February 16, 2018

Marketing Creates Real Value

Once again Tina Thomas at Edmonton Public Library knocked it out of the ball park. Her webinar with Urban Libraires Council was inspiring. (Sorry to those of you who were surprised by the cost. I wasn’t aware.) I scribbled notes as fast as I could and wanted to share with you highlights that I took away.

What is a brand?

I often say a brand is a promise you make to your customer. Tina added this well-stated thought: “Brand is the intangible sum of attributes, the promise, the big idea and the expectations that reside in each customer’s mind about a product, service or company.”

The EPL Brand Development Process

Loved the articulation the process: 1)Research; 2)Values; 3)Creative; 4)Execution; 5)Stewardship. The process is a balance of analytic and creative and works  to achieve a deep understanding of who you are.  And use this quotation! : “Marketing is not cake decorating. It is not done at the end of a project. If it is done well, it is integrated at the beginning.”

Open to All vs All Things to All People

This is a perpetual conflict in libraries. If we try to be all things to all people — which has been our historic mandate — in today’s world our brand is profoundly diluted. I love this quotation she used: “The goal is not to do business with everyone who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

The Importance of Language

Words are the tools that create perceptions and ideas in people’s minds. EPL has excelled in writing smart and clever. That is hard to do and hard to do well consistently. As they created their Shared Values Wheel, they challenged themselves to push through jargon, including phrases that — I’m guessing — would not be seen as jargon to most libraries. Thus Customer-Centered becomes Open and Human; Intellectual Freedom becomes Ideas Champion.  Love it!

Lessons Learned

Tina shared a list of lessons learned throughout this rebranding process:

1) It is better to do a few things well than many things poorly. Nothing is better than something done poorly.

2) Work hard to get staff involved. They are your front-line brand ambassadors and need to be fully bought in.

3) Direct connections to the customer are almost always best.

4) With advertising, go big. In today’s cluttered marketplace, it is the only way to have impact.

5) Be consistent. Leading brands are comprehensive. It’s not just print or web, it is social media, buildings, people and the total experience.

Thanks, Tina, for sharing your great work!

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. Tina Thomas says:

    Thanks for the high praise Alison! I have to clarify one point. As I shared in the presentation, Micheal Donovan from Donovan Creative, the consultant we worked with to develop our new brand is the source of the quote that marketing is not cake decorating. The image works so well for me. It’s not something done at the end to make things look pretty. When it’s done well it’s integrated right at the start.

  2. Tina Thomas says:

    Second quote on doing business with those who believe what you believe is from Simon Sinek and his TEDtalk on leadership.

  3. Edmonton was right on with “It is better to do a few things well than many things poorly.”

    As a first step in brand development, I’d suggest every library review their services and honestly name those for which they’re not the #1 or #2 provider. Those services need to be retired and the others need investment and promotion.

    These ideas are covered in greater depth in “Running our public libraries like a business” at http://www.radicalpatron.com/run-libraries-like-business/