Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Greetings from Toronto!

I'm so grateful to be here in Toronto to speak tomorrow at the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference (best conference name ever, by the way!). My session is called "Unleash Your Inner Marketer." I'm hoping it sparks some imaginative ways to approach marketing, rather than just dwelling on promotional tactics. I'll let you know how it goes and reflect a bit on our discussion. If you're in the area, please drop by and say hello!

Friday, January 25, 2008

What a bunch of cards! Guest post from Rebecca Metzger

While at ALA Midwinter, I was lucky to meet Rebecca Metzger, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. She took part in my committee's discussion group where she shared her library's fun approach to promoting their individual research consultation service. Rebecca graciously agreed to write up the initiative for LM, which I'm copying here in its entirety (with permission, as always):

A Service and its Public Face
For the past seven years, the Lafayette College Libraries have been creating and mailing humorous collectible postcards to students as a way of publicizing PRA (Personalized Research Assistance) sessions, which are essentially individual research consultations with reference librarians. PRA cards get the faces of reference librarians out to students in a comedic format that shakes up the stereotype of librarians as stodgy and serious, hopefully making us more approachable. The service and its publicity strategy developed hand-in-hand. Before Spring 2001, private student appointments with librarians were rare, but welcome. In a meeting, the reference staff agreed that we should make appointments a more explicit service. It took one brainstorming meeting to create the PRA name, which is similar to that of the WA (Writing Associate) peer tutoring service offered through our Writing Center. The first PRA postcard came about informally. As a joke, one of the librarians mocked up a spoof of the film Conan the Barbarian and the tagline, "Make an appointment with a reference barbarian today!" It was basic humor, it was typical of the library staff at Lafayette, and it just kind of stuck.

Pop Culture Appeal
The postcards, which are mailed to all students a few weeks into each semester, feature the faces of reference librarians superimposed on movie or TV stills, thus appealing to the visual and pop culture interests of most youth. On the back of each card is a URL directing students to an online sign-up form and witty text advertising the service that plays on slogans from the movie or TV show. For example, the recent "Mary PRAppins" card reads: "We may not be able to get the chim-chiminey back in your chim-chim-charoo, but a Personalized Research Assistance session with a reference librarian can help you find the books, journals, and online resources you need for a well-researched project that will make your professor say: SupercaliPRAgilisticexpilalidocious!"

Student Input

After that initial postcard, student workers were brought on board to execute the Photoshop manipulation and layout of the card, as well as to coordinate the printing and mailing with campus Reprographic services. It's time-consuming work for them but more fun than shelving books, and it helps bridge the generational gap. Thus, us "old" librarians don't make too many mistakes with movie and TV references that 18-22 year olds don't know. The reference staff still collaborates as a group to generate the ideas and content for each card, and I'm in charge of executing those ideas and overseeing the student worker. We're lucky here to have the budget and support that allows us to move forward relatively quickly on ideas without having to go through committees.

Building Traffic

For the first few years, a surge in appointments immediately after the mailing date was a clear indicator of the cards' impact. Being a small liberal arts campus helps, since our students are a relatively homogeneous group of approximately 2400 undergraduates who talk amongst themselves. When the PRA cards hit their mailboxes, which are all located in one setting, there is a mass visual impact even if the majority of the cards end up in the recycling bin. As the branded service has become more integrated on campus, there's less of an obvious peak in appointments immediately after the mailing. Traffic to the online PRA sign-up form is steady now throughout the semester, and generated not just from the cards but from outreach during instruction sessions, reference desk interactions, articles in parent newsletters, targeted correspondence with honors students, word-of-mouth, and the library website. While it remains an ongoing challenge to reach those students who have never heard of PRAs, students have been known to put the postcards up in their dorm rooms or diverge from a campus tour script to tell visitors about them. Some favorites among students are: Harry PRAtter and the Prisoner of Research and the SoPRAnos.

A gallery of the cards can be viewed online at

Thanks for sharing your library's efforts, Rebecca! There are a couple of elements here I'm especially fond of:
1. Student involvement helps to make sure the promotion makes sense to the intended audience. 2. No committees! Sometimes, committees are necessary I guess, but promotions need to be timely so staff flexibility is key.

Got a marketing initiative you want to share? E-mail me!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Promotion. It's not just for stuff.

