Monday, July 30, 2007

Forget about being the third place. Be the first lab!

For reasons I won't bother to bore you with, today is the first day I've been able to post (or really, spend any extended amount of time on a computer) since returning from the ALA TechSource Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium. This is unfortunate since the Symposium really pumped me up and gave me no shortage of library marketing inspiration. So much, in fact, that I anticipate discussing gaming and related marketing issues over a number of posts. To begin with, I'd like to share with you the over-arching message I took away from the event: Forget about being the third place. Be the first lab!

After listening to speakers like Eli Neiburger, Jim Gee, Greg Trefry, and many others, I learned that games, perhaps better than any other pursuit, build community and spark intellectual curiosity. Eli spoke about how gaming brought seniors out from their retirement homes to challenge teens to Dance Dance Revolution contests; Gee described how students who wouldn't crack open a textbook in school eagerly poured through tedious gaming guides teeming with sophisticated language for hours; Trefry told stories of how big games dramatically altered the ways in which people perceived their physical surroundings. Do you know of other media that are so transformative? I sure don't. Games and the application of gaming principles capture the essence of what libraries are all about. They engage patrons' imaginations, and allow them to play around with ideas in an interactive, risk-free format with wide cross sections of the community. In the process, gaming patrons actually construct a series of unique experiences, thereby turning the library into a laboratory of sorts.

This "community creativity lab" is where where I see libraries' future and competitive advantage. I can't think of any other free, publicly-accessible place (except perhaps for museums, which we should be partnering with), where people can come together for purposes of serious play and creative enterprise. Unlike other "third places" like Starbucks that attempt to be a home-away-from-home space, libraries are much more. They are where old and new knowledge are explored, created, and re-envisioned. Our duty is to recognize and facilitate the many varied creative pursuits of our patrons and give them the value-added spaces, resources, expertise, and community engagement to explore them in greater depth. Gaming represents one avenue for libraries to look into, but there are many others as well.

Some of you may be skeptical about the potential of gaming and libraries, which is fine. I wasn't entirely sold on it either until I understood it better. So, I will continue to analyze how gaming makes sense from a library marketing standpoint based on what I learned. My next post will address who makes up the gamer market segment and what value-added services draw them in.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Game on!

I'm excited to be in Chicago for a few days for the ALA TechSource Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium. I have to admit that I know very little about how gaming and libraries work together, so I'm here with an open mind and a lot of note paper! I plan to transcribe my scribbles for you here on LM to explore how gaming could relate to library marketing efforts. Should be fun!

Learn to see what's not there for marketing success

I mentioned that I've been doing a bit of research and writing on the topic of differentiation. I also referenced advice from the book Zag that suggests looking for the "white spaces" or underserved/ignored markets. Now I want to share with you an outstanding article I read that identifies 6 ways in which marketers can find those "white spaces" by looking at familiar information in a new light. In doing so, organizations can find competitive advantages and new opportunities to apply their services.

The article is called "Creating New Market Space" by Kim and Mauborgne. The authors examined the marketing strategies of successful firms like Home Depot and Cisco Systems and found 6 common innovative tactics for finding what's not there. I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the article, but here is a brief outline of the main findings:

1. Look across substitute industries - Customers make trade-offs when selecting products and services. By looking across substitute industries and why customers choose option A over option B in certain circumstances, they can find new market space. The authors point to the example set by Home Depot, the company that noticed customers had 2 options for home improvement. They could either hire a contractor or buy the tools to do the job themselves. Home Depot blended these options by giving customers the knowledge, training, and sales expertise to improve their skills. As the authors put it,

"By delivering the decisive advantages of both substitute industries - and eliminating or reducing everything else - Home Depot has transformed enormous latent demand for home improvement into real demand."
2. Look across strategic groups within industries - Strategic groups in an industry as defined in the piece are groups of companies that act on a similar strategy. The authors state that these groups are usually based on price and performance. The idea here is to figure out why customers trade up or down across these groups and, like in the previous tactic, offer a unique mix of their advantages.

3. Look across the chain of buyers - This strategy involves challenging the notion of who the target customer is. To do so, it's important to know who actually uses the service versus who purchases it, and who influences these decisions. The authors state,
"By questioning conventional definitions of who can and should be the target customer, companies can often see fundamentally new ways to create value."
This point reminds me of a recent brainstorming session I led for a regional meeting of my local chapter of ACRL. One savvy participant came up with the idea of reaching out to university staff as an overlooked patron base. I admit I usually forget about this important audience, but it could be a new niche just waiting to be carved out.

4. Look across complementary product and service offerings - This is one area where I think librarians could find a lot of missed opportunities! With this strategy, marketers identify the total solution customers seek by consuming a service. The authors point to a couple of illustrative examples. For instance, they state that finding a babysitter is a hindrance to attending movies in a theater, and so theaters should concern themselves with addressing this need as it affects demand for their service. Similarly, they point to Borders and Barnes & Noble - companies that realized customers want more than just to purchase books. They want a complete book-buying experience.

