Thursday, November 17, 2005

The competition can be your friend

To piggyback on my post from yesterday, it’s not only important to keep on top of changes in your community, but you also need to keep a sharp eye on the competitive landscape.  An article from yesterday’s WebProNews explains how to do just that by conducting a competitive marketing analysis.  The first step is to figure out exactly who those competitors vying for your patrons’ attention are.  Google comes to mind, of course, but I also think of the physical places where people go to study and socialize.  I know a number of our students hang out at Panera and Starbucks where wireless Internet connections make it easy to get work done (and it doesn’t hurt that they have food!).  It might be helpful to think about what things people come to the library for (quiet study, community, reading and research materials) and then think of who else out there is trying to satisfy the same needs.  Along those same lines, you can also look at those services that are aimed at your same target market (undergraduates, senior citizens, etc.).  The list gets pretty long!  These businesses must be doing something in particular to appeal to our patron base, and you could learn something from their strategies, even if you only learn what not to do.  

The next piece of advice from the article is to shop the competition.  I whole-heartedly agree with this.  Next time you go to a hotel, bookstore, or retail outlet (really any service provider) dissect your experiences to see what makes those businesses tick.  Recently, I filled out a survey for a hotel I stayed at and I was pleasantly surprised that an actual human being read my survey and addressed all of the major points in it.  Needless to say, I’ll be going back.  But more importantly, I learned an important lesson about service and following through with personalized attention.  Even if you don’t shop with direct competitors, you’ll be surprised how many marketing ideas you can generate just by keeping your eyes open.  There’s always a new niche we can fill or innovative approach we can try.  That’s the fun (and challenge) of marketing!

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