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empathy for libraries

How to Unlock Empathy to Make Library Marketing Mean Something

Imagine the worst day you’ve ever had on the job. You probably remember what happened and the emotions you felt as you tried to deal with the situation. What helped you to work through it?

It’s likely you pulled aside a friend, a co-worker, or called your spouse or parent and vented about the day. Maybe you had an adult beverage and cooked your favorite food when you got home. Perhaps you took a bubble bath or went on a walk. Maybe you did all those things! In any case, the talking part–where you shared your day, the way you handled the situation, and your frustrations–is likely the one thing that made you feel significantly better. Talking with someone who sympathizes with you is infinitely more helpful than a bubble bath or a beer.

Margaret Magnarelli of Monster ran us through that mind exercise during this year’s Content Marketing World in her session on empathy in marketing. It’s so simple. But it made me realize that libraries are uniquely positioned to put empathy marketing to work. Magnarelli says by using the psychology of caring, we can amplify our content marketing results. It’s not that we shouldn’t use data to make more informed decisions, according to Magnarelli. But if we don’t combine facts with feelings, we’ll sacrifice relationships.

Research shows empathy in marketing increases engagement. Think about your personal Facebook feed. Every day, you are responding emotionally–with emojis, comments, and shares–to the thoughts, struggles, celebrations, and memories of your family and friends. Marketing with empathy is the same thing. When you respond with emotion to your cardholders, you create a bond that builds trust and loyalty.

Libraries have the resources, staff, and training to put empathy into our marketing–more so than many brands. It’s not a new concept to us. We do it every day, in every interaction with cardholders. You probably never even considered it. I certainly didn’t! Magnarelli says we can transition from day-to-day empathetic interactions to empathy in marketing. It’s really kind of easy. The first step is to listen to our cardholders.

Marketing advice always includes a line about how listening to your customers is important. But most of us are not actually practicing deep listening with our cardholders. Deep listening requires you to shut off the internal voices that start defending your library and your marketing while your cardholder is trying to make a point. Shut off that inner voice that says “Yes, but…” when a cardholder explains a problem they have a problem, concern, or a need. Don’t listen for the things you or your library board or the front-line staff want to hear. Listen with no preconceived notions.

The more you’re exposed to your cardholders’ feelings, the more you can mirror them. When you mirror their feelings, you can create solutions to their problems. Then you can market those solutions. Magnarelli explains it like this: When a good friend listens to your problems, they usually ask you questions about your issues. They don’t try to insert themselves into your conversation. They want to understand your challenges. They validate what you say. “Yes, your boss is a jerk.” “Yes, your co-worker is acting inappropriately.” “Yes, that way of doing things seems very inefficient.” Then the friend will usually suggest a solution. You feel better. The next time you have an issue, you open up to that friend again because you remember they helped you solve the first problem. That’s what we want in marketing–for our cardholders to come back to us because we listen, validate, and solve problems!

Once you’ve listened to your cardholders, you need to validate their concerns. This action builds trust, according to Magnarelli. Be sure to say, “I understand the problem.” Magnarelli says that simple phrase, called the echo effect, is scientifically proven to increase rapport and likability. Magnarelli also suggests using the word “you” in your blog, email, and social media post headlines. Insert sentences that show they understand where the customer is coming from.

Once you know what the problem is, and you’ve validated it, you can take marketing action. Your marketing messages can teach cardholders about solutions to their problems that incorporate your library. You can inspire your cardholders to do good works. You can focus on the positive aspects of your library–not the negative aspects of your competitors.

The problem and the solution don’t have to be something profound or grand. It can be something simple. I have an example of this from a recent email campaign. My library has a personalized reading recommendation service called Book Hookup. Cardholders use a form on the website to tell a librarian what books and genre of reading they like. Then the librarian gives them three personalized reading recommendations. When we send the emails promoting this service, I try to use empathy in my subject lines. To parents I say, “You’ve got a lot to do. Let us pick out your next favorite book.” To teens I say, “Read something YOU want to read for a change. Let us pick something based on your favorite books.”

It sounds silly and basic. But empathy in marketing is effective. To your cardholder, it feels less like promotion and more like help. You can lead your cardholders to a solution. That makes the world a better place. And knowing that you’ve made the lives of your cardholders a little better will make you feel good too. After all, we work in a library because we want to help people and change the world!

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!

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The Most Effective Library Marketing Tactic Ever: “I Understand”

I listened last week to White House officials explain a recent round of proposed budget cuts by President Trump. Soon after its release, I noticed a backlash on social media by people who believe the decisions in this budget proposal show a lack of empathy on the part of the administration. The message their budget proposal is sending to a group of angry and emotionally charged constituents is that they lack empathy. Maybe they are very empathetic… but they’re not marketing that emotion very well.

Watching the backlash made me worry about the way my library is viewed by the public. We are in the business of serving the under-served. Our industry is driven forward by empathy–by a desire to educate, inspire, and empower people. But, like the President’s staff, we don’t always do a very good job of marketing that emotion.

First, let’s define empathy because it’s often confused with sympathy. Empathy is when you can recognize another person’s emotions and share them. Sympathy doesn’t involve the sharing of emotions—it is simply recognizing what another person is feeling.

Empathy in marketing means you are able to communicate to your customers that you understand and share the emotions they feel. Showing your cardholders that you empathize with them will move them to action. It’s the most nebulous of marketing tactics but also the most effective. If you can get people to understand that you feel the way they feel, that your library is the key to turning their emotions into action, and that their action can lead to change in their community, you will have moved them toward whatever goal you’ve established for your library marketing. People are motivated to action by four main emotions: greed, fear, love, and the chance to grow. Communicating to your cardholders that your library is in tune with them… that you crave, fear, love, and desire the same things they do, will be the difference between meeting your marketing and strategic goals and staying stagnant. People will rally behind an organization that understands them and shares their goals.

I’ll give you an example of this from my library. We know that people in our community are worried about jobs. They want to improve their career prospects and they aren’t many programs in our area aimed at giving people the basic coaching they need to put together a resume, ace an interview, or even to sort through prospective jobs openings to find the right fit for their life and their family. So over the past six months, we’ve partnered with another organization to put on a series of free workshops aimed at improving the job prospects of members of our community. The emotion we’ve used to market that program is hope… a sense of hope for the betterment of our community and a sense of hope for those who thought their chances of getting a better paying, more fulfilling job was pretty hopeless. The workshops are filling up and we’re starting to get media coverage.

Empathy should be infused in every marketing piece we create. That’s because emotions rule consumer behavior… they are the “why” behind the actions we take. Empathy is at the heart of every good novel ever written. The author makes you care about what happens to the characters. Without that, you don’t really want to read the book! Let’s use the same concept in our library marketing.

The best way to market empathy is tell stories about how your library and your staff is impacting the lives of others. Don’t script it. Let the librarians and the customers share in their own words. Share those stories in your newsletters, on your blog, in your press releases, and in videos. Choose small segments of your population, think about the core ideals and values that drive their lives, and connect those ideals to the work of your library. Ask your interviewees questions about how they feel. And let their words inspire other cardholders to action.

For more ways to inspire your cardholders to feel all the feels, read this.

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.

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