Branding the Library in 7 Steps: Or what does library branding have to do with Volvos?


“Brand” matters to libraries, but it is a term that is used in many ways. Without a template or a firm definition, finding yours can turn into an endless brainstorm or arrive at a notion that is not a brand. The benefits of having a brand – persuasiveness and inspiration - are lost. Here is a way to brand your library that is consistent with how the biggest agencies in the world do it, with some of my pet peeves thrown in.

1.    Start with the unshakable belief that a brand is an idea—not a logo, mission statement, object (a high tech device), or a list. This will get you to a true brand that has unique benefits. “High Tech” can describe an object but is it an idea? Or enough of one? Hint: High-tech is a gray area between idea and service. "Relevant" may be the idea behind high-tech.

2.    Come together and ask what is your library really about. Make a list of ideas that could be a library brand. Freedom is an example. If you can’t think of one, ask: “If the library was a car what kind would it be?” If it was a Volvo, what ideas does that evoke? Is it durable, practical, liberal, trusted, or something else? Make a list of all the ideas that various cars in the marketplace can carry: joy, freedom, fun, family, tradition, intelligent, cool and beyond. The market is so crowded with ideas you may find one that works. You can also ask what kind of Volvo your library might be. Doing this as a group is great because it brings out emotions about the library and can uncover things a survey could not. If you stick to the rest of the list, it won't be an endless exercise.

3.    Choose one idea only. This is the hardest step and the deadliest. If you have two competing ideas, such as “education” and “community”, do you have the stomach to choose just one? It’s scary to do. Trying to hedge your bet is not helpful. Being everything to everyone is a wonderful goal, but it is not a brand – or even a marketing message. Metaphorically speaking, how few table legs do you need to hold up a table? Just one. That’s how to narrow the list. If you leave the room saying our brand is "X and Y and Z" you have a mission statement.

4.    Do the Brand Stress Test. Ask if the idea is helpful to your business goal, which I define as improving relationships with funding bodies -- even if the relationship with users contributes to the health of that relationship. If it is not, or has conflicting meanings for users and funding bodies, go back to a previous step. (Note that opposite ideas such as Cutting Edge or Carrying Tradition may be useful in a given context--depending on what your audiences care about.) Then ask: "Can we be that one idea?" If you answer yes, and the idea matters to the audiences, you are in a fabulous place. If you discover that your idea is an aspiration – what you almost are, but not quite – you may want to consider changing service to support branding. Branding the library may be an exercise that makes the organization more focused!

5.    Do the emotional impact test. Make your idea inspiring or choose one that is. Does “information” inspire anyone but librarians? Is it even an idea? Brands are not bland.

6.    Ask if you can own the idea in relationship to other choices that users and funding bodies have. That would mean Barnes and Noble, Google, student commons, or the children’s park. If your idea is “high tech”, it may be a fatal “us too” idea. This exercise is tougher than ever because for profit businesses know that Making the World Better or Common Good are valuable ideas. Non-profits have trouble owning it. Finding a brand position goes a long way to automatically refute the argument that "Google already does that."

7.    Do the umbrella test. If the idea is fun, can all of our services be “spun as fun.” If our idea is freedom, can our services be paths to reach it? This will make your idea believable and give you a path to where it’s fine to leave the realm of ideas and get into concrete services and benefits with your supercharger called brand.

If you a looking for an introductory book about branding check out 
The Brand Gap. I will discuss the statement “the library brand is books” in a future post.


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