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How to Hook New Cardholders and Make Them Loyal with Email

We talk a lot about emailing our cardholders with information about new products, services, and collection items. But you can also use your email list in a powerful way to reach people who have just signed up for a library card.

Most libraries take a minimalist approach to “on-boarding” a new cardholder.  Once a person fills out a library card application, we hand them a card, a welcome brochure, and send them on their way. We’re friendly and we’re genuinely excited to welcome them to our system. But we make a mistake that’s common for a lot of businesses and organizations. We know our system inside and out and we often forget that our new cardholders know nothing about what we offer. We assume they can find their way to the things they need.

It’s important to help those cardholders learn to navigate the behemoth number of resources and items available at the library. A solid on-boarding campaign retains new cardholders and turns them into lifelong loyal users of the library. The first 90 days of a new library cardholder’s experience is crucial to determining their feelings of connection and loyalty to the library.

It also makes good business sense. Studies show it costs five times as much to gain a new customer than it does to retain them. A library marketer practicing good stewardship will want to do their best to keep new cardholders coming back to use the library.

The most effective way to on-board a new cardholder is through email marketing. Many libraries create a campaign with specific emails sent to new cardholders at a pre-determined pace. Those emails slowly introduce them to new features and inspire them to try out all the library has to offer. It’s easy to do this using some mail systems, like OrangeBoy and MailChimp.

My library has a 90 day on-boarding campaign set to run automatically through OrangeBoy. Creating it was a bit of process. But the effort was worth it. In addition to retaining customers, the on-boarding emails reduce unsubscribes for future targeted promotional emails. Here’s how we did it and what we learned about doing it well.

First, make a list of the services, events, and collection types that get the most use at your library. You’ll want to include information about the most popular features you offer in your emails to new cardholders.

Then, make a list of the services, events, and collection types that are interesting or unique to your library but don’t get a lot of use. These are the gold nuggets of your on-boarding campaign. You’ll have the attention of your new cardholder. The relationship is fresh. Why not use that to showcase the hidden treasures at your library.

Finally, create an outline of your campaign, mapping out each message, when it will be sent, and what it will say. Look at the two lists you’ve created and narrow your focus. Try to promote no more than four things per on-boarding message. You don’t want to overwhelm your new cardholder. Rather, you’ll want to introduce people to the library in small doses. Pick a theme for each message with a specific call to action. Keep the language simple, conversational, and free of industry jargon.

Create, test, and release the messages. This part took me nearly as long as creating the plan did! But you’re almost there.

Track results. Of course, you’ll want to use a Google URL tracker or Bitly link to see which services and items get the most interest from your new cardholders. You can also track unsubscribe rates, and if you have the ability to divide cardholders into clusters, you can see where your new cardholders land after they finish the on-boarding process.

Here are a couple of examples of my library’s on-boarding emails so you can see what we do.

How do new cardholders react to these messages? They definitely don’t hate them. Our unsubscribe rate is 0%. We’re a large system and we’ve sent these for several years to thousands of new cardholders. Over the course of our campaign, we’ve had a couple of hundred people unsubscribe.

We send six emails over 90 days. The first email gets a lot of engagement, which is not a surprise.  The fifth email about using your neighborhood branch (see the image above) is the second most engaging email for us. Overall, about half of the new cardholders we sign up end up becoming loyal library customers. Most use our computers but the rest are checking out physical and digital items or using our MakerSpace.

If your library is doing something to on-board cardholders, I’d love to hear about it. Please take this poll and tell me about what you are doing in the comments.

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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How to Manage Your Marketing Without Losing Your Ever-Loving Mind

A library marketer is really a project manager.

That phrase is the best description of our job. We are all planning and managing projects. We are scheduling and executing campaigns. We’re delegating. We manage multiple people who contribute to blog and social media posts. And unless you’re a super organized genius, all that coordination can cause you to lose your sanity.

I sometimes walk into my office in the morning feeling fantastic, and by the time I open my email and see a 30-message thread between departments about a piece of content I need for marketing, I can feel the steam rolling out of my ears.

