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... ;-) ].

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