February 17, 2018

Using Branding to Reinvent Yourself

If your library isn’t thinking hard about how to rebrand itself to stay relevant, call me. It’s not too late, but believing that we can continue to coast on the library legacy is a peril. I just finished re-reading How Green Was My Valley, and it’s like the looming coal slag inevitably overtaking the town: change is coming and change we must.

But libraries aren’t alone. I read this interesting and well-written article about how business behemoths like Microsoft are reinventing themselves through branding — with great success.

The three companies cited took a risk and it has paid off tremendously and resulted in what the article calls a “brand-pivot“:

Hyundai. Never before had an automaker guaranteed that they would take back your car if you lost your job. Through such an offer “Hyundai responded to the deep fear in the hearts and minds  of the buying public with a simple message: we’re all in this together. Hyundai listened to customers about their biggest fears, expeditiously addressed those fears in a contextually relevant way.”  Wow. Isn’t that the essence of marketing? How does this translate to library users? Have we asked them what is their biggest fear and positioned ourselves smack dab in the middle of that fear as a way out?

Microsoft. After a number of debacles and a reputation as a warlord, Microsoft redefined itself through its “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea ” campaign. “Microsoft is starting to pivot its brand by by finding its softer side, and is increasingly being seen as an approachable partner.” How can libraries embrace this concept of opening our doors and letting our customers into our brand?

Domino’s.I guess I missed out on how bad Domino’s had become, but through negative comments through social media, Domino’s got the message loud and clear and openly acknowledged that their product was inferior. That takes guts! “So Domino’s made the ultimate pivot by testing, learning, experimenting, and ultimately reformulating its recipe, explicitly acknowledging that basically nothing was right with the old product.” Domino’s just posted their most lucrative quarter in a long time. Do any of our libraries need a dusting off in the minds of customers, repositioning themselves with a new recipe of relevance?

So read the whole article and think how we can use the lessons learned for libraries.

Alison Circle About Alison Circle

Alison Circle is director of marketing communications for Columbus Metropolitan Library. Previously she was an Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency, and her primary client was Target Stores. Prior to that she was the National Marketing Director for Minnesota Public Radio and "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor." She has advanced degrees in English and Fine Arts, and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.



  1. Hi – I wonder if Hyundai and Microsoft are good examples for libraries; their changes seemed to be in their ad campaigns versus their product or operations. Dominos on the other hand, took a hard look at itself, did hard iterative work and adjusted its recipe to offer something of value in a crowded market.

    For public libraries, a huge first step would be to personally engage non-users about their unmet citizenship needs. I believe there are significant contemporary needs that the market or other public agencies will not address — and reformulated libraries are uniquely suited to address. My hunch is these needs are consistent with libraries’ traditional mission and values, though not necessarily with their current operations and product offerings.

    To reduce the risk of soliciting a response “they want exactly what we have”, I’d recommend libraries enlist partners outside their establishments to engage non-users. The publishing or newspaper industries may be natural allies, for they are both engaged in examining their own ‘recipes’ and would benefit from stronger libraries. There are also terrific organizations such as the National Priorities Project and Pro Publica that might be able to provide consulting or resources.

    This post and lively discussion on the Scholarly Kitchen blog is an example of the dialogue taking place in the STM space: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2010/05/24/when-did-print-become-an-input/.