Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Space-age library marketing: An interview with Julia Cooper

Marketing consultant Julia Cooper contacted me a while ago about an article she wrote for Marketing Library Services called "How to Evaluate Your Library's Physical Environment." In her article, Julia outlines 5 broad areas librarians should address in managing their spaces: the big picture, the outdoors, the public services landscape, the target market landscapes, and the internal customer landscape. Space management is critical in marketing services because spaces are one of the few tangible indicators patrons have of the service quality they should expect from you. For this reason, I was happy to link to Julia's article, but I was even happier that she agreed to an e-mail interview so that I could ask her some follow-up questions. Here is our exchange:

Jill: From a marketing standpoint, what role does space play in service transactions?

Julia: Marketing is all about tapping into and meeting customer's needs, so SPACE is one method by which service is delivered. Designing different spaces is a form of communication to the user. Thus, by conducting space planning, a marketer can help direct service. For example, by laying out the parking lot with a round-about at the entrance--the implicit communique is "this is where you stop and drop off or pick up passengers." The service is implied and intuitive. The easier it is to tell [customers] what to do in the space the better the service experience! Putting barriers, such as service desks and displays in the pathway of foot traffic is important too.

Jill: What is the most common mistake librarians make in designing their spaces and how do you recommend overcoming it?
Julia: Well, in general, I would recommend that librarians take a more strategic and active approach in designing spaces for their patrons, rather than depending on other professionals to lead the design process. Architects or salespeople, for example, have their own professional goals and motivations (such as winning design awards/sales quotas). I recommend employing consultants or other 3rd parties to gather information from the end-users, including both internal and external customers, and using library day-to-day operations on the front lines to direct design strategy and implementation.

Jill: I believe that understanding your patrons' basic demographic characteristics (age, gender, etc.) can give you some insights into how to manage your spaces, but demographics alone only scratch the surface and rarely result in compelling or innovative strategies. That's why I was particularly interested in the fact that your article addressed patrons' lifestyles. You ask, for example, "If there is a large population of young parents, should you add a stroller parking pad? Is everyone a pet owner, but you have no pet-friendly space?" Have you seen any examples of how libraries or other businesses have done an exceptional job of addressing lifestyle with their spaces?
Julia: Jill, this is a great follow-up question to my point in Question 2. Whether one is considering an addition, using space already available, or starting from scratch, focus on the customer's needs and activities, that come together to create their lifestyle. (That is why doing marketing research is so important.) There are lots of examples in the corporate world, such as providing workout facilities with windows overlooking busy avenues/nature or walking paths around the grounds for employees. Employees are customers too and by focusing on healthy lifestyle choices, workers are more productive.

In general, people with similar belief systems congregate at work, but especially where they live. That means that lifestyle activities can be supported by the community library as well. We have always excelled at focusing on the children's area of the library, for example having solitary reading nooks, a giant plastic whale to climb, castle doors opening to a collection, beanstalks with reference to fables, etc. that lead to a fairy tale land of make-believe. We can be just as creative with other spaces too!

Jill: Those of us working in the same setting day-to-day might have a difficult time viewing our spaces with fresh eyes. In addition to evaluating the items you mention in your article, what approaches do you suggest for keeping a fresh perspective so that we can identify new opportunities to make our spaces more user-friendly?
Julia: First, one has to be receptive to taking a fresh look or to ask someone else for feedback. It really starts by the vision of the leaders in the library and if the physical environment of the library is considered to be part of the service mix or not. Also the atmosphere is important in staying responsive to customer needs, rather than the attitude of "that is how is always has been." To keep a fresh perspective, though, it starts by thinking that 1) not everything is set in stone, furniture can move, shelves can move, books can move, etc.2) you can make small changes in baby steps and see a difference 3) if you witness certain behavior patterns, observe & record it over a specific amount of time and then act--for example, if everyone cuts through the grass to reach your front door, then add a sidewalk there or brick path and 4) when in doubt, ASK the customer--not just one, but a sample. Finally, doing nothing is an option--but what is important is that you don't get complacent and don't stop looking for better ways to help people.

