New Marketing Trends

Marketing Ideas for Non-Profits and Libraries

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Choose a Target Audience First
This guest post from M Word founder Nancy Dowd is a cautionary tale: 

Choosing target audiences and asking what we can do for them has been a learning process for all of us in the library field. Sometimes we create events that we are interested in, but our users are not. 

I remember a number of years ago, when I made the classic marketing faux pas by creating a program without looking for input from the community, and I suffered the consequences: getting lower participation than I had planned. It was the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech (,
 and there was going to be a huge gathering in Washington, D.C. Our team was completely psyched and decided to sponsor a bus trip down to D.C. To make it even more appealing, we priced the day-long trip ridiculously cheaply. We completed the details. We designed a fantastic t-shirt, printed posters, listed the event on calendars, in churches, and landed some spots in the paper. 

Everything was planned perfectly -- except the only people who signed up were staff members. Fortunately, a member of the team was a preacher's granddaughter, and after an awe-inspiring speech from the pulpit and a few individual conversations, they were able to fill the bus for us. The event was a success; everyone had a great time. We had arranged with the local media to call in reports they could use for their articles, and had arranged to have a few members of the community who had been at the original event interviewed. We pulled it off.

But why hadn't we gotten people to sign up originally? Why didn't the community respond the way we thought they would?

First off, we put the event before the audience -- never a good thing to do. We were psyched about the event and wanted to go ourselves, so we figured out a way to make it happen. But that's called a "road trip," not a "library event." The difference is that the former serves an individual's need and the latter serves a community's needs. Great ideas are a good beginning, but they need to fit into a larger picture that begins with the question, "Who am I trying to reach?" Or in marketing terms, "Who is my target audience?"

In the case of the bus trip, the real target audience was our own library team. Of course we didn't say that at the time, but in fact whenever anyone plans something without identifying an audience or asking for input from that group, the target audience is the planning team. This is a classic mistake a lot of people make. In our case it would have been very easy to target some community organizations: historical societies, political groups, the NAACP, churches, etc.

Had we chosen some target audiences, then we would have wanted to meet up with influencers from those groups and find out if this would be something that would benefit them and, if so, what the event should be like. We'd have set up a communication format where people could exchange ideas, keep up-to-date on the planning progress, and volunteer for various steps. We'd talk about how this event could fit into a larger vision of collaboration between the library and the groups. Nowadays this would be done through a few meetings, social networks, conference calls, etc.

This work -- choosing a segment of people, finding out what they want, building a relationship -- is the foundation for your marketing. It's building a program around people's needs and establishing partnerships with the folks who will promote your program for you.

I know this sounds like a lot of work -- maybe too much work for the little time you have in your day. But we have to remember why we are doing things. Sure, we were able to call our event a success because we filled the bus and everyone had a great experience. But if we looked at the bigger picture, we had missed a terrific opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with our community that would have resulted in not only a full bus, but maybe also in more use of the library. 

The good news is that as those relationships are built, the communication process gets easier. So get to know your target audiences! That makes the rest of your marketing tasks more successful. 

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