Library Marketing: From Passion to PracticeSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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The short definition of marketing is that it is a means of creating value for people. I do not know any librarians who would feel in any way at odds with this purpose, even if they dispute the merits of specific tactics. A core requirement for a more functional relationship with marketing is an understanding of what it is, what it is not, and its basic tenets and methods. Once librarians know what modern marketing is beyond unfortunate stereotypes and gut reactions, they are likely to find that it is not as alienating as it might first seem.
As far as formalized, well-established marketing definitions go, the American Marketing Association (AMA, 2013) espouses an expansive one: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” (para. 2). It is worth noting that based on the AMA’s definition, marketing is not just an activity. It encompasses institutions and processes, which illuminates how central marketing is within organizations. Adhering to the full spirit of this definition, marketing is relevant to just about anything anyone working in a library does—buying the right books and online resources, arranging them attractively on shelves, making them discoverable online, providing friendly expertise, creating informational resource guides, curating and maintaining spaces for utilizing materials, and so forth. Marketing’s centrality and pervasiveness are among its most important qualities that librarians need to recognize, adopt, and evangelize.
Building on this definition to weigh tactical considerations, we learn that, in addition to being broadly applicable, marketing is innately compatible with our operations and service philosophies. Without getting bogged down with marketing minutia, the four high-level categories of marketing activities are
- designing and developing products and services to meet people’s needs;
- determining the right level of effort, time, or money customers should spend to obtain the products or services;
- figuring out how to get the products and services to the people who need them; and
- telling people about the products and services.
Marketing texts sum up these tasks as “The Four Ps”: (1) product, (2) price, (3) place, and (4) promotion (Kahn, 2014, p. 95). Despite all of the work that goes into each of these important areas, most people, even many marketers, identify marketing exclusively with number 4 (promotion). Promotion includes marketing’s most easily observed output, including advertisements, fundraising events, social media campaigns, and so on. Unfortunately, promotion’s close association with marketing gives the rest of marketing short shrift. As far as librarians are concerned, equating marketing with promotion is like judging a book by its cover. And more detrimental, if librarians focus on promotion at the expense of the other activities, then they neglect the most important aspect of marketing—creating value for users.
To understand better this tendency to equate promotion and marketing, try for a moment to think about a service you would like to introduce in your library or a languishing one you would like to improve. Now imagine that you are forbidden to promote that service. You cannot hang a flyer, post a photo to Instagram, or even send an e-mail. How would you go about marketing it? Which aspects of the service would you focus on changing or creating? You might ask yourself important, necessary questions about the service, such as what problems it addresses; who it is intended for and what you know about them; whether someone else is already doing something similar and how what you offer is better; what patrons expect; how, when, and where the service is used; and so on. These kinds of questions about the broader marketplace—including competitors, user behavior, use cases, and market demographics and needs—are exactly the sorts of questions marketers need to ask to make sure offerings are relevant, needed, accessible, and perhaps even sought-after. By avoiding reliance on pushing communications out to people in hopes of persuading them to want our service, we free ourselves to think deeply about how we might adapt our services in order to create something our users want to begin with. Making this intentional distinction is fundamental for any attempt to adopt marketing.