Monday, October 4, 2010

New Rules for Communications Chapter 11 – Building Your Plan

Does your library offer superior services? Have you paid attention to my previous ideas about how to tell the world about your services? Now is time to step back. Marketing is not just about your products and services it is about focusing on the needs of your readers, users and stakeholders. Many PR and people have a great difficulty stepping back and examining what the people you are reaching really need or want. (The difference between “needs” and “wants” is another topic for exploration. For now let’s assume they are the same.)

All of the Web 2.0 communications possibilities need to be used to listen and understand the needs of the library users. Attention to them will build long term relationships and get you closer to achieving your long term goals. As the needs of your users change, your goals should evolve to meet the needs. That is why communications is so important.

Think about coffee. You can buy beans and brew your own or you can have someone do it for you. You can go to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Target for coffee and pay different prices. Each place may have a good product or a great product depending on what the marketer says or the consumer feels at the moment. The marketing that focuses only on the product tells you about one part of the business. What buyer problem does each place solve? Perhaps one wants a place to sip a cup of coffee while accessing a wi-fi connection? Perhaps one wants a drink during a shopping trip? Perhaps one wants a convenient place to meet a friend or client? Perhaps Starbucks saves you the time needed to prepare your own coffee? If you were marketing coffee, would you segment the marketing to appeal to different needs? Is the goal of Target to sell coffee or create a shopping experience? Is the goal of Starbucks to sell coffee or offer a place to enjoy a special coffee based beverage?

Now think about information. How do you want "information" to fit into the library's marketing plans? One can own a book or borrow one. One can get a new book from vendor or borrow a copy. One can get information from the open Web or use a data base (the hidden web) purchased by the library. Readers can sit in the library and do work or pay to sit in a coffee shop. Is the library a place for information or just a place to meet friends or quietly read? How do the goals address users' needs?

The approach of library marketing should also think of all the needs of the users. Multifaceted marketing requires a plan. Standard marketing education uses the four P’s – product, place, price, and promotion. That is nonsense for both businesses and libraries because it does not address the needs of the users. To succeed under the new rules for communication, focus on what the readers need. In a school or academic library the focus may be closer to what the readers need for their classes. In a public library the needs and wants may be intertwined. When you understand what the users need and want, create compelling programs with collections tuned to the present and future needs of readers and researchers. Put the organizational goals first and the best programs will follow. Market how the library will help the readers. Some readers need information, some recreation, and some need a place.

Marketing and PR people sometimes have difficulty making their goals sync with the rest of the company. When I was working for a state agency the marketing people promised bank customers a computer program to help them use some agency services. However, they neglected to tell anyone to create the program. Marketing wanted to solve a need, but forgot to work with other departments in the organization. This is a foolish waste of time and tarnishes the institution’s image. Think about the goals of pre-Web marketing departments – “Let’s run some ads, do a few trade shows, place some articles in the press, increase Web site traffic and that will generate leads for sales people.” These are not the goals of the organization.

Organizational goals should have ways to measure success. A goal for a library program may be to reach new readers or to introduce new ideas. Success may be the number of people participating in program or creating a change in one or two people. Businesses may focus on sales leads, number of visits, or numbers shipped, while they should focus on creating long term relationships and continuing revenue. Educators and librarians know that the effects they have students may take years to flower. Long term organizational goals of libraries are sometimes found in mission statements. Here is a sample of a generic message that can be edited for many kinds of libraries.
The mission of the Memorial Library is to provide materials and programming for the readers, staff, and community.
The Library collection will consist of materials in all media that will enable members to enhance their life experiences and provide the resources for study and recreational reading.
The Library strives to provide intellectual and social stimulation through a positive library experience that will further enhance each individual’s identification with life long education.
The library staff is committed to excellence in its service to all users.

A measure for success would measure if the provisions of the mission are fulfilled. Does the collection supply the reading needs of the students? Is the building adequate to fill the space needs of the readers and collections? Are all the actions of the library staff striving for excellence? Once you have the right goals, keep the marketing and PR activities focused on the goals by learning about your users and potential users and how to full their needs.

If we want success, we must examine what is failure. If a salesman makes ten customer calls and makes only one sale, has he failed nine times? If he made enough revenue for the company and compensation for himself with the one sale, a 10% sale rate is acceptable. If the salesman and the organization learned from the no-sale calls how to do better, they succeeded in moving toward a goal of creating long term revenue. If the salesman did not work hard or learn from the no-sale calls, he failed. A library must look at every program, product, and service and figure out what went right and where is the room for improvement. Failure occurs when the task is not completed or they do not learn from experience. Excellence comes from constant improvement based on experience, knowledge, investigation and communication.

Once you have a marketing plan that is based on institutional goals and communications with your stakeholders, stick to your plan. Many people will tell you that you are wrong. Many will fight your plans to communicate directly with your stakeholders. They will base their “advice” on what they learned in another time and place. They will tell you bloggers are geeks or crackpots who don’t know anything that matters. They will tell you to focus on the “four P’s.”

They are wrong. They are thinking about the wrong goals. They are mistaken about the power of the Web. Again, they are wrong.

You are reading this online, written by a librarian who grew up without a home computer. I graduated college before the personal computer existed. However, I bought a personal computer before IBM sold their first PC. I learned about the power of the computer for communication. I am not a geek. You can learn, too. You are what you publish. The Web is a powerful tool to spread your message.

With this article I am taking a break from writing about PR and marketing. Now is the time to turn the pixels over to you. Tell me what you want to learn about marketing. What is important about spreading the word about libraries and information systems in general and how can you turn the general into the specific for your library? What kind of topics should I cover in future columns? In the era of Web 2.0, information flows in two directions from the writer to the public and from the public to the writer. Please think of the principles of marketing and spread the word that libraries are the place.

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