Last month I attended what I can barely believe was my FIFTH music library conference with IAML (UK & Irl)! A short trip across the Pennines in Manchester this year, I had a great time and seem to get more jobs to do every year with my Music Libraries Trust hat on and this year I also led a ‘quick-fire’ session on professional networking. To keep the post from getting too unwieldy, I’ve split it into two. This one is on the excellent marketing session titled ‘Effective Library Marketing and Methods of Demonstrating Value.’
Neil MacInnes (Manchester Libraries) gave a talk on the marketing strategy of Manchester’s library service. We all know about their capital investment programme having seen the beautiful Manchester Central Library, but Neil said they are still actively trying to improve the service and promote what he termed their ‘universal offer.’ He made the crucial point that even though public libraries are a statutory service, it is still a ‘service of choice’ and so needs promoting to and uptake by the community.
Neil shared their six step marketing plan: 1) Brand – for a large public library system with many branches like Manchester, consistency was key. 2) Signage – with the introduction of self service, it became even more important to have clear, concise instructional signage. Neil also emphasised having positive messages rather than loads of signs with all the things you’re not allowed to do. 3) Customer segmentation and targeting (here’s where it got a bit jargon heavy!) – they researched community trigger points, i.e. what triggers people to start using the library in Manchester, for example starting studies or having children. They also plotted heat maps of who lives where and how various age groups are concentrated around the city. All of this information then helped to inform library services. 4) Promotion, programmes and channels – this aspect of the marketing plan included running events, collaboration with local partners and wider city-wide events (e.g. Manchester Jazz Festival), and promoting the library via social media. 5) Online presence and customer journey – this involved revamping their website along usability/user experience lines, basically making it easier to do things online. 6) Review of experience, feedback and data – probably everyone does a bit of this, whether a user survey or informal chat at the counter to get feedback. Neil mentioned a survey project where they got teens to survey their peers in the library, which seemed to be an effective approach. My final impression was that even though this was quite an elaborate, multi-pronged and formal marketing plan for a very large, urban library system, there were points in each step that any library could take on board.
Next Penny Hicks (University of Manchester Library) shared on the topic of marketing campaigns that work and aren’t scary! She gave a bit of a marketing crash course and said marketing in a library context is about connecting with customers: finding out and supplying what they need, when they need it and supporting their work in a relevant, timely manner with appropriate training. Their marketing methodology follows this step by step process: robust research, identifying areas to change/innovate, remaining grounded in an understanding of the offer, identifying what success would look like, implementation, and evaluation. Simple, right??
She went on to give an example form Manchester University that helped flesh this out. They decided to ‘measure changes in perception’, and if I remember correctly, this is to do with figuring out if there is a gap in what library staff think students think about the library, and what students actually think about the library and whether this has changed since the last time they looked at this area. So they proceeded to do some customer journey mapping, and actually followed students around the library with a video camera as the student attempted to complete a task, such as finding a book. It turns out this simple task was far from easy, requiring much wandering around and repeatedly going back to ask directions from staff. The research prompted a painful realisation that the library needed to get back to the ‘core business,’ i.e. back to the basics of providing information that is accessible and well organised. The research resulted in changes to for example signage and more visible library staff wearing T-shirts that said “Ask me.”
Finally there was a Q&A with the panel. Neil responded to a question about promoting library services and said they’d done a campaign called ‘Meet the neighbours’, basically getting staff out of the library into the community. This was done through pop-up libraries on the high street and in businesses.
Another question about getting user feedback and survey fatigue prompted the panel to talk about strategies such as student ambassadors who can both give feedback and recruit their peers. Timing of a survey is important, e.g. don’t clash with the NSS. Penny mentioned the valuable qualitative feedback they’ve gotten from researcher groups.
So that’s your crash course in library marketing! Part 2 of the conference coming soon.