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Marketing Ideas for Non-Profits and Libraries

The M Word helps librarians learn about marketing trends and ideas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marketing Talk from Texas

Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in the Texas Library Association Conference for the first time. I'd never been to San Antonio -- or anywhere in Texas, for that matter -- and I got a really warm welcome. Hats off to the folks who put on the TxLA Conference; it seemed very well-organized and there were lots of great things going on there.

I was there to do two talks, and I got to attend some other good ones. I started out on Thursday, April 15, in a session called Futureproofing Your Library given by George Needham (a strategist) and Joan Frye Williams (a futurist). Some of what this lively duo said relates to marketing, although it was largely customer service. They recommend (and do, as consultants) "secret shopping," where a stranger walks around and assesses your library--inside and out, staff and service, merchandising, everything. (See their Customer Service Walkabout info at their site, under Samples, then Tools.) They also urged the crowd to make use of patron data to study customers in order to understand (and serve) them better.

Needham and Williams talked a lot about signs, not using jargon, and having customer-friendly physical layouts in library buildings. If you don't focus on hospitality, they said, people may never get deep enough into the library to realize your full value. Another thing they wanted attendees to remember was "tools, not rules." Give people the tools to find what they want, and focus less on rules, which often drive people away.

Understanding what people want was one of the themes they repeated often, and that's also the first rule of true marketing. They talked about how "civilians" (as they often referred to customers) think of libraries, according to numerous studies they cited. One way they summed it up was that civilians often think librarians are hoarding information and dispensing it in bits, which doesn't sit well in today's self-service, info-hungry society. Some patrons feel like we try to make them feel stupid, using our complicated systems. People want to be able to figure things out themselves quickly and easily.

Whatever you can do to enable that will be well-received. Being able to change with patrons' lives is probably the best way to future-proof your library.

That afternoon, I gave my first presentation, Building Community Partnerships: 25 Profitable Ideas, in which I named (you guessed it!) 25 ways you can partner with various organizations in order to get extra money, to educate people about why your library matters, and to build advocates. Here are a few of my favorite suggestions for working with others:
* grocery stores (to hold storytimes there or to get healthy snacks)
* Girl and Boy Scout troops (they can build shelves or plant gardens to earn badges)
* videogame stores (can donate coupons to reward teens who read enough books)
* professors of marketing or graphic design (to assign classes to do projects for you)

My fun and engaged audience members also shared some of their successful cooperations:
* publishers (donating copies of books for author appearances)
* a forestry organization (donated tree seedlings in exchange for meeting rooms)
* Best Buy stores (discounts)

I also offered advice on how to approach people and why they should listen. Some info professionals don't feel as if they're equal to business people or that they have much to offer in an exchange. I reminded everyone that libraries' trustworthy reputations counted for a lot in and of themselves; businesses can benefit by being associated with trustworthy, respected institutions. What's more, libraries have been proven to have positive effects on their real estate markets ( is one example). It also sounds impressive to use lines like "Libraries help level the intellectual playing field" and "Librarians defend the public's intellectual freedom."

In a forthcoming post, I'll talk about the sessions I saw on my second day in San Antonio. More to come!
Special thanks to Jessica Wilcox of the Plano PL for arranging my appearance and taking the photos of my talk!

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