...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.
I was listening to a comedy podcast called UH Yeah Dude when one of the hosts complained about a bad experience at Starbucks that cast a shadow over his whole day. He said: “That is the one sort of bright spot in my day, when I come in and they start making my favorite drink and know who I am.” I think they got his drink wrong. Of course, he has amplified his feelings for comedic effect but a positive interaction with the staff is what he is buying on an emotional level. The least important thing Starbucks people do is ring the register and operate the machines.
That’s why I cringe when I see self-check machines at libraries. For political reasons I abhor the machines when I see them at Safeway and OSH because people are on their way out. In libraries, I cringe because self check machines are a marketing opportunity lost in terms of building awareness and controlling the brand: the "idea" of the library that best serves its aims.
I am not saying that libraries should reinforce the perception of antiquation, but rather that the machines don’t do enough marketing-wise (providing convenience, showing modernity) not to melt them with blow torches.
Is Dewey Destructive?
Libraries seeking to be just “like any commercial site or business” have lost a touch of their brand. That mantra is destructive. Is modern always good? I am not saying that libraries should reinforce the perception of antiquation, but rather that the machines don’t do enough marketing-wise (providing convenience, showing modernity) not to melt them with blow torches. The little sentinels communicate “only stuff matters” rather than “#librariesmatter.” I’ll take the antiquated person over the self-check machines when it comes to a marketing – and real – impact for libraries. Self-check machines are not helping the brand any and the financial gain may not be worth it. It’s clear that mobile access, social integration, and great search interfaces modernize the library image just fine.
The Marketing Opportunity
I heard a library director say that the circ desk can be the one and only point of contact with a patron. That is precious time.
At markets the checkers ask: Did you find anything you need? At banks they use the title “sales associate” for what used to be called tellers. At Wells Fargo, they are way into relationship selling. Greeters try to make you feel good and find out if you are a loan prospect; and clerks refer you to a loan agent even for administrative tasks.
This is an aggressive, corporate tactic (Hustling people to a reference librarian is absurd.) but striking up a conversation with a library user at the circ desk can lead to more interactions. In a piece I wrote about outreach at Brooklyn Public Library, a comment about a man’s natty attire turned in to his artwork going up in the library and later a fortuitous meeting with the Humans of New York blog photographer.
Breaking down the barriers between the outreach librarian, reference librarian, and circulation experts might lead to more and better conversations with users. I’d say everyone should check out books no matter what professional or pay barriers have been erected. I see librarians as the best marketing channel.
One can post library collections to Facebook all day, but libraries have librarians, which embody values and provide information “plus.” The plus is a community connection, and I’d argue that community – the idea – is an appropriate brand for the library endeavor. I think framing library information around librarians (like Spenser’s Picks) is better than “stuff marketing.” Self-check machines make libraries look like stuff places, with nothing more to offer. One that you should leave as quickly and efficiently as possible!
Inviting Conversation is a Sound Marketing Tactic
In one of the worst ideas in Marketing History, Starbucks instructed their clerks to engage patrons in conversations about racial issues. Was abortion taken?
However, the principle holds. The ALA Libraries Transform Campaign is a wonderful springboard to starting conversations. Their Because statements are provocative and might prompt patrons to ask what they mean.
For example, the search vs. research "Because" statement (above) can be an invitation to talk about reference services and internet classes. If patrons ask about the signs at the circ desk, the staff will have some talking points ready. This may be an unwelcome tactic for staff (or even cheesy), but if you think about it a library user may leave the library thinking differently about the library and learning more about what it has to offer. I believe in giving librarians freedom to interact with a campaign like this is a marketing opportunity seized.
"Welcome to your community library” might suffice at the circ desk. You don’t need a big campaign for this.
There was once a study of reference librarians that said the interaction quality was more important than finding what they needed in terms of satisfaction. A self-check machine cannot provide this – yet. But time is running out; the singularity is approaching and libraries need to get ahead of the game.
Four Ways to Market from the Circ Desk
At any rate, it’s time to scrap library self-check machines, hopefully in the manner of disgruntled workers smashing the printer in Office Space. Cue the gangsta rap music.