Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The connected marketing revolution

MarketingProfs features one of the best articles I've seen that summarizes the origins and techniques of viral/buzz/word-of-mouth marketing, which the author refers to collectively as "connected marketing." The article is actually an excerpt from a book by Justin Kirby called (not surprisingly) Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution. Kirby notes that a whopping 92% of Americans cite word-of-mouth as their preferred method of receiving product information. The rise in consumer power and the ready availability of communication and information tools means that the world of marketing is undergoing some major shifts, and these connected marketing strategies are vitally important for us librarians to study and use effectively.

Kirby does a great job of demonstrating what connected marketing means ("We have gone a step further and coined the umbrella term "connected marketing" to denote any kind of marketing...that creates conversations in target markets that add measurable value to a brand."), and how to measure and use it ("Even more fundamentally, connected marketing should ideally sit at the heart of the business, involving customers, employees, and consumers in product research, production trials, seeding trials, and every step of product or service development before even getting to marketing communications and promotion."). If there's one trend I've found that seems to be dominating the future (and present) marketing landscape, this is it. And, in my opinion, libraries are hubs of conversation, cooperation, and information-sharing, so these techniques are especially appealing and a natural outgrowth of our service philosophy. If you want to explore these techniques further, there is an overabundance of literature on the topic, but you may want to start with looking at the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association's site (which I mention often, appropriately enough) and KnowThis.com's section on Viral Marketing, Referral and Buzz Marketing.

Some of you may already read MarketingProf's weekly articles, but for those who don't, I try to draw out the best ones that have the most relevance for librarians, and there are always a lot of them! Here are some recent ones that are also worth reading:

Monday, February 27, 2006

Seismic demographic shifts

FastCompany.com has an interesting report on the ways in which demographics are changing in the United States and how these changes will impact our culture and, consequently, our marketing approaches. Among the future demographic shifts are the increasing number of aging Baby Boomers along with the largest population of young people (millenials) since the Boomers, an influx of Hispanics and Asians, women's increasing purchase power, and a rise in multigenerational families. Keeping up with the changes in our patron base will better enable us to anticipate changing needs and devising innovative ways to fulfill them so that libraries remain an important and relevant part of people's lives.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A view from the other side

An interesting post appeared on Library TechBytes written by PLCMC's Public Services Technology Director, Helen Bowers. In it, Helen reflects on her experiences observing a focus group discussion from the other side of the two-way mirror. She describes what patrons found to be of low value (online databases) and high value (customization), as well as some of her own realizations ("the library (in the public's mind) is out of the information business"). While applying focus group results to an entire population is quite problematic, these observations are certainly thought-provoking and highlight some areas for further investigation.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


As you may be aware, MIT puts a lot of its course content on the Internet for free and is accessible to anyone through its OpenCourseWare, which is incredible for many reasons. One reason in particular is that you can find heaps of marketing know-how from MIT's Sloan School of Management. Here are some of the marketing-related course materials I found that include readings, lecture notes, and assignments (wow!):

I particularly enjoyed scanning through some of the assigned readings for items to add to my ever-growing To Read list. I hope you will too!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The anti-list list

Ironically, I had the idea for this post before finding out that I made the LISNews 10 Blogs to Read in 2006 list, which is quite an honor for me considering all of the wonderful work librarians are doing with blogs! Thanks LISNews and all of you for reading!