Jill: Could you talk more about the concepts of style and atmosphere and why they're so important in managing spaces effectively?
Julia: I could write a book on this topic--and maybe I will one day! Basically, style can be produced by manipulating principles and elements of design to create a balanced look and evoke feelings at its core. Atmosphere is more encompassing by adding the "personality"--through people, ambiance, all the senses in the setting. For example, Barnes & Noble Booksellers design a store with an alcove that can be used as seating for reading with coffee tables (to set your Starbucks, of course) and large windows for natural lighting. This area, too, can be converted to an author-signing space, a guest lecturer, a poetry night, a book club meeting, a guitarist solo on a stool, etc. The multi-functionality of the space presents a venue for adding to the bookstore atmosphere and acts as a destination place within the store itself. Thus, in this example, creating a certain atmosphere can bring about goodwill and brand loyalty in addition to repeat visits and sales. Likewise, the library can add more value to the patron experience by de-cluttering spaces to make them more visually appealing and approachable or add photos of historical sites in the community to create the sense of stability.

Jill: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the relationship between library spaces, patrons, and marketing strategy that wasn't expressed in the article?
Julia: Just to keep an open mind and to look around at examples everywhere--in your community or across the world--to get inspired. Then get focused and implement the ideas!

A big thank you to Julia for sharing the expertise she's gained from 10+ years of consulting experience. If you have additional questions, you can contact her at (614) 406-2252 or I know these interviews take a considerable amount of time and thought on the part of interviewees, so I extend my sincere thanks to all of you who have taken the time to share what you know on LM. I think we all benefit from sharing our ideas. I hope this information helps you think through your spaces strategically to make them more effective for your target audiences!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Non-profit marketing book to read

Sybil of Quality Service Marketing, recommends a stellar book on non-profit marketing called Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes. The title alone floats this book to the top of my reading pile. The author will be speaking at the AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference as will Sybil - I SO wish I could be there! Maybe Sybil will be kind enough to share the highlights? I'm excited to crack this book open! Please let me know your thoughts if you get a chance to read it.

Speaking of do-gooder marketing, my next post will (finally) describe the research project I've been working on with a professor from the VCU Marketing Department. I hope it will provide yet more proof that marketing can and does contribute toward the greater good.

Update: The author of Robin Hood Marketing, Katya Andresen, also writes a Non-Profit Marketing Blog that would be perfectly at home on your aggregator. :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Everything I need to know about marketing I learned from teaching

I was reminded recently that the bad reputation marketing has among librarians is still alive and well. I heard some colleagues talking about confusing library terminology when someone said something to the effect of, "Yeah. That phrase is just a marketing thing anyway." As a marketing cheerleader, I was understandably a little taken aback by this comment. Not because I was surprised, but because I realized just how entrenched the idea of marketing-as-meaningless-fluff still is within library circles. Why on earth would librarians concede that confusing jargon and marketing are synonymous when the whole point of marketing is to make services and communications more understandable?

This incident led me to think about more ways in which we marketing fans can do a better job of convincing our colleagues of its merits. One way to do this is to compare marketing to something more familiar and friendly - teaching. This comparison is not a stretch; it's something I've thought about for some time. Think about it. When preparing for a library instruction session, you engage in a number of actions that roughly mirror marketing activities:

  1. Teaching: Set objectives based on the outcomes you want to achieve. Marketing: Ditto.

  2. Teaching: Understand your students and the tailor your lesson plan to their unique learning styles, needs, and experience levels. Marketing: Understand your target market and segment them into groups to tailor your offering to them based on their needs. Create a marketing plan to fill those needs.

  3. Teaching: Make a complex topic or task easy to understand. Marketing: Make the benefits of a complex product or service easy to understand.

  4. Teaching: Encourage student-teacher and student-student interaction for a richer learning experience. Marketing: Encourage marketer-customer and customer-customer interaction for a richer service experience.

  5. Teaching: Empower students by giving them the tools to succeed. Marketing: Empower customers by giving them the tools to succeed.
I could go on for pages with even more similarities but that wouldn't make for a good blog post. ;-) It's no coincidence that marketing theory borrows heavily from learning theory. What we're actually doing as we market library services is teaching our patrons about what we have to offer, why it's valuable, and how to take advantage of it.

As I was surfing around, I found a post from the famous Kathy Sierra who addressed the marketing/teaching topic in a post called Marketing should be education, education should be marketing that's well worth reading. Perhaps we can win over reluctant colleagues by drawing out the similarities between things we're already doing, like teaching, and things we should be doing, like marketing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A lot of to-do about transparency

I'm not sure if this is against blogging etiquette or not, but I'm once again going to refer you to a post I wrote on another blog because it's very relevant for librarians, but it saves me from repeating myself!

I wrote a piece about a the most recent report, Transparency Tyranny. In a nutshell, the report explains how customers are using technology to instantly compare prices, share opinions and reviews, and compare the quality of products, to name some popular activities. Customers now more than ever can expose the inner workings of organizations and how what they do stacks up to the competition. Thanks to technology, customers are in charge.

