What I Talk About When I Talk About Marketing

For more than a decade now, the library community has talked about the importance of marketing, yet librarians often seem to have trouble articulating just what marketing is, what it means for them, and how to go about doing it.  Some librarians “get it,” and many more struggle to do so.

What’s the barrier to “getting it”?  There are many, but a major one is the mixed message we often receive from marketing experts.  It’s a paradox – they tell us to keep our message simple, yet their own message to us is complex.  Too often, we are told that to really market effectively, we must have a firm grasp on market segmentation and pantone color palettes and brand loyalty and ROI and CPM and USP, oh my!  Sometimes, we’re told that we should all be doing it, yet at the same time we’re told that it is best left to the professional marketers. 

I agree with the authors of  Bite-Sized Marketing: Realistic Solutions for the Overworked Librarian, who say on their opening page:  “We’ve all been sold a bill of goods that whenever you attempt marketing, it has to be grand.  It has to be a logo redesign or a complete overhaul of your building.”  When they talk about marketing, they talk about “a concerted effort to articulate your value.  It is that plain and simple.”

So what do I talk about when I talk about marketing?  I talk about:

  • Communicating the library’s collections, programs, and services
  • Demonstrating the library’s value in the community
  • Creating and sustaining a relationship with customers and constituencies

And what do I do when I do marketing?

Just about everything I do on a daily basis falls into one of these categories –  from laying out a poster for an author visit to speaking to the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Task Force to answering RA questions on social media.

Doing each of these and doing them well can get you to what I think of as the bonus round of marketing – when other people, outside of your institution, start talking to other people, outside their institution, about the about the great experience they had at your library, about the value it holds in their life, and about the importance of the library in the life of the community.  You’ve effectively articulated your value so that they can, too.

Whether this bonus comes in the form of a re-tweet, a Facebook share, a letter to the editor, or a comment overheard in the grocery store, this is when you know that you “get it.”

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