Suffice it to say, not all lists are bad, but I wanted to discuss the use of lists, or checklists, when it comes to marketing. After blogging about marketing for over a year now, I've read my fair share of articles with titles like, "Five Steps to Marketing Success," "The Top 10 Tips for Targeting Markets," "7 Steps to Writing a Newsletter That Readers Can't Put Down" and on and on. In fairness, lists like this can be useful in that they attempt to break down something complex (like marketing) into something simple (like a boxed brownie recipe), and this can actually be good if it helps people to better understand and manage the complex stuff. However, the danger here is that lists make it tempting to think that if one does A, B, C, and D one will end up with a fluffy and satisfying marketing strategy, but alas, that's not the way it works. So what follows is my anti-list list of marketing tips:

  1. There are no steps. This Matrix-esque tip is a reminder that marketing is above all a creative process. You can no more create lists and steps for making a good marketing plan than you can for creating an inspiring work of art. Models like the 4 P's can be useful in helping to think through your strategy, but good marketing is driven by visions, instinct, and sincere commitment to serving patrons.
  2. Get to know your patrons. Better yet, get to know what it is they need from you. This doesn't require detailed strategy, just open eyes and ears and a willingness to approach patrons on their terms.
  3. Live your marketing plan. Don't let your marketing plan languish on paper or (gasp!) on to-do lists. Embrace marketing as a part of your everyday work and make it come alive for patrons in all that you do.
  4. Don't copy off your neighbor's work! To my knowledge, no organization or person ever became great because they wanted to be just like "the other guy." In fact, most acts of greatness arise from the desire to "go where no one has gone before." Doing so involves risk and going outside of comfort zones, not adopting a successful strategy that someone else dared to try. You can look at other marketing plans and strategies for inspiration, but don't forget what makes you and your patrons' needs unique because recognizing and capitalizing on those very things is what is most likely to bring you success.
  5. Let go of attachment. Buddha said it, and it's still good advice! Don't get bogged down by a marketing plan or series of steps and procedures, since circumstances will inevitably change and what's a great strategy today may be a flop tomorrow. Being true to libraries' missions and patrons are constants, but the ways in which you realize those constants will change. The good thing about change is that it keeps you on your toes, which is crucial in the creative process (see tip #1).
There you have it, an anti-list list. The point here is to take a step back from the "marketing process" to see more as the "art of marketing." Tips, steps and lists can serve as important reminders of essential principles, but they cannot substitute for the creative thinking, inspiration, problem-solving and service that should be at the core of any marketing effort, which also just happen to be the things that you can't capture in list form.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What's this ad selling?

If you've ever watched a commercial or seen a print ad and wondered what the heck the product in question is, you may be interested in this article from Forbes called Advertising Vs. Entertaining. In it, the author expresses his frustration with "fluff" ads that try to be funny or otherwise entertaining but neglect to explain the features and benefits of the product being pushed. At the beginning of the year, marketing-types were coming out with their marketing predictions of the year, one of which was that marketers would become entertainers and that companies would put on concerts, etc. to promote their products in more subtle ways. I've noticed some libraries also getting in on the entertainment game with hosting music events in their coffee bars, etc. There's nothing wrong with this, in my opinion, so long as key messages about products and services are not left out of the equation, as the author of this article points out. I suspect that promotion efforts that try too hard to be funny are either a) hiding a flawed product and/or b) assuming that the audience wouldn't be interested in knowing about "boring" things like facts and product features. The latter is really not giving audiences enough credit. Library services may or may not be the most exciting products to sell (relatively speaking), but if they are well-designed for the right market, detailed information about them would be welcomed and greeted with enthusiasm. To use the oft-cited car buying example, I may not be enthralled by the ins and outs of air bags and seat belts in and of themselves, but if I am a consumer who is interested in these features in the context of safety, I may very well want to know the details and could care less if they are presented in a funny way. It's helpful to keep in mind that promotional efforts are intended to flaunt our great services, not hide them behind jokes (although, a sense of humor is definitely not a bad thing!)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Start a trend: Become a trend spotter

Trendwatching.com offers another installment of a series of pieces I've noted before on how to spot trends. This latest addition includes incredibly useful segments on what trends are, challenges in spotting them, the necessary tools and mindsets for uncovering them, and how to understand and apply them.

