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Libraries offer a great product to their customers.

They offer educational resources that help people solve their most pressing problems and achieve their most cherished aspirations. And, in most cases, they offer this stuff for free. How can you beat that?

Strange to relate, then, that marketing efforts at many libraries are stuck in low gear. Customers don’t know what their libraries have to offer. If you look around at what the most effective library marketers are doing, it isn’t secret sauce, inborn creative genius, or voodoo magic. It’s the consistent application of a few simple ideas

Here are four steps that form the basis of the most effective library marketing programs out there.

1. Pick an audience

Think about the groups or categories of people that you most want to reach. Who are they?

  • Elementary kids?
  • Mothers of young kids?
  • Retirees?

List all the groups you can think of, and then pick just one. This may feel wrong at first because we believe we’re supposed to serve everyone. The trouble is, though, that you can’t craft a relevant-feeling message for “everyone”. Picking one specific audience will focus your thinking and help you connect with that specific group.

Save the other groups for another day. When your marketing becomes effective, you’ll be assured of lots of other days.

2. Make a plan

Identify the places (both real and virtual) where these people are to be found. Identify 5 ways that you could put a message in front of those people. For physical spaces, maybe it’s a flyer, a sign, a poster, or a library staff person. For virtual spaces, maybe it’s a series of tweets, Facebook posts, ads, or new elements on your website. If you can’t think of specific places, your audience isn’t specific enough. Your plan should have two parts:

  • A schedule that lays out the dates by which you will craft and post a message using each of your 5 chosen messaging media.

  • What outcome you hope to see from this campaign (circulation of specific materials, attendance at specific events, etc.). Specific desired outcomes are essential to measuring success as noted below.

3. Tell a story

As you craft each of your messages, make sure they tell a consistent story your chosen audience can see themselves within. A story does a few important things: 

  • It creates an emotional connection

  • It stirs imagination

  • It ends with the benefit your chosen audience will reap from engagement with your library

Keep in mind that stories don’t require a lot of words. A single picture can tell a story. A phrase can tell a story. In this image, for example, a child is finding success because of the homework help at Clement Public Library.


4. Measure what’s working

With every messaging media you choose, you’ll need to find a way to measure response. For many virtual messages, there are often immediate ways to track response--clicks, impressions, likes, etc... For physical media, you may simply have to resort to old fashioned surveys and asking people how they heard about the event or resources you’re promoting. Measuring is critical because it lets you refine your efforts over time.

Some things won’t work. Smart marketers are not people who magically produce great results every time. Smart marketers take pains to measure what’s working, learn from their mistakes, and eventually find what works.

Download 7 Habits of Effective Libraries eBook

Jared Oates

Jared comes to Niche Academy with a love for teaching and learning. He's a self-taught software engineer and graduated from college with two teaching-emphasis degrees. He finds endless fascination in the ways that new technology changes lives and reshapes the world around him.

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