This phenomenon is both a good and bad thing for marketers/librarians. It's good if you're already a terrific, innovative organization, but it's a terrible reality for organizations that are just eking by by being good enough. In response, librarians will need to look for ways in which they can make themselves more transparent and give patrons an inside view of how we do things. Relationship-building will become an increasingly important skill as a result. Also, instead of being at the mercy of what people are saying about them, librarians should host forums for people to share their ideas and criticisms about their libraries.

The transparency trend will certainly be addressed more here on LM. To get you thinking more about how we can adapt and thrive in a transparent marketplace, you may want to check out the article I pointed to called Listening to Online WOM: A Primer from the New Communications Review (they have an RSS feed, by the way). It's a decent overview of how WOM analytics tools work, which is important to understand when trying to identify and interpret what customers say online. Monitoring online chatter is not only useful for finding out what people say about you, but also for market research purposes so that you can better understand customer needs and viewpoints.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tune in to teen views

If teens and/or college students are in your target market, take a listen to what's on their minds via the podcast series Acorns & Merlot. I learned of this production in an issue of's e-mail newsletter, which describes the series this way:

"This is the high school you're not seeing on TV. For a first person candid account of what’s on the minds of teens, check out the podcast series Acorns & Merlot. Anchored by two 18-year-old Pittsburg shock jocks, the weekly show—which is self-described as a podcast for the "adolescent aristocrat" —started in Fall 2005 when co-host Lucian Wintrich IV wanted to share a funny story about his homecoming dance. He continued podcasting whenever he had another story worth telling, and a few months later, he met his co-host Marc Werner. With guest hosts and friends sometimes joining them on air, the (semi)consistent weekly show is now broadcast live so that listeners can call in or participate in a live online chat room on the show's site.

The show has at times attracted 5,000 listeners/episode, and in a recent 30-day period, was downloaded almost 9,000 times. Wintrich and Werner plan to continue the show when they head off to college, so stay tuned next year for an insider’s look at freshman collegiate life."
I've only had a chance to listen to a small snippet, but did notice that some episodes are labeled "explicit," so listen at your own risk. ;-)

Branding your unique flavor

I don't know what's up with dentists these days, but I've certainly found a lot of good marketing advice from their circles. (Although who am I to talk?! What's a librarian doing writing about marketing, after all? :-)). The most recent is a branding article called, BRANDING: How to keep your practice from being plain vanilla. It's actually quite an excellent piece. It gives some modern, and I'd argue accurate, definitions of branding, along with the rationale for why you should brand, how to develop your Unique Selling Proposition, and how do deliver on your promises. SWEET!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No one cares about you

It's harsh to assert that no one cares about you (and by you I mean librarians and by extension, libraries), but it's a marketing reality we all confront. The cold truth is that patrons don't conduct themselves with the assumption that libraries are intrinsically good or something they should naturally care about. The question is how do we get patrons to care at least enough to take advantage of some of our services some of the time?

One answer is to communicate with them in terms of things they do care about, namely, benefits. Patrons probably don't care about your interlibrary loan service, but they do care about getting that tough-to-find book in time to finish their report. Saving time and writing top-notch reports is a benefit; offering interlibrary loan is a service or feature. In marketing our services, it's important to focus on the former instead of the latter.

Some people may think this is an obvious statement, but after having completed a personal selling course, I can tell you it's not. When making a sales pitch, it's extremely tempting to rattle of lists of features as though their usefulness is obvious. In my selling course, we spent a great deal of time developing our Initial Benefit Statement (IBS). Essentially, an IBS is a statement that tells customers why they should care, and in sales it's often used as an opener in sales presentations and sales calls. In library work, I try to remember to open with some form of an IBS when I make presentations, write promotional materials, or try to "sell" an idea. I'm also thinking I will develop an IBS for my orientation outreach activities this summer when I have about 1 second to get the library on students' radar.

Not all marketers believe in the value of an IBS, with good reason. I'll even admit, it's a little stiff and one-directional, which is the opposite of what marketing should be. But, I contend it's still useful because developing an IBS forces us to think in terms of what's most important to our patrons from their point of view, which then frames our activities and communications.

The Marketing Genius blog had a nice little rant against selling based on features instead of benefits. Try examining the marketing communications you're exposed to and see if you can figure out what the benefits are. I think you'll be surprised by how many advertisers don't communicate them at all.