I can't say enough how important these skills are for librarians to have and how they are only going to become more important in the future as the pace of change continues to accelerate. If your marketing plan doesn't include an assessment of external threats and opportunities, then you could be in trouble. Making trend spotting a part of our daily routines and viewing the world in terms of possibilities will drive us to take on creative new challenges in our work that will keep libraries relevant no matter what changes are in store for us.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good stuff from the blogosphere

There were a couple of good relevant-for-librarian-marketers posts on Church of the Customer recently:

The first mentions a recent study that reports 68% of people in the U.S. trust "a person like me" as their most credible source of information (I was hoping it would be librarians :) ). Most impressively, this figure is up from 20% just 3 years ago!! This is a mammoth, flashing sign to librarians that in order to be successful marketers, we need to understand and utilize word-of-mouth techniques and focus our attention on building strong, significant relationships with our patrons who will spread the word on our behalf.

The second post illustrates how work spaces can foster (or hinder) creativity. What's most interesting (other than the very cool workspace featured) is that if you go to the Idea Sandbox site mentioned in the post, you'll find the corporate site of a guy who has worked in marketing for Disney, Aramark, and Starbucks. His site is pretty neat, and provides links to creative resources and other good stuff for getting into an innovative mindset. It warrants a bookmark. And, guess what, he offers a blog too!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Blog book of interest

You may be interested in this book review from Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge. The book in question is called, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers. The reviewers state, "The authors show how blogs are now changing organizations and explains how readers can use blogs for a variety of business purposes, especially marketing and public relations." Looks like it's worth a read!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Showin' patrons some love

MarketingProfs.com put out a special Valentine's Day newsletter (cute!) with articles that may be useful in making patrons sweet on us and our libraries:

[MarketingProfs also offers an RSS feed]

A micro-marketer in a macro library: Challenges and possibilities

The word “marketer” doesn’t appear anywhere in my job title; I don’t organize massive PR events; I don’t design logos or orchestrate major branding initiatives. In fact, a lot my work doesn’t quite fall under the marketing rubric in the old-fashioned, traditional sense, and yet, despite all this, I am a marketer. More specifically, I am a micro-marketer in my macro library, and I suspect I am not alone. In effect, even if it’s not widely recognized, everyone in the library is micro-marketing all the time. However, marketing on the micro scale is fraught with challenges, but it also opens up some unique opportunities that we should seize for the benefit of the macro library.

Let me back up for a moment and explain why it is that I, and in all likelihood you, are a marketer. Modern business textbooks define the marketing concept as the idea that all of an organization’s efforts should be directed at satisfying its customers. Aren’t you, in your position, attempting to satisfy patrons in all you do (I bet you are!)? In my work, I have been charged specifically with designing services [products] for undergraduates [target market] and promoting [advertising, etc.] those services to them. This charge as written is one way of saying I'm a librarian-marketer without really saying it, and I’m sure most if not all of you have some similar responsibilities in your job descriptions. Whether we know it (or like it) or not, we are all a part of the wide world of marketing, but for those of you who are like me and live near the bottom of the library hierarchy, there is very little we can do to direct the efforts of the entire organization, as the marketing concept definition suggests. So, for those of us who are in this marketing quandary, here are some of the challenges we face and possibilities we can seize:

  • Challenge: I can’t decree marketing strategies. I can’t say to my colleagues, “this is how we should position ourselves, this is how we should brand ourselves, and this is who we should target,” and so on. Possibility: I can decree marketing strategies for my area of responsibility. We can decree, for example, that we will give the absolute best service possible in all of our areas of responsibility be they reference work, collection development, or technical service. We can set high standards for our performance, which make our services [products] the best they can be, which is the most critical marketing task there is. We can also devise mini-marketing plans for ourselves and for the tasks spelled out in our job descriptions.

