Tapping into the Zen of marketing
Libraries strut their stuff and gather insightful data with a more retail-oriented approach to pursuing new patrons
LATE IN 1999, Ohio’s Lakewood Public Library recognized it had a problem or, more aptly, a challenge: after running some studies on its service area, it discovered that one of its biggest subset of residents was hardly using the library. “Many people had a perception of Lakewood as being a city of families and senior citizens,” said John Guscott, Lakewood PL’s manager of electronic services. “Our experiences at the library over the past few years suggested otherwise-that it was fast becoming a city dominated by young, professional (but nonmainstream) singles.”
As a group, there was very little in the collection specific to Gen Xers to pique their somewhat bohemian, countercultural lifestyles. Further, library staff didn’t know enough about them to offer materials that catered to their literary and musical proclivities.
Lakewood’s problem was not unusual: traditional libraries have had a difficult time reaching Gen Xers, and the rise of the Internet hasn’t made that job any less difficult.
Today, Lakewood has no such problem. The Gen X crowd frequents the library for a rich array of programming and diverse book and CD collections just for them. “Our circ for audio CDs has just flown off the charts,” says Guscott.
The elusive Gen Xer
The story of how Lakewood PL was able to identify and target this significant subset, learn more about its predilections, and then act on that profile by delivering more materials that would attract that elusive group is a testament to libraries’ newfound willingness to employ marketing techniques and a service imperative once reserved for retail operations. Lakewood PL’s ability to ferret out this missing chunk of potential patron base stems from the research efforts of Guscott. A Gen Xer himself at 29, Guscott employed two techniques referred to in marketing parlance as “market segmentation” and “geodemographics.” Essentially, both processes allow the user to slice and dice potential patrons into meaningful, definable cross sections.
Gusscott worked with a program called “You Are Where You Live” (YAWYL) (www.delluke.claritas.conff YAWUL/aboutprizm.wjsp) created by Claritas and its net-based arm, ClaritasExpress, which offers marketing solutions and software. YAWYL is part of Claritas’s PRIZM lifestyle segmentation system, which is based on the premise that people with similar lifestyles tend to live near each other. According to web site information, PRIZM defines every neighbourhood in the United States in terms of demographically and behaviorally distinct types or “clusters”.
Guscott had a conversation with Lakewood PL Director Ken Warren in December 1999 to address the need to define and pursue dormant subsets of the library’s patron base. Less than two months later, Guscott submitted to his boss a marketing report using the PRIZM software, having divided residents in the Lakewood PL service area into nine clusters, ranked by sixe. For example, Guscott classified the largest cluster as “Urban Achievers,” documenting how many lived in Lakewood, 14,433, which he calculated comprised nearly 26 percent of Lakewood PL’s total population in its service area. He also compiled some very specific information about their ethnicity, age range, level of education, type of information (e.g. “white collar/professional”), type of housing (rent or own), median income, median home value, key issues (“gay rights or environmental protection”) and politics (e.g., “liberal independent”).
Targeting consumer tastes
However, the most intriguing part of the cluster profile and the area that provided Lakewood PL with the most insight into each duster’s general consumer tastes was the section entitled Consumer Pattern. Here the first group and largest cluster, Urban Achievers, were characterized as “behaving like middle-class sophisticates” and gravitating toward a welter of consumer outlets, products, and brands, including “speciality shops, ethnic markets, family restaurants, delis, sushi bars, taco joints, Nordstorm, jazz music, Kias, Volkswagens, and Nissans.” Their composite “Interests” were also telling: “multiculturalism, intellectually challenging pursuits, theater, adult education, libraries, public broadcasting, and alternative health.”
“Any kind of cluster has basic values and what you want to do is find out what those values are and reflect that in your collection while leaving some room for discovery at the library,” says Guscott. “Then we took it to the next step and figured out the programming and content that would attract them to the library.”
However, the notion that all libraries are forever trying to drive usage by figuring out ways to expand their patron base is not realistic. Faced with limited financial resources and an often overburdened staff, many libraries are simply trying to provide first-rate service to the patrons they already have.”
“Usually people who use the library love the library,” reasons William Ptacek, director of the King County Library System (KCLS), Seaule, one of the busiest libraries in the country based on its record of circulating roughly 13 million books annually. “So there hasn’t been a good incentive to seek out ways to better serve customers or recruit new ones because we have so many using the library already.”
Arming the noncompetitor
Thus libraries haven’t traditionally behaved competitively by seeking to stake a claim to a specific constitution or audience. Now, however, with incursions being made on a number of fronts, e.g., bookstores and the Internet, some librarians have pushed their organizations to think about pursuing new patrons more aggressively. “We know that we have to compete to get business, and libraries typically haven’t thought that way,” says Gale Group CEO Allen Paschal. “Prior to the electronic age, they were the [undisputed] foundation for information in their communities, and now there is competition from AOL and Yahoo. Thus there is a danger that the virtual library will pass them by if they don’t let people know they are at the center of the information universe.”
Paschal admits that libraries’ reticence in marketing their virtues has “bothered” him because “libraries have better information and people don’t know it.” He readily acknowledges Gale’s vested interest—“obviously our existence goes hand-in-hand with libraries”—in attempting to help them market themselves more effectively.
Sensitive to librarians’ increasing desire to tout their institutions while lacking the financial wherewithal or expertise to do it, Gales has posted at its web site (www.gale.com) an assortment of free downloadable marketing resources based on the company’s “Find yourself in the library” campaign. Libraries can customize these resources to address their own marketing objectives.