How do you develop an IBS?
There's no real secret to creating an IBS other than to focus relentlessly on the "So what?" aspect of your services.

Here are a few pointers that might help you:
1. Think about the services you offer or are featuring in your newsletter, etc. Make a list of all of the reasons your patrons should care about the service. You may want to ask patrons who use a service why they do so.
2. Develop a statement that explains in a sentence or two what the most important benefits are. IBS's may start with phrases like, "Gives you the ability to," "Saves you [time, stress, hassle]," "Increases your [productivity, profits, marketability]," and so on. You know you're on the wrong track if your IBS starts out with phrases like, "Our library features...," "We provide access to...," "We house X number of...," you get the idea. Notice that good IBS's emphasize the you (customer), whereas bad IBS's emphasize the we/us (librarians/libraries).
3. Consider your competitive position. Sometimes, the best IBS's are based on a competitive advantage. For example, "Devise sound business plans and save money with Great Local Library - the only local organization to provide you free one-to-one research assistance with highly-trained information professionals who use the latest market research tools."

Even though it's difficult to presume that no one cares about us, doing so gives us the perspective we need to ensure that we communicate only what patrons value, and drop the stuff that's only meaningful to us.

[Update: Apparently, the phrase "no one cares about you" is one that marketer extraordinaire Seth Godin uses in just about every presentation he gives. I must have had that sentence ingrained in my subconscious because I only just discovered this fact after reviewing one of his talks. If I had remembered, I would have given him credit. Just when you think you're being original... ;-) ].

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What's in a question? (Or, how to get better answers).

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." - Pablo Picasso
I sometimes find myself in a situation where I want to know more about X, but can't think of the right questions to ask to get me to the kind of answer I want. For example, when trying to learn about about patrons' needs, what questions do I ask and how do I ask them to get an honest answer that gets beneath the surface? I wish it were as easy a saying, "Hey, Patron! What do you need?" but alas, it's not. Some of the best marketing breakthroughs come from questioning assumptions and the way things have always been, which is why good questioning skills are also good marketing skills. What are the best questions to ask to get to the best answers?

In my quest for questions, I came across a Web site, which has a page on the art of questioning. It lists 19 types of questions (Did you know there are types other than open and closed?!). My favorite for marketing purposes, particularly when looking for new insights and innovations, is Socratic questioning. Socratic questions prompt people to reevaluate assumptions with inquiries like, "How could you look at this differently?", "Why is __ important?" and "What are you assuming?"

Personally, there are a few questions I'm partial to for generating ideas:
  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • What else is like this?
  • What's the opposite of this?
  • What's the point?
Questioning truly is an art that can yield amazing insights. Please share your favorite questions!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lovin' the library at the University of Tennessee

Perhaps I'm biased because my manager is a UT grad (Go Vols!), but I was really intrigued by a promotion campaign at UT's Pendergrass Library. In search for ways to enforce library regulations that are agreeable to both librarians and patrons, library staff came up with a clever promotion campaign that features a simple stick figure design.

Shown here is one graphic in the series. It encourages students to throw away their trash.

What appeals most to me is that this seemingly simple image conveys a lot of meaning to its target audience, which was evident after speaking with library supervisor Allison Roberts who worked on the design. For instance, UT Knoxville is located near the scenic Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The green color of the image is a nod to the respect the UT community holds for the environment. Furthermore, the "Pack it in; Pack it out" phrase is well-known among hikers, a popular pastime in the Knoxville area. Plus, heck, the image is just plain eye-catching to me. So, I was extremely pleased that Allison graciously gave me some of her time to talk to me over the phone and respond to some follow-up e-mail questions I sent her. The following is our exchange:

Jill: Your deceptively simple-looking image actually communicates a great deal to your target audience. Could you discuss how the "Pack it out" message and eco-friendly green color resonate with your patrons?

Allison: "The idea is derived from the hiking symbol used by park services and the idea of low impact use of resources. If you love your park you make strides to reduce your environmental impact. The same should also apply to facilities and resources we use everyday. If you love your library you should reduce your environmental impact. A library is a resource that deserves conservation and respect like a national park. Individuals that use Pendergrass Library have recognized that they share the responsibility and strive to make a difference in their impact."

Jill: You mentioned that you selected a stick figure for its simplicity and visual impact. What can librarians learn from your example about graphic design?

Allison: "It is important to convey an idea simply and succinct to reach all audiences."

Jill: How do you use this image and where do you display it?