Project management is like waiting tables. You have multiple customers who all want different things from you. They order at different times and their food comes out at unpredictable intervals. In the meantime, you must keep checking back and making sure they have everything they need for the moment. You must also keep them informed about how their meal is progressing.

It’s the same when for library marketing. We are working on multiple campaigns and we have lots of different customers, internally and externally. So how do you make sure you get all your work done without losing track of projects, content, and posts? It’s not easy.

Many of you have said that project management causes you grief and stress. Many of you don’t have a staff. You are doing this job solo. You’re doing branch work in addition to marketing. Your job is hard.

I have a system, developed over five years of trial and error. I thought I’d share it with you. I hope my tips relieve you of some stress.

Train other library staff to plan. I make it a point to stop by once every month or two to talk to all the departments that contribute to my marketing schedule. I ask them to tell me what is coming up in the next one to three months. At the end of each of those meetings, I make it a point to tell them to let me know if they start planning anything at any point. These “touch-base meetings” sometimes only last 15 minutes but they are incredibly valuable.

To be honest, it took me about a year of doing this to get my coworkers trained to let me in on their plans early. I realized later that most of them thought it best to wait to tell me about an event until they had all the details worked out. Now, they’ll give me a heads-up even if they only know the general subject of the event and the date. That way, I can work it into my schedule ahead of time and plan.

Share your schedule. I noticed that when I shared my promotional schedule with my coworkers, they got a good sense of the kind of work involved in creating a campaign. They started sharing more info with me because they could see the work involved. Don’t be precious with your schedule. Share it… and let everyone see how much work and planning goes into each piece.

Set deadlines and enforce them. I do this for lots of my content, but especially when it comes time for our summer reading program. It’s a massive marketing campaign, the biggest we do all year. I create a schedule by the first week of February. In it, I share the deadlines for each piece of the marketing with everyone involved. This sets clear expectations. I also do this for those who contribute to our quarterly content marketing magazine. I send reminders one month and one week before the submission deadline so it’s clear what I need and when I need it.

Use your calendar. I  put appointment reminders in my Outlook calendar to check on the status of certain projects.  I can look at my calendar each day and remember that I need to check up on certain things. I even put calendar reminders in for things like changing signs or updating content.

Don’t respond immediately to requests. This habit was hard to form but it’s the best discipline I’ve set for myself. When someone comes to be to tell me they need marketing for an event or service, I generally do not drop everything to plan out the marketing. I will put it on my to-do list for the next day, or even the next week. That gives me time to think about the best way to market each request.

Set aside time each week for planning. I have a designated planning day. I set aside a couple of hours on that day to purposefully think through my marketing. I make lists and set deadlines. It makes me more focused and helps me to know I have that time to think about what’s coming down the road.

Say no sometimes. Listen, I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation. I know you want to help everyone. You may feel pressured to do it all. I hate saying no. But sometimes, it is necessary. If the request doesn’t align with the library’s overall strategy, I say no.

Your time is limited. If you try to do everything for everyone, you won’t do anything well. Sometimes, you must say no. It may not make your friends, but it will make you better at your job. You were hired to do what’s best for the 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!

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!

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!

Make #GivingTuesday Work and Raise Big Money for Your Library!

Boy, library marketers sure have a lot of responsibilities. We’re expected to drive attendance to programs, increase circulation, plan big events, provide outreach support, and make sure everyone in our community knows about all the services we provide. In addition, most of us are also expected to help market fundraising efforts for our library friends or foundation groups. Our libraries need money. That fact arguably makes this directive the most important of all our jobs.

The fundraising portion of library marketing has always been difficult for me, if I’m being honest. I think most of us feel queasy about asking people for money, even for something as important as the work of the library. I get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach when it comes time to market my church’s stewardship campaign. It’s hard to put into words why it feels weird to me to ask people to give to either organization, though both are incredibly worthy.

But worldwide giving campaigns like #GivingTuesday help. This global movement happens every year on the Tuesday after the American Thanksgiving holiday. It’s meant to motivate people to donate after the excess of spending that happens when the traditional Christmas shopping season kicks off.

