically targets that one group of people. Don’t worry that you’ll only be sending the email to a few hundred or a scant thousand cardholders. This is not a waste of time. The more targeted your email is, the more relevant and effective it will be. Your click rates will actually go up when your emails are extremely focused. I promise!

Give your cardholders something of value. Everything in your library’s collection has a monetary value. Make sure your cardholders know this. Show them how they can save money or time by using their library card. Write the copy text in clear and simple terms and lay out the value of your offer in a prominent way.

Harness the power of a great subject line.  The subject line is the first thing your cardholders will see. For me, it’s the most important part of the email. Make it the best copy. Spend time crafting it. Don’t be corny and don’t use cliché’s. Use clear, simple language and stay away from passive words. Use a headline analyzer (this one or maybe this one) to help you create a subject line full of powerful, emotional language while maintaining the proper character length.

Make it easy for your cardholders to take action. Include multiple calls to action within your email, in various places including the header text, in the body of the email, and in the footer.  Within the body of the email, place your call to action within a box or a circle resembling a button, with the words in a large, clear font: “Place a Hold on Charlotte’s Web Readalikes” or “Watch Streaming Movies Now.” When you write this button, use the words “I want to…” in your head and imagine your card holder has seen your email and is saying to him or herself, “I want to do that!” What is the “do that”? That’s your CTA button!

Now it’s time to decide on the perfect time to send those emails. I can help with that too!

Are you actively sending emails to your cardholders? What has worked for you–and what hasn’t? Please share in the comments section!

Subscribe to this blog for updates every time I post. Click on the little “Follow” at the top left of this page.

Connect with me on Twitter. I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn,  Instagram and Pinterest.

Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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