Allison: "We currently have a large "Pack it out" poster on display as you enter the library, placed several posters on study tables and decals on trash cans. In addition, we created desktop wallpaper for all the workstations in the Library."

Jill: You said that the campaign has been effective and well-received. Can you give some examples of feedback you've received and changes in patrons' behaviors? Also, why do you think this campaign works so well?

Allison: "When we decided to allow food in the library a heavy weight was lifted. The staff no longer had to police for violations. The individuals that use the library were relieved that they no longer had to hide food. Overall the atmosphere is lighter. By allowing food we created a better environment for the users; however, the problem of pests was a concern. I felt that if we could try to eliminate food trash in the library the pests would not become a huge problem. I tried to create a message that would help the users share the responsibility. I think this idea works well because our users can identify with the message of conservation."

Jill: "Pack it out" is part of a series of planned promotions that seek to educate patrons about library policies. What other pieces are you planning?

Allison: "Currently, the stick man is presenting our "Love your Library: Quiet Zone" notification on the door to the stacks study area. It is also on our "Love your Library: Respect Books" bookmark. The design is versatile, so there is no limit to its future applications."

Jill: Is there anything else about this project you'd like to share with colleagues?

Allison: "In addition to posting "Pack it out" notices we have asked housekeeping to remove the trash twice a day and increase vacuuming in the high use areas. Our collaborative effort has made a difference in the amount of trash and debris from study time munching."

Way to know your audience, Allison! And kudos on creating a campaign that can be recycled for many uses. I love how UT was able to translate popular environmental sentiments to library issues and to draw in patrons as partners in making the library a more comfortable place for everyone. Also, note that a good promotion campaign is always backed up by sound services, in this case, housekeeping. Promotion alone can't make much of a difference but it can be powerful in combination with real action.

Allison kindly shared two other images (below) from the series as well as a link to their bookmark promoting preservation (PDF). Please note that you need permission from Allison if you wish to use the images in any way. Thanks so much for sharing this well-planned and executed campaign!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Give your patron engagement skills a Swift Kick in the...

well, you know what! An advisor-friend of mine turned me on to this outstanding blog produced by an education company called Swift Kick. The company actually has two blogs, but the one of most interest to us is one called Swift Kick Technology: Increasing Engagement in Education through Technology, Community, Leadership and Training. The content is Web 2.0-centric, and any librarian seeking to engage patrons through online communities and/or technology in general could greatly benefit from reading this blog. Consider some of the most recent posts:

Lest you think that this blog is all Facebook all the time, there are posts on video game learning, personal blogging, and collaborative learning.

These readings will hopefully ignite (or, as in my case, reignite) your enthusiasm for participating in social networking sites for library marketing and relationship-building (which are pretty much the same thing anyway).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The art of conversation is a marketing competency

There's a must-read article at BusinessWeek called, It's the Conversation Economy, Stupid. In it, author David Armano of the popular blog Logic+Emotion discusses how marketers must now become conversation architects to be effective in today's economy. It's one of those pieces that should make us rethink how we do our jobs. I wrote about it on KnowThis, so I won't repeat the summary here, but I would encourage you think about one of Armano's main points:

"Conversation architects move marketing beyond the idea of one-way messaging. Traditional marketing efforts were founded on this tried-and-true format and are still prevalent within the industry. Consider the example of a typical creative brief template, which usually says something like, "What are we trying to communicate?" Can you see the old-world residue in the word "communicate"? It lacks the dimensions of experiencing something and having an ongoing two-way dialogue. "What are we trying to communicate?" implies a one-way conversation. Maybe we should ask ourselves: "How can we facilitate?"'

I can't think of a better charge for librarians who are in the business of helping people succeed. In this way of thinking, we allow patrons' goals to become our goals, rather than letting our idea of what we want to accomplish dictate how patrons should interact with us. Makes sense to me.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting a handle on WOM through focus groups

Though the usefulness and applicability of focus groups continues to be debated, one market researcher contends that they are an excellent tool for understanding how word-of-mouth works. George Silverman's article, How and Why to Research Word of Mouth outlines a methodology for uncovering the WOM process including the source, sequence, and content of messages.

In other WOM news, I found an article from Pittsburg's that gives a good overview of how modern WOM marketers use technology to track buzz, and it describes the history of the company BzzAgent (Marketing: 'Word of mouth' enters 21st century). BzzAgent, by the way, is an interesting company and I recommend reviewing their site as well as how it works. I think the company has some lessons to teach about how we can engage our own patrons and support them in spreading the word.