The website for the movement has all kinds of ideas for fundraising organizations. The “holiday” is a prime opportunity to reach your library’s fundraising goals. According to NonProfit Pro, in 2017, #GivingTuesday campaigns raised over $300 million online for charities with an average gift exceeding $120. That’s a 64 percent increase in the amount of money raised in 2016. And NonProfit Pro also says that nonprofits raise 14 times more in their end-of-year campaigns when they take part in #GivingTuesday. And if that doesn’t convince you, the most recent study of #GivingTuesday donations conducted by DataKind shows that educational causes received nearly 40 percent of all donations made. Cultural organizations saw the greatest increase in donations, in some cases receiving nearly 20 percent of their annual donations from this single day. Libraries can be considered both education and cultural organizations. We’ve got so much to gain!

My library started doing campaigns around #GivingTuesday about three years ago. We’ve seen trends in giving that match NonProfit Pro’s numbers. Even better, we grow our donor lists. That gives us a new audience to market to throughout the entire calendar year.

Your library should participate, and you should plan your promotions ahead of time. Don’t just send out an email and put up a couple of social media posts on #GivingTuesday.  Start promoting #GivingTuesday with content marketing at least a week ahead of the actual holiday, sooner if you are able. You’ve got to prove your library’s worth and get the idea of giving into your potential donor’s head space before the event. I start about three weeks before the “holiday” with motivational content like quotes from customers, brand-awareness videos, and motivational photos with clear donation calls to action. I like to tell our cardholders and community that #GivingTuesday is part of a busy time of year and I work to get them to donate early. This method increases the chance that our campaign is successful.

Of course, incentives always help with donations, and it doesn’t have to be something that costs your organization. This year, we’ll be emailing a graphic to anyone who donates early. Donors can use it on their social media profiles to show that they’ve given to the library. They can have the pride of saying they’ve participated when the day arrives and use their influence to encourage others to do the same. Early promotion creates momentum.

Of course, we use email as part of our campaign along with social media and our website. Here’s the message we sent last year about a week before #GivingTuesday. It’s clear and easy to understand.

We did a similar message to members of the Friends organization. The audience for that group is different. But you’ll see we integrated the heart from our Foundation message into this message, to draw a subconscious message to our audiences about their love for the library. This one also has a clear call-to-action.

 

You can increase the effectiveness by extending the fundraising campaign through the end of the year. We create campaigns that run every two weeks beginning in November through the end of the year. Appealing to the tax deduction incentive is a major point of the campaign as we near the end of the calendar year. This is the email we sent last year about mid-December. Again, it’s clear, it concise, and it has a major call-to-action.

 

I’d love to hear about your successful library marketing fundraising efforts and campaigns. Please let me know what you’ve done right (and wrong!) in the comment box. We can all learn from each other. When one library is strong, it makes the whole industry stronger.

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!

 

 

Five Insider Tricks To Improve Your Library’s Voice Search Ranking

One of my most vivid class memories from college happened during my freshman year. A woman visited our communications class to talk about this new thing sweeping the nation: the internet. She said that someday companies would be able to send us information on any product or service we could ever want or need, based on our previous purchases or on search.

Was she psychic? Nope. She was forward-thinking. The internet, and later the introduction of smartphones, caused a huge shift in the way libraries interact with cardholders. And now, we’re about to enter another era of technology change. We’ll need to re-evaluate how we interact with cardholders. Because voice search is going to change everything.

My library is now dabbling in this technology. We created an Alexa skill that allows cardholders to do some very basic things: find out what’s going on at a branch or ask about our hours of operation. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voice search.

At Content Marketing World 2018, I attended a session led by Courtney Cox, who is manager of Digital Marketing at Children’s Health. She talked with us about the Google Search box. You’re probably familiar with it. It looks like this:

The answer box is text-based but it’s an important key to getting your library information in front of cardholders doing keyboard-based search inquires AND those using voice search options like Alexa or Suri. How is the answer box connected to voice search? Cox explains that voice search technology reads whatever answer appears first in the Google search. So, if you’re in the answer box, you are in first position and you get read by the voice search technology. That means if you live in the second or third results on Google, you won’t get read out. EVERYTHING ELSE underneath the answer box is ignored. There’s no glory in second place.

