Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Taking the "non" out of "non-user": Part 1 of 4

Attracting those who don't yet use library services is an ongoing challenge for all libraries. In fact, I suspect most of your marketing efforts include, to varying degrees, reaching out to non-users. As I mentioned back in May, I'd like to give this topic focused attention. While the overall marketing considerations don't vary drastically from marketing aimed at current users, there are enough differences to warrant special consideration. In addition to the points I mention, I'm always very interested to know what your experiences have been, since we all have unique situations and user populations that can lend some insight into this issue. [Note: This series isn't intended to be a step-by-step program, but rather a collection of factors to take into account when marketing to non-users.]

Without further ado, let's get on with Part 1: Figuring out the problem:

There may be lots of reasons why people don't use your library, and they may not be what you assume. Maybe they just don't like libraries in general. Or, maybe they love libraries but are pressed for time, can't accommodate the hours you're open, or regularly can't find what they need at your library. Perhaps they had some very bad service experiences or don't care for your particular library environment (too loud, too quiet). The answer can be any one of a number of things, but the first step in reaching your non-users is figuring out what exactly is getting in the way of them becoming regular library patrons. As you can see, the problems you identify will make a considerable difference in your marketing planning. If, for example, the problem is poor customer service, you'll want to concentrate on service training and communications that promote your new and improved service (once it actually is new and improved, of course)! If, on the other hand, your non-users just don't like libraries in general, maybe you need a promotion campaign focused on repositioning and creating awareness of the benefits that modern libraries have to offer.

How can you go about identifying the problem? You may already have a strong sense of what's holding people back based on your personal experience, but you should probably consider doing some exploratory research to test your impressions. Perhaps conducting some focus groups will give you a rough idea about what the major issues are. Also, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to talk with people in the community about their library use. Then, if needed, you can design and conduct a community-wide survey that assesses the problematic areas to determine which ones are the most pressing.

This important step may seem simple, but it's not! Getting at the underlying root causes of non-use requires more than just guesswork. It requires some focused inquiry and research. Getting it right can make the difference between a marketing success and a marketing flop.

Next: Part 2: What are you trying to do? (Setting goals).

Categories: tips_to_try


Carla said...

It seems so timely that this post has appeared here. I look forward to reading parts 2-4 of this series and hope to learn things I can take to my line managers. I'm just now reading a booked called 'All Marketers are Liars' by Seth Godin. I hope your posts will help me make the leap from Godin's necessarily all-purpose advice to some specific library principles. (Jill, thanks for the email!)

Laurie Bridges said...

I loved seeing this post, because I'm working on a research project right now with Ruth Vondracek, Head of Reference at Oregon State University, on non-users and why they don't use the physical or virtual library. I'm a student at UW...