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.

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