  • Challenge: I can’t define the mission or brand. Most of us inherit the mission, vision and values of our libraries. Hopefully, those values were an important part of why we chose to work at our libraries in the first place, however, we can’t just opt to alter them when we see fit. Possibility: I can live the mission or brand. If your mission emphasizes providing equal access, you can make it a point to reach out to underserved groups, for example. A mission/brand is only as good as the people who live it and fulfill its promises. A lofty vision that is not sincerely put into practice is easily seen through and disregarded.

  • Challenge: I can’t make library-wide decisions. Closely related to Challenge #1, I can’t decide for the library what path it should take and what the priorities should be. Possibility: I can inform library-wide decisions. The low-man-on-the-totem-pole position gives us a nice vantage point and allows us to interact with and observe our patrons on a daily basis. All of these points of contact grant us valuable insights into our patrons’ needs, which we can collect and communicate to those responsible for decision-making on a larger scale. To do this, we must be active observers and make it a point to get out into our communities and talk with our supervisors.

  • Challenge: I can’t determine what services the library provides. While some of us can design services that fall under our purview, for the most part we inherit the suite of services already in place and library-wide service design and management is out of our hands. Possibility: I can provide tangible evidence of service quality. Library services are intangible products. As such, every piece of tangible evidence patrons perceive reflect on the services we give. The way we answer the phone, our facial expressions, class handouts, the cleanliness of our facilities, the quality of our signage and furnishings all influence how patrons view the services we offer, and so we need to make sure each is well-managed and well-maintained.

  • Challenge: I don’t have much influence on the management of library activities on the big scale. Some of us have very little bearing on how our libraries carry out their business and how they manage operations. Possibility: I have a lot of influence on the management of library activities on the small scale, and small things count big! Oftentimes, it is the smallest of things that make the biggest impressions on patrons. Thank you notes, timely follow-ups, an extra effort when patrons are in a bind, and informal lunches can mean the difference between patrons’ apathy and enthusiasm toward the library.

I realize that not all of you have these same exact concerns to the same degree, but the point here is to not be discouraged when you feel microscopic in the macro library. There are always avenues, however small, to put sound marketing principles into practice. And, who knows, it might be those very micro-marketing efforts that have the greatest impact on the library as a whole.

I’d like to hear about other challenges/possibilities you perceive, and I’d also be interested in what challenges/possibilities those higher up the totem pole experience as well.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Marketing is more than you think...A LOT more!

According to BusinessWeek Online author Steve McKee, marketing isn't just something, it's everything! McKee's opinion piece discusses how the best laid marketing plans can be undermined if they're not followed through in every level of an organization. In one example that hit home for me, he discusses how he noticed a Crystal Springs Bottled Water truck driving along spewing toxic fumes, which countered the company's own clear, crisp and sparkling clean brand image (I've had similar experiences with extremely rude, reckless drivers cutting off potential customers in company vehicles! Argh!).

I was happy to see this article because it demonstrates that marketing isn't something you do, it's a way of being in an organization. I think about how libraries add coffee bars and cushy chairs to create welcoming environments, but what good are those efforts if staff are not equally welcoming and our buildings are laden with "Do Not" signs? To be effective, a marketing orientation needs to permeate the entire library organization in everything we do. All of our actions, promotions, and services are embedded with messages, each signaling something about who we are to our patrons. It's important that one aspect is not contradicting what another is saying, or what we intend to say, so that patrons can instantly identify with our libraries and our missions.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Camp out, read a book

A school librarian at Dade County Elementary School advertised her library's book fair with the theme Camp Read A Book by filling the school with the sounds of the great outdoors. Inside the library, she set up a camp scene complete with a tent, camping chairs, a grill and a hammock. The idea behind this advertising campaign was to promote turning off the TV and video games in favor of reading a book.