Contrary to popular perception, promotional activities (advertising, public relations, etc.), are not always about convincing people to buy the latest and greatest [fill in the blank]. Often, promotion objectives include changing attitudes and behaviors. Such is the case with the "Use Only What you Need" campaign launched by Denver Water this past summer. Though summer is a distant memory for Northern Hemisphere-dwellers like myself, the campaign is nevertheless a timely reminder for librarians that marketing has the power to change minds.

Denver Water acquired the services of Sukle Advertising to get customers to do something a bit unusual. Namely, use less of their product by conserving water. An article in the Denver Business Journal describes the campaign, which uses humor to make its point,

"About 50 customer comments have come in so far, McGuire-Collier [community and media relations manager] said, and despite the irreverent tone of the ads, "We've had some real positive responses. ... [Some say] it's not the sort of campaign you'd expect from a, quote-unquote, bureaucratic organization. We're able to have fun and still deliver an important message."
The promotions truly are pretty funny. Check out this YouTube video, "Drunk Flowers," and this one, "Running Toilets Waste Water." You can see other promotional elements at the utility's Web site.

Denver's campaign is a good example of the promotional aspects of social marketing, which is basically a type of marketing that attempts to change people's attitudes and behaviors for the benefit of individuals or society. Sound familiar, librarians? For Denver, striking at the funny bone seems to have worked, as residents cut their water usage by 21%, just 1% shy of their goal.

Here are some of the things I took away from this campaign:
  • Advertisements need to reach people on an emotional level. Sukle did this by doing something unexpected from a government organization (being funny).
  • Sukle's ads communicated volumes of information visually. The "using only what you need" theme was reinforced visually by partially used billboards, for example.
  • Social marketers aim to change behaviors by changing attitudes. To do so, it's important to understand existing attitudes and behaviors that would indicate success (lower water consumption, etc.). These goals should be included in promotion strategies.
  • All aspects of a promotion campaign should be integrated and reinforce one another to have the most impact.
Did this campaign give you any good ideas? Please share!

[For more info: Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on Social Marketing]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting to the point with MarketingProfs

If you haven't explored them yet, MarketingProfs now offers a plethora of tidbit-sized chunks of information in its free (registration required) Get to the Po!nt newsletters. The thematic newsletters are really neat, covering topics such as:

  • Customer Behavior (must-read for sure!)
  • E-mail Marketing
  • Marketing Inspiration (love this!)
  • Small Business
These other topics are forthcoming, but you can subscribe to them today:
  • B2B Marketing
  • Marketing Optimization
  • New Media (social networks, mobile devices, video, audio, etc.)
These newsletters are great ways to get just enough marketing information in your area of interest without overwhelming you or flooding your Inbox (most appear to come out every 3-4 days).

Bonus tip: Why not start your own mini newsletter for your colleagues? An e-mail once a week that briefly covers THE most important trend/news item/report/... you think people need to know would help keep staff up-to-date, and may even deliver the jolt of inspiration needed to come up with great ideas.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I blog, therefore, I am

It's funny (and nice) that I took a break from blogging for a while and a number of people thought that some tragedy befell me. Not to worry, loyal readers! I blog, therefore, I am. Everything's fine with me, but I have a whole lot of personal and professional stuff going on (some of which I'll be sharing on LM in the near future), and I thought the holidays would be a good time to relax, take a good chunk of time off, and come back to the blog refreshed.

That said, I have content up to my eyeballs to share with you, so I'm going to start with an initiative from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as described by The initiative sprang up from a new trend: blog bars. Blog bars are computer terminals set up on-site so that attendees can respond to what's going on in real time and receive responses right away.

The Met offers a blog bar for its show blog.mode: addressing fashion. The blog seems to be doing its job in that there's a flurry of comment and conversation. The idea of a blog bar, however, adds an extra layer of immediacy and relevancy for participants, and could be a great way to enhance library programs too! Trendcentral also points out,

"Additionally, expect physical spaces to increasingly include virtual components, creating a mash-up hybrid environment."
This trend reminds me of the importance of thinking about patron experiences, rather than focusing on distinct technologies and tools. It's the marriage of technology, great services, and community engagement that will continue to shape library services.

Bonus tip:
Every librarian needs to pay attention to what museums are doing and how they're applying technology. They're doing fascinating stuff!

Thank you readers for your understanding while a took a break! I'm glad to be back in the blogosphere.