“Marketing is the last profession to be invited in to the library world,” my executive director, Patrick Losinski, said when I told him that I would be starting this blog. IT, Finance, Human Resources – many libraries now staff those departments with professionals. But marketing is still considered a stretch assignment at many libraries. To me that demonstrates a confusion between marketing and the tactics that make up marketing. Having a staff member who has a graphic
design interest make a poster for an event is not marketing. That is promotion.
Pat suggested that I start with the terms in marketing, which I have found –
throughout my whole marketing career – get confused and misapplied.
In that spirit, here goes: Marketing is really a high level strategy, not the tactics that give life to that strategy. Overall, it is an organization’s way of continuing to meet the needs of customers and ensuring that they get value in return. To cite an official source, the American Marketing Association marketingpower.com defines marketing as: “an organizational function
and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to
customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the
organization and its stakeholders.”
Because libraries have been pretty good at following customer interests and demands, it probably feels to some like libraries already have this covered. Front line staff knows what books and materials customers are interested in, are well acquainting with what computer programs the public craves. But that is what I’m talking about.
Marketing is all about process and strategy, not just tactics. It always starts with market research so that you know as much about your current and potential customers as possible: what their needs are, which needs you can meet and how. Also what needs you don’t or can’t meet – often as important as the ones you do. Marketing analyzes the competition (and yes, libraries do have competition. Lots of it.) And marketing focuses on the 4 Ps, which for libraries might be:
Product: information, knowledge, relationships with library staff
Price: for most public libraries taxpayers set the price of our product through taxes, levies, and bonds
Position: what do we want our customers to think, feel, believe about libraries?
Promotion: increasing market share (i.e. awareness) through advertising, promotion, public relations.
Think about that picture of the lemonade stand. You know people are thirsty so you give them something to drink. Lemonade maybe. You make sign and set up a table in your front yard. That’s not marketing. That’s responding to an opportunity.
Researching if/what people want to drink (product), studying how much they’ll pay for it (price) figuring out the best location to place a lemonade stand (position) and then – the last thing – is the sign (promotion.) That’s marketing.