5. Look across functional or emotional appeal to buyers - In this approach, marketers attempt to turn functional products into emotional ones and vice versa. The authors point to Starbucks as an example of a company that turned a functional product, coffee, into an emotional experience, which in turn stimulated much more demand. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Body Shop stripped away the emotional aspects of its cosmetics such as packaging and advertising, leaving only its functional, all-natural products behind.

6. Looking across time - Fortunately, this tactic doesn't require a crystal ball or any special foresight. It only requires the ability to hone in on significant, clear (observable) trends that are irreversible. Moreover, marketers must be able to envision how the trend in question will change how they will deliver value to their customers tomorrow.

Seeing what's invisible and how you might fill in those gaps is a talent librarians can benefit from as they define and differentiate themselves from the many alternatives patrons have at their disposal. While challenging, this is not an impossible task. As this article demonstrated, there are concrete strategies for finding your unique niche in the marketplace, which will sustain libraries and create real value for patrons as no one else can.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Beyond "telling and selling"

If you want an insightful summary of what modern marketing is about and where it's headed, you have to read this Forbes article about Proctor & Gamble's marketing chief, Jim Stengel, and his approach to marketing, which is all about building relationships with customers. Stengel summarizes the P&G approach this way:

'"We need to think beyond consuming ... and to really directly understand the role and the meaning the brand has in their lives," Stengel told The Associated Press in an interview. "If you're always asking that question, 'How can I be more relevant, how can I have a deeper meaning, how can I build this relationship between brand and consumer to a higher level' your marketing gets better, you innovate.'

In its effort to be more relevant, P&G marketers are immersing themselves in customers' day-to-day lives to find out where they fit and what people really need. Their on-the-ground investigations yielded amazing insights into women's lives, for example, and inspired innovations like decorative tissue boxes, Tide "To Go" stain removal sticks, and cleaning wipes that dispense like tissues. They even found that bunco's renewed popularity among women offered some unique sponsorship opportunities.

In modern marketing, the name of the game is dialogue, and to engage in conversations with customers, you have to be able to speak their language by understanding who they are beyond the surface level - a lesson P&G learned and that librarians should act on as well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thanks for the chat! Here's the summary...

Thanks to everyone who turned out for the chat last Tuesday. I thought there was some good discussion and some promising ideas came out of the talk. However, I do understand that the chat room format can get a little unwieldy, and we lost a person or two I really wanted to follow-up with ("Kate:" If you're out there, feel free to get in touch with me to follow-up on the question you had!). I want to summarize what we talked about and point out the major issues we identified when marketing to internal staff.

A major point of discussion was the observation that many staff are reluctant to try new technologies because doing so is seen as waste of time, a source of stress, and a distraction from serving patrons. Participants offered up a number of ideas to get staff into a "play" mode where they can experiment and make some discoveries that may ultimately help patrons. Some of the librarians in the chat room mentioned that they have no funds to pay for incentives, so our ideas focused on other means of motivation. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Have a bragging wall
  • Sponsor competitions with other libraries
  • Get people together to talk about what they learn
  • Put people in teams
  • Let managers and staff know what the ROI is (Return On Investment) for their time (it's not a waste of time to try new things!)
  • Partner with patrons who are familiar with social technologies so that they can teach staff (someone suggested that this could count as volunteer hours)
    • Have an "open mic night" where patrons can share their tech knowledge with staff
  • Integrate "play" into daily routines
"Kate" and I were the only two academic librarians in the bunch (I think), and she brought up a really good point but left the room before we could get into it more (darn!). She said that in her library, time and the learning curve do hinder experimentation with social technologies, but more of an impediment is the desire to move slowly because no one is sure how to proceed with these trials. There is no policy in place and people are a bit nervous to enter uncharted waters. Kate's observation stands out to me because in the past couple of weeks I've been hearing similar comments in a number of different contexts, which makes me think we have a pervasive problem on our hands when it comes to marketing: a culture of fear. I want to think on this some more and get Sybil's take on this before I write more (I'm being cautious - ha!), but essentially I hear from librarians that they are afraid to move ahead with ideas because they stop themselves by thinking of all the ways things won't work instead of considering their potential and reserving judgment. In part, I think the lack of clear policies or at least parameters can increase uncertainty and therefore fear. This problem is definitely not unique to libraries, but that doesn't make it any less problematic. For internal marketing to work, people need to feel free to fulfill their brand promises and confident that they'll be backed up by higher-ups.