Putting the "I" in branding

An article from Forbes.com today called Brand Me reveals what it is that teens want in a brand - individuality. Teens are no longer interested in what's cool, they want what's "them." This means that companies are opening up the marketing process to teens and allowing them to take ownership of their brands. As the article describes how companies are reaching out to today's teens, "The key to going after those dollars? Playing to teens' interactive desires by involving them in the marketing process, according to Marshall Cohen, chief analyst with the NPD Group. "They're engaging the brand rather than endorsing the brand."" Because of this, marketers are shunning the old standby of mass marketing campaigns, and instead holding local events and allowing teens to customize products (check out the slide show Teen Brands: Now and Then for an illustration of these new strategies).

Libraries too can (and many do) open up their brand to patrons who crave a personalized experience and a greater relationship with our institutions. I think marketing is all about relationships and every interaction with our patrons is an opportunity to "live the brand" (to use marketing-speak) and make meaningful connections. Ideally, these relationships should be two-way dialogues that foster conversation and community.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Short-term blog for long-term marketing gain

There was some interest in our library's Black History Month Blog project, which debuted last year, so for those of you who are interested in this kind of project from a marketing standpoint, I thought I'd give you a brief overview now that it's underway again.

Our Black History Month Blog highlights all kinds of information related to Black History Month, including items from our collection, campus events, biographies, television programming, web sites, a "Picture of the Week," exhibits, etc. in celebration of Black History Month. Library staff are the main authors of the posts, but we have made an effort to reach out to the campus by contacting departments and student organizations who may have something to share on the topic and we invited them to draft posts or add their comments per our guidelines.

As far as the marketing value goes, I think the jury is still out on how effective this approach is, but I think it has a lot of potential. After heading this project up for the second year, I can say that it usually starts out slow with little involvement from the campus community, but as the month progresses and there is greater awareness and word-of-mouth about the blog, we tend to get more participation. I was pleased to see that this year, I had some immediate responses from student groups who wanted to share information about upcoming events. The drawback of this short-term approach is that as momentum builds, the project comes to an end. However, there are also lots of positives: A short-term project could be ideal for librarians who don't have the staff or resources to commit to a long-term blog; choosing a timely topic can demonstrate the library's relevance; the topical approach lends itself well to encouraging conversation. Last year, I talked to some students about how they found out about the blog, and they told me that their professors mentioned it in classes and directed them to check it out. This was very encouraging to me and demonstrated that the blog generated some buzz.

In terms of promoting the blog itself, a button that links to it is displayed prominently on the VCU homepage (you may need to hit refresh a couple of time to see it on the bottom of the page), on the VCU Libraries page, our Black History Month events page, and there is an RSS feed to it on our various profile pages (like this one) and related research guides (like African American History). We also promote it on listservs and the usual stuff.

While I didn't initially approach this project as a marketing tool (although I did try to employ some marketing concepts in working on it), a short-term, topical blog could certainly be a marketing avenue worth exploring. If you would like any more information about this project, you know where to reach me.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Worth another look: Marketing Malpractice

A while back, I mentioned an article from the Harvard Business Review by authors Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall called, "Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure." The authors' basic premise is that marketing should center around the job consumers want done for them, rather than the consumers themselves. I've had a chance to read the article in its entirety and am convinced that the ideas presented are worthwhile for marketing libraries. I'm so excited by the possibilities the authors discuss that I'm giving the article a second look in this post, but hope to continue to explore this different way of thinking about marketing. Here are some of the ideas from the piece that I'm taking away with me and why I'm enthusiastic about this approach:

