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Be Selective to Be Effective
Market segmentation is the practice of grouping people who share certain characteristics that influence how receptive they are likely to be to your service offerings. As I began to explore in my discussion of metrics and return on investment, marketing is predicated upon the ability to assess a large market of existing and potential customers and divide them into logical subgroups of manageable size. This marketing practice is often hard for librarians to reconcile with their innate desire to serve as many people as possible at all times, but the idea suggests that they can actually serve more people better by not serving everyone equally. While we may not always recognize it, librarians actually practice segmentation all the time. In academic libraries, we commonly think of users in terms of status (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, staff) and affiliation (school, department, community member, home institution). We may even subdivide these groups further, breaking undergraduates down into ranks (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior). In public libraries, we tailor services to parents, children, seniors, entrepreneurs, and new community arrivals, and we establish branch locations based on population. Consequently, the segmentation concept is not foreign to libraries. More alien to us is the idea that there would be people we do not proactively serve continuously. Each of us wants to serve everyone, but realistically we know we will never see 100% of our potential users. We may welcome any undergraduate into our library, but we know that students whose coursework requires using library materials are much more likely to use library collections. Given these facts, our work could be much more effective if we were to intentionally subdivide and serve this group according to its particular needs. Setting our sights specifically on undergraduates with library assignments puts our focus on studying and solving the most pressing needs of that group, which in turn should make our marketing more relevant and resonant than something aimed at undergraduates generically.
For some, segmentation is a subtle shift in mind-set, while for others it is a major departure from how we think of our users and service imperatives. When we interact with those whom we have identified as our most likely customers and then apply measurements to evaluate the success of those interactions, we are applying our scarce time and resources where they are mostly likely to produce lasting benefits for both our users and our libraries. Indeed, studies show that customers who are satisfied, are committed to keeping a relationship with a brand, and trust an organization are more likely to share positive word of mouth with others (Lang & Hyde, 2013, p. 11), who are then more likely to use the offerings. While it may initially seem counterintuitive, serving a select group well allows a library the goodwill, referrals, and perhaps even increased funds necessary to expand its reach further into that segment and other segments that might have been outside its reach previously.
Another way to use the market segmentation exercise to expand a library’s impact is by thinking creatively about how it can extend its current services to expensive-to-acquire new or underserved groups. As a library carves its market, librarians should think about group characteristics and needs that might cause people to react positively to their services. For example, we can consider the many people who walk into libraries in search of space and equipment that will help them to be productive. Surely there is a “Needs to Get Work Done” user segment in almost every library that would be looking for similar things—quiet places, whiteboards, printers, and so on. That segment would likely have people in it who cut across more traditional segments like faculty and students, entrepreneurs, and job seekers. Could a librarian create an innovative service focused on satisfying this particular group? Such creative thinking about segments could help librarians expend resources efficiently while also distinguishing them in the marketplace, giving their libraries heightened visibility.
When it comes to segmentation, therefore, we should not settle for the answer “everyone” when asking, “Who is this service for?” “Who?” is among the most important questions librarians have to answer in their marketing journeys, as it will inform nearly every other decision and should be given the dedicated thought it deserves.