Finally, our conversation didn't stop at tech talk. Some participants talked about branding projects their libraries are working on. The general consensus was that it's important to involve staff during the planning process, and that it could be more difficult to rally staff support when they are simply offered a finished logo they had no say in. One person mentioned that in a former position, the library redesigned its Web page, involving staff in the prototype stages. To top it off, staff were given nifty t-shirts with the Web address, which they donned enthusiastically. I know that having too many cooks in the kitchen has the potential to stall projects, but involvement could be structured so that it's productive. Today, I was just thinking that even something as simple as letting staff vote on one of a few prototype logo designs could give them an investment in the project that would pay off during implementation.

Feel free to read the full transcript of the talk and contact me with questions or other ideas. Also, I'm going to contact my internal marketing guru, Sybil, to get her take on our exchange.

Thanks again for showing up! I'll post a new chat time and topic soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Free library marketing class

I thought I would pass this along after seeing it on a discussion forum. It's free; it's a marketing class; it's led by Pat Wagner who knows her stuff. Wish I could go...

Let's chat

How does today 7-8pm EST sound?

Tonight's Library Marketing Exchange chat is all about internal marketing, or, marketing to your most important audience (staff). For some background, see my previous post.

As a special added bonus, Sybil Stershic, THE expert in internal marketing as far as I'm concerned, has graciously offered to respond to any issues and/or questions that come up as a result of the chat, which I'll communicate with her and share her answers in a special post.

Hope you'll be there! (It would just be sad if I were talking to myself...).

Monday, July 09, 2007

And how are you any different?

Whether consciously or not, patrons are always comparing you to your competitors and asking themselves how you're different from them. They're also asking how you're better than them regarding what they care about most. Have you taken steps to stand out from the crowd? If not, you may need to give some attention to your differentiation strategy. Being different (in a good way) can give you a competitive advantage. If you don't have a competitive advantage, then you probably don't have any business being in business!

Because differentiation is so important, I chose to write a chapter on what it is and how to do it in a forthcoming ACRL publication, The Desk and Beyond:
Next-Generation Reference Services
, which is due out sometime next year. In the process of working on the chapter, I learned a lot of important stuff about being competitive and I want to share what I discovered with you all (without giving away the chapter, of course!). So, you'll be seeing a number of posts on this topic in the coming weeks.

To kick off this theme, let's first consider why librarians should worry about competing. Being competitive is not a sneaky or underhanded tactic of any kind, but simply a means finding ways to fulfill needs that have been neglected or that no one has ever noticed before, and doing so better than anyone else. While addressing these needs in the best way possible, service providers like us challenge themselves to think hard about what they do, who they're doing it for, what they excel at, and how they can creatively satisfy their target market. Being competitive then, makes service providers more useful to their customers and also more innovative. It's a healthy thing to do, which is why I encourage every librarian look at the marketplace as a game of chess where you have to think a few steps ahead of the other player and execute moves that catch him off-guard. The best competitors not only do things differently, they do things differently for the benefit of their customers. There's no point in being different for the sake of being different. Patrons have to care about those things you stand for.

In his book, Zag, author Marty Neumeier explained competitive strategy/differentiation in a very illustrative way. He noted that talented artists have the uncanny ability to see not only the space an object fills, but also the negative space it creates, which he calls "white spaces." He says that our marketplace is full of white spaces that have yet to be discovered by marketers. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to hunt down those white spaces and stake that territory for libraries. Librarians have so much that is unique and worthwhile to offer, but we just need to make what we do connect with patrons so that we can stand out in their minds from all of the alternatives they have at their disposal. Easy, huh? ;-)

Since I go into a lot of detail in the book about how to find your competitive advantage, I won't repeat all that here, but I will share some of the terrific stuff I've read that you can benefit from taking a look at. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Chat room date changed due to reality check

After digging out from two big projects that were due today, I poked my head out and checked in with reality. What did I discover? I realized that I scheduled our LM Exchange chat for tomorrow at 7pm. While this may work for some of you die-hards in the crowd, I figure most of you will be getting ready to enjoy the July 4th holiday. So, I'm moving the chat to next Tuesday 7/10, 7-8pm EST.

The topic this time is going to be internal marketing. Many people forget that getting your marketing plan down on paper is only half the battle. The other half is getting buy-in from the people who matter most: your staff. Doing so is not always an easy feat, to say the least. While the value of library marketing may be self-evident to us, it can be viewed by others as a (gasp!) waste of time. I'd like to discuss ways in which we can do better at making marketing a total organization effort. Here are some ideas I have about possible talking points (please do bring your own):

  • Staff recognition programs and other incentives.
  • Creating an open, collaborative marketing planning process.
  • Innovative approaches to staff training (Sybil Stershic had a terrific post on this topic recently).
  • Improving communications and information sharing
  • Writing internal marketing plans
To get you thinking, take a look at these two short pieces and just imagine different wordings and examples to fit the library environment: The Power of Internal Marketing and Making Internal Marketing Work.

Hope to "see" you next Tuesday in the chat room!