Wow. That’s depressing.

Comscore estimates that by 2020, half of all web browsing sessions will be done without a screen. So, what’s a library to do? Here are five steps to take now to move your library into the first position on Google search. These tips will increase the chances that your library will appear in the answer box and connect with more users.

Keyword research: Cox says you need to do real-world keyword research. That means you can use online tools like those I talked about in this post. But you must also talk to customers, face-to-face. Talk to front-line staff. Talk to the call center staff. Find out what customers are saying when they ask questions. What specific words or phrases do they use? Then start incorporating that language into your web content, social content, and all your marketing messages.

Competitor research: Cox suggests you do periodic searches for competing services offered by Amazon, your local bookstore, and online databases. What phrases and words do they use? How long, in words and characters, are their answers? Do they use bulleted lists, tables, or graphics to convey information to their customers?  What aren’t they doing well? All of these questions will inform you as you write searchable text for your website. You should feel free to copy what others are doing well. You can improve on what your competitors are doing poorly! You don’t need a big budget to write more searchable content.

Stop dictating your own content. Cox says we all need to stop brainstorming internally about what you want to write about. Start focusing on what your customers want. We must be answering the questions our customers have.

Create a FAQ page on your library website. Make the page easy to find and promote it throughout the web with blog posts, social media, emails… every marketing method at your disposal. The more people who go to the FAQ page, the higher the search ranking for that page will be, and the more quickly you’ll get into the answer box.

Re-purpose your content–with a purpose. Many libraries are creating videos for marketing purposes (HOORAY!). Now it’s time to take those videos and make them work to improve your search position. Take each of your videos and turn it into text. Post the text on your library blog and promote it in other ways. The more eyes that read the content in its written form, the more likely it is that the content will make its way into the answer box!

We’ve got our work laid out for us. After the conference, I started doing random searches to see where my library shows up in the answer box–and when it doesn’t. In some ways, we’re doing okay.

And in some ways, we have a lot of work to do.

So I’ll be looking for ways to make these five pieces of advice work in my content. And I’ll be paying more attention to the words we use on the website, making them local and specific. I’ll start thinking about what people will say when they use voice search to ask questions about my library. I’ll check these searches again in a few months to see how I’m doing. I urge you to do the same!

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.

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Four Daring Ways to Fight Library Haters

Update: These methods work!!  Forbes.com deleted the offending article on July 23. Read more about it here.

Original post begins here.

Forbes.com made me angry.

This weekend, the site posted an opinion piece by a contributor who tried to make the point that libraries are obsolete. This man claims we no longer need libraries because we have Amazon. I won’t post a link or analyze the piece here because it doesn’t need more views. It’s poorly written garbage and one of the worst anti-library arguments I’ve read in my life.

The piece is getting a lot of attention. Librarians and library supporters across the country took to Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to eviscerate this guy. This public shaming is well deserved and an acceptable outlet for those of us who work in the industry. But it’s not enough because the public outrage over this article will die down in a few days. Library marketers have the tools to fight anti-library sentiment in ways that will last longer than a news cycle. Here are some things you can do, right now, in your role as a library marketing professional.

Write a letter to the publication that posted the anti-library sentiment. I am a supporter of free speech. But I dislike opinion pieces. Media outlets publish them without context. They are just a mechanism to stir up emotions. Publications with editorial pages would rather get clicks than be balanced. We must politely but passionately call out any publication that allows library haters to have a voice without seeking commentary about why libraries are important. Library workers can refute anti-library sentiment by sharing personal stories about their work.

Email your donors. Take advantage of the emotional response to anti-library news articles by appealing to your donor base. You don’t even have to mention the offending news article. Just say something to this effect: “There are some who think libraries are obsolete. They don’t understand the value of the public library. But you do. Let’s prove the other guys are wrong by showing them how much good the library can do in the community.” Fight ignorance with inspirational messages to give your base a productive and concrete way to vent their anger and show their opposition to anti-library sentiment.

