Reference BackTalk: LibraryAware, September 1, 2012

By Nancy Dowd, guest columnist

A few years ago, Wyoming State Library set out to promote its database of Chilton auto repair manuals. The library wanted to reach men in the state who repaired cars. Building a campaign featuring a mudflap girl holding a book worked wonders. In Nevada, Henderson Libraries are looking at neighborhoods with high drop-out rates and high unemployment, where they will distribute information about the libraries’ literacy programs. The common thread in these stories is the institutions’ understanding of the need to identify and market to a specific audience.

At NoveList, we’re well known for providing a powerful readers’ advisory database. But lately we’ve been paying special attention to how libraries can promote their resources. Our new tool, LibraryAware, is designed to streamline that process and make it more effective—we call it building a LibraryAware Community. The resource allows libraries to easily create promotional materials for a variety of communication channels so they can reach users and non-users. Our templates encourage solid marketing strategies such as benefit-driven messages and cross-promotion. Essentially librarians enter the content once and it will repopulate in all the items they want to create.

When we work with libraries, we strongly recommend that they take the time to plan and develop custom marketing strategies. There are some things you can do right away that will help jumpstart the process.

Define your audience Whether you want to increase usage, attract new customers, or target specific populations—small businesses, job seekers, parents looking to help their children succeed in school—it’s important to define the group you want to reach. The better you define your audience and its needs, the more effective you’ll be in creating programs and services, developing messaging, and selecting the right communication channels for that message.

Create solutions Once you identify your audience and the problems it is facing, you can start to create solutions. These may be as simple as selecting an online database to promote or as ambitious as curating a collection of online and print resources. Also, in developing LibraryAware, we looked for ways to cross-promote resources. For example, when you promote an event, consider pairing it with an appropriate online resource. This concept can be used for any audience.

Persuade, don’t just inform It’s easy to get into the rut of describing what a resource is rather than trying to get people excited about how it will help. Successful messaging answers the question, “What’s in it for me?” Your challenge is to communicate why it’s worth patrons’ time to use your vetted resources instead of doing a quick Google search. Get away from canned copy and write short, audience-driven descriptions such as, “Need to build a mailing list but have no money to buy one? This resource lets you build segmented mailing lists and lets you print labels from your office.”

Select all the pertinent communication channels When my husband was younger he owned a small business and spent thousands of dollars for an ad in the Yellow Pages. We always thought the prices were too high but back then, if people wanted to find a company, the only way they could do it was by “letting their fingers do the walking,” as the Yellow Pages slogan put it. The days of using one communication channel to reach customers are long gone. Think of your own network. You probably use email for work, text some friends, and call others. Then there are friends who communicate only via social media. If you want to reach people in your community, you need to use the platforms they’re using.

Those platforms include print, social media, email, broadcast media, and personal interactions. We realize that most librarians don’t have time to create promotional materials for every channel. We came up with a time-saving solution that enables people to enter content once, then use it to create additional materials for as many communication channels as they need. Whether you use a tool like LibraryAware or create promotional pieces from scratch, it is important to target all the channels your audience is using.

Include staff How many times have you put together a promotional campaign, only to discover that your own staff never heard about it? Sadly, it happens far too often to us all. Why not treat staff as an audience? Just as with your customers, it’s best to communicate with the right message, at the right time, using the right channels. Consider creating print materials for staff rooms or placing tidbits of information wherever frontline staff works Mid-Hudson Library System’s program, Building Your Base Online, encourages libraries to place stickers with short descriptions of resources on the backs of promotional posters, where only staff will see them. They also feature a database each month, allowing staff and customers to learn more about the library’s different resources. Create short, targeted messages—send emails and post to your intranet, if you have one. Frontline staff can play a significant role in helping to promote resources if they are kept informed.

Engage stakeholders Perhaps the most important group of all is the stakeholders—elected officials, community partners, boards, foundations, and friends groups. Your priority should always be to keep them informed and engaged. Consider sending emails that share success stories about how the resources are impacting the lives of people in the community. Invite selected stakeholders to attend new classes, serve as mentors, or write a blog post. Be aware of what they are doing, and if you have a service that can help them, let them know about it in an email.

Promoting your library’s resources to the community is essential, and with these easy ideas, that require little extra investment, they’ll be flocking to the branch—or the website—in no time.

For more ideas on marketing your library, hear LJ ’s recent webcast, Reference: Marketing What You Bought.