March 16, 2018

Purpose Before Task

This simple phrase sums up my entire marketing approach. I came across it last Sunday, reading the New York Times and a feature on the Disney Institute’s customer service training.  Purpose Before Task.

What does that have to do with marketing? Everything.

1. Why is this the message we are delivering?

Many libraries have Homework Help Centers or Job Help Centers or do outreach work with elderly or at risk children. Fabulous. By why. That’s the power of marketing. My answer is because libraries today are transformational agencies. This work ties to our vision of “a thriving community where wisdom prevails.” Some libraries do it because of the nature of access in a free democracy. If you can’t tie it to purpose, it’s just a task. And I’d argue that even that is not enough. We need to drive harder to real outcomes in our community: we’re doing Homework Help Centers because only 70% of kids graduate from high school and our goal is to make that 90% because our city’s economy depends on it.

2. Why is this the channel we are using?

How many book marks do you think libraries produce every year? Why do we do it? I suspect because it is the easy answer. Yet we know from research that very few people attend an event because they got a book mark. They mostly attend because of word of mouth — usually our staff telling them. So what is our purpose and might we have a better way of accomplishing that purpose than a book mark.

3. Why are we holding this event or undertaking this tactic?

How does such a thing advance our purpose? For example, a nonprofit agency in town is circulating an impressive action plan for how they are going to address a particular social issue. Yet they don’t have agreement on purpose. I just can’t imagine how you can talk about tactics without clarity around purpose. Why do we do the work we do every day? It should always be driven by that purpose — or we shouldn’t be doing it.

This mantra has come in handy this past week in almost every conversation I’ve had about big things and small. See if you can use it. It’s a small world, after all.


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.