  • Marketing by the job would mean that the center of the marketing mix would be a particular service, rather than a particular target market. Therefore, all marketing efforts should seek to better understand what it is that people want to get done, instead of the demographics of our patrons, etc. However, it appears that we would still have to have a good understanding of our patrons and their behaviors so that we can fully understand, as the authors propose, the social, functional and emotional dimensions the job is needed to fulfill. Doing so means radically rethinking how we go about segmenting markets and how we approach market research. As the authors simply state, "Turn off the computer, get out of the office, and observe."
  • The authors argue that people hire products/services NOT organizations. I like this way of thinking because it prompts us to continually examine the value of our services, rather than rest on the status quo. This line of thinking calls into question those who believe the library should continue to exist just because it has in the past. Instead, we need to prove our value daily by helping people get jobs done.
  • According to the article, brand equity (the value of a brand in the minds of consumers) is built when consumers find a product that does the job and talk about it with others. Brand equity is not built by advertising! As the authors assert in one example that, "Advertising clarified the nature of the job and helped more people realize that they had the job to do...The fact is that most great brands were built before their owners started advertising." For me, this is a crucial point. Marketing isn't about newsletters, e-mail lists, or posters, it's about services. In order for the library to build a better brand as has been discussed a lot in library circles these days, we should not be looking at ad campaigns and slogans, but at what services we have to offer and how we can make them better and more relevant.
I hope if you get a chance, you will review this article and come to your own conclusions about its merit for libraries. This is a new way of approaching marketing in that it alters some of the most basic ingredients in the marketing mix and, in my mind, encourages us to focus on the most important marketing goals without getting sidetracked by irrelevant details.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Empowering fans through funnel flipping

It's All Good points to a free e-book by marketing guru Seth Godin called Flipping the Funnel: Give Your Fans the Power to Speak Up (see the Non Profits edition). I haven't read it yet, but based on other Godin works I've read, he's very entertaining and innovative with ideas that have great potential for libraries. In this 18-page booklet, Godin explores the use of social communication technology to gather feedback from users (marketing is a two-way street, after all!).

The Super Bowl of advertising

Whether you root for the Seahawks or the Steelers, you can always cheer for the great ads that are interrupted by the occasional field goal or touchdown (just kidding, football fans!). The Super Bowl offers a perfect opportunity to see what some of the best brains in advertising have come up with and to learn from them. Try keeping an eye out for who the target audience may be and how advertisers try to lure them in, including what language, imagery, social references and emotional hooks they employ.

SuperBowl-Ads.com has a sneak peek at upcoming ads and the latest news. Or, you can stop on over to adverlicio.us for its online collection of Superbowl ads (via AdRants). TV advertisers are a little nervous these days about reaching the masses they were once able to, so looking at news coverage of their evolving strategies like this use of microsites as extensions to commercials can inspire some creative ideas.

You may also want to read how Steelers fans are taking the marketing ball on behalf of their team and running with it by creating their own photos, videos and slideshows! (Oh, the possibilities for libraries!).

Have a good weekend and happy ad-watching!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What's on the horizon for academic types

What's on the horizon in academia, you ask? The 2006 Horizon Report (PDF) tries to answer with its projections about what emerging technologies will have the most impact on teaching and learning in higher education. For you academic-types in the audience, this report helps to inform our marketing efforts, and it's just plain interesting material for all librarians to look over. The report describes four key trends having to do with the increasing acceptance of social computing, mobile and personal technology for service delivery, individualization of services, and the need for collaboration.

[Thanks to Steven Bell's post on the ACRLog for pointing out this helpful research! You should see his original post for his comments about the lack of librarian involvement on the Horizon Project Advisory Board that put together this report, and his call to action. A good example of the need to market ourselves/services on a large scale!]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

2006 John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award winners are in!

ALA announced the winners of the 2006 John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award. Winning entries will be on display at ALA in New Orleans. Looks like some very creative stuff here! Congratulations to the winners.

Extreme Makeover: Library Edition - now online

OCLC's Community site now links to talks from the OCLC Extreme Makeover Symposium. You can also access its reports and Advocacy resources here too. For details, see It's All Good.

A new take on teens

Brand New Day points out a new study carried out by an ad agency on teens. Some of the results may surprise you. (Did you know, for example, that, globally, teens' #1 priority is spending more time with Mom?!). I don't know anything about the ad company that conducted the research or their methodology, so you may want to approach the results with a critical eye, but they certainly are interesting!