Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Why you should become a liar

A while ago, I told you that I would read All Marketers Are Liars, by iconoclast marketer Seth Godin, and give you the scoop on the important points for librarians. I did (finally) and I am. The premise of this book is that marketers are liars in that they tell stories to customers in order to persuade them to buy their products. In order to work, those stories have to be authentic AND they have to connect with an audience that is willing to buy into the story.

Godin points out that in our advanced economy, there are only so many ways to make a better widget, or to brew a better pot of coffee, and that if you are competing with others on the quality of your product alone, you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s easy for most companies to copy your more efficient/better made/technically superior product and, after a point, those differences become quite minor in the eyes of consumers. In libraries for example, we can work to increase our accuracy and speed in fulfilling information requests, but for the most part many libraries do essentially the same basic things in roughly the same way.

They key then is to develop a story or experience that draws in people for reasons other than your better-than-the-other-guy’s product or service, and then to actually LIVE the story. This makes sense, right? We all know intuitively that people don’t make their consumption decisions based on rational thinking; consumers are much more driven by emotion. I may rationally know that the library is where people go to find high-quality information, but I may ultimately decide to go inside because my friends are all studying there, or I’m hungry and there’s a snack bar available, or I enjoy the ambience and comfy chairs, and so on.

There are a number of librarians who have discovered the power of lying, or storytelling, and have made going to their libraries and experience for patrons. The Southfield Michigan Public Library (check out their virtual tour!), and Charlotte-Mecklenberg Public Library come to mind, but there are many others. Libraries like these understand that patrons seeking their services come with a variety of needs, and they want librarians to construct an experience for them that is satisfying on many levels, with a narrative that makes sense.

All Marketers Are Liars is honestly a very quick read if you’re interested in seeing how storytelling plays out in all kinds of ways. I agree with most of the points Godin makes, but, for a librarian, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly accept the notion that we should only tell stories to people who are likely to go along with them, since we have responsibilities to draw in non-users as well. Godin would say that the way you reach those people is to have your fans do it for you, since non-users would just filter out our messages anyway. Whatever your opinions, the book does get you thinking at least, so that alone might make with worth checking out.

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