Double down on your efforts to educate the public about the good your library is doing. Most of us are so busy marketing services and events happening right now that we leave very little room in our promotional schedules to message our supporters about the good things we do in the community. Make it a priority to share messages about the hope and help your library gives to the community. Schedule regular promotions about the work your librarians do every day. Ask your cardholders to share stories about the ways in which the library has enriched and changed their lives. Whenever your staff works an event, make it a point to ask attendees to write or record a testimony about how the library has helped them. We must do a better job of showing that the library is more than a place to read books.

Contact your legislators and ask for more funding.  You might be wary of pointing out the arguments against public library funding to the very men and women who control the purse strings. I say this is the perfect time to appeal for more money. You can use anti-library articles as an argument for why your institution needs more funding. Don’t overestimate the amount of knowledge your legislators may have about the work you do or the amount of money you need.  Appeal to their sense of vanity as a community leader and ask them to use their platform and their public presence to help you spread the word about the importance of your work in the community.

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 Media Coverage Without a Press Release

I have a revelation to share with you.

You don’t always have to send out a press release to get media attention.

I KNOW, RIGHT!!

Now, don’t get me wrong. You should not stop sending press releases completely. In fact, often, they are the best way to get a story to the news media quickly. They can make sure that the facts of an important story are published correctly. Here’s a case in point: this week, my library system had to close one of our branch libraries due to significant damage to the ceiling. This branch happens to be in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. We have many ways to communicate with our cardholders, including our website, social media, and email. But the folks who use this branch don’t always have access to Wi-Fi. So it was imperative that we send out a press release so those users could learn about the closure through non-digital sources, like TV and newspaper. The story contained accurate information on things like where we are re-routing holds and returns. It gave us some control over the story. There’s one advantage to the staff shortage crisis in newsrooms: outlets will usually copy and paste your press release and publish it verbatim.

My library used to send out a press release for literally everything. We sent releases for every contest, new vendors, and initiatives large and small. We were sending up to two releases a week. In theory, it sounds like our library was “killing it” in the PR department. But it turns out that kind of constant press release barrage translated to noise to most newsrooms. This is something we learned at the Cincinnati Media Day last year. We got to spend a day mingling with local reporters and asking them all kinds of questions about what we could do to increase our chances of coverage. (Check your local PRSA chapter-they may put on a similar event in your city. I recommend you attend-it was incredibly helpful.)

After Media Day, I vowed to take a hard look at our press release strategy. Which releases were getting coverage and which were ignored? After a careful audit, we’ve decided to stop sending press releases for things like our summer reading program, some of our exhibits, and small service initiatives, like our Tiebrary. This is a new service rolled out in May of this year. We allow cardholders to check out ties and scarves for job interviews. It’s my library’s first foray into the Library of Things realm, and we were really excited.

So why not send a release? We decided to take a personal approach instead. My staff made phone calls to key members of the local media, explaining how the Tiebrary works and why we were doing it.  Yes, it took more time. But it worked. We got coverage in some form on three of the four local TV stations and requests for a written follow-up, which were printed in local papers. Those written versions of the story were personalized by my staff to the audience of the publication requesting the story, which the publications loved. We also received a mention on the local NPR news radio station.

You will want to send out press releases for about 90 percent of the stories your library pitches to the media. But that last ten percent can get media coverage with a more personal approach. I know many library administrators expect you to send a press release, so I urge you to make the case, when you feel passionate about it, that a personal phone call to a news reporter will be much more effective. The end goal is more media coverage for your library. Libraries should be flexible in our approach with the media. We should deliver facts to reporters in the form that is most compelling to them and their readers. And for many reporters, a personal conversation is that form. So if your library administrators insist on sending a release for everything, feel free to print out this post and show it to them. They can even contact me to talk about it further.

And, if you do decide to write a release, I have some suggestions for you on how to increase the chance they’ll be picked up for coverage. These posts are all written after speaking with media professionals.

Lessons from the Greatest Press Release Ever Written

Reporters Reveal How to Get More Press Coverage

Eight Secrets for Library Press and Media Coverage

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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