Billboards for LOUIS
Gale has also invested in an experimental marketing foray with Louisiana’s LOUIS system, a statewide library consortium consisting of more than 120 public, academic, and school libraries. In an effort to help LOUIS push the visibility of its homepage (http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/louis/) as a statewide access point for an extensive army of online databases and resources, Gale paid for a billboard advertising campaign. Although LOUIS Director Ralph Bee concedes the “full impact of the billboards has not been felt yet,” Gale officials say they are willing to experiment and include value-added marketing strategies and investments in their future dealings with libraries.
King County’s Ptacek has fought against the strategically limiting axiom of “doing the best we can for the people we have” with some innovative marketing efforts that have pushed library use in his area to even higher levels. Ptacek details the source of his motivation. “I don’t think it’s a given that people will always use libraries and think about them the same way they do now.” King County employed a strategy of brand marketing in an effort to drive use of its electronic resources and databases. “We were spending all this money on databases and people weren’t using them as much as we would’ve liked,” explains Ptacek. The centerpiece of KCLS’s brand marketing strategy was a campaign to circulate 600,000 library cards to every student in King County.
Several months before kicking off the campaign, Ptacek and his staff deliberately embarked on a process of discovery, by hiring a pollster to “do an analysis of our market,” increasingly the telltale sign of a marketing-savvy library. In fact, Ptacek says he keeps a local research firm on retainer to help formulate focus groups and other data-gathering endeavours. According to Ptacek, the pollster gave them a good news/not-so-good news scenario: while 75 percent of the 400 family households said they had used a King County library in the last year, only 25 percent of this highly wired community said they had connected to KCLS’s homepage. Ptacek thought the library card campaign could literally double the homepage access rate to 50 percent of all King County family households.
KCLS’s library foundation kicked in $150,000 to pay for promotion of the campaign and also paid for all of the library cards. Ptacek says the campaign was a huge success: database use via the KCLS homepage rose from a precampaign average of 300,000 hits per month, to more than 700,000 hits per month.
However, the country is chock-full of a whole cross section of libraries that could never afford to keep a marketing firm on retainer. Even among those that have a foundation, there is little chance that they could appropriate foundation money for promotion or research when an infusion of new materials or technology upgrades beckon. So what is a less affluent library to do?
“We’re always looking for people who don’t use the library,” says Nancy Dowell, director of the Vigo County PL (VCPL), IN. “We take advantage of all the demographic information we can get our hands on.” In an effort to save money and pool resources, VCPL has sought to partner with other local agencies, businesses, or institutions to promote a local event. The library’s sponsorship and promotion of “Family Learning Day” in downtown Terre Haute with the local business association garnered it the 2001 Marketing of the Year Award from the Wabash Valley Chapter of the American Marketing Association. Dowell says the library sought to promote the revitalization of the economically blighted downtown in combination with the concept of family literacy.
In some cases, perception is just as important as any well-oiled, assiduously researched marketing plan. Ferguson PL Director Emie DiMattia’s goal of having a Starbucks on its premises was to “add quality to the experience of those who currently use the library.” But, most importantly, says DiMattia, was the public perception of the library, based in downtown Stamford, CT, as a relatively “in” place. Ferguson is only the second public library to house a full-service Starbucks franchise. DiMattia and staff have added other touches: a passport office and a “Friends of the Ferguson Library Used Bookshop.”
According to Greg Buss, chief librarian at British Columbia’s Public Library, the staff didn’t have to hire any market research firms or pore over demographic, data to discern the needs of the public. Buss says staff simply “took very seriously” the patron comment forms that most libraries offer. The types of things on the public’s wish list are not uncommon to any public librarian. “They wanted longer hours, more technology, more books, and more personalized service—really more of everything,” he says. “Customers have never been shy about what they want, but I think we have been shy in giving it to them.”
Slicing and dicing the constituency: a comparison of two of Lakewood, OH’s “Clusters”
Bohemian Mix American Dreams Percent living in
18.9% (1.7%of U.S.) 5.0% (1.4% of U.S.) Number living in Lakewood 10,967 2,828 Cluster rank for Lakewood 2 6 Description Progressive, eclectic group of executives, students,
artists, and writers;
live in rented high-rises; very few children;
75% single or divorced;
33% are gay
Immigrants and descendants
who typify the American Dream;
affluent married couples with or
without children who work hard at multiple trades and public service jobs;
often have big families
Family types Single Mixed Ethnicity Ethnically diverse Ethnically diverse Predominant
25-44 Mixed Education College Graduate Some College,
Employment Professional White Collar Housing Type Rental of Multi-Unit Owner of Single-Unit Median Income Mid to High 30K Low to Mid 50K Median Home Value $135,452 $180,900 Politics Liberal Democrat Liberal Democrat Key Issues Gay rights,
defusing racial tensions
eliminating affirmative action
Early adopter consumer pattern,
quick to try new products,
beer, and cheese,
New cars, boats,
Is the “Library of the Future” the future of the library?
How many libraries allow food and drink anywhere in the building and call its most heavily used room the “living room”? With its newfangled Ironwood branch, British Columbia’s Richmond PL is recasting the conventional notions of what a library can and should be.
Although the idea of allowing kids to do their homework while they lay sprawled on the floor munching potato chips and sipping soda might be anathema to some librarians, most sit up and take notice of some of Ironwood’s gaudy annual usage numbers: 12,000 program attendees and 100,000 hours of net time used. Perhaps most impressive are its circulation statistics: the library circulates more than 750,000 items annually, which means it circulates its 65,000-item collection more than 11 times. Ironwood, at 12,000 square feet, does this with 13 FEEs.
Apparently the public library world has taken notice. Public library officials from King County, San Jose, Solano County, Santa Clara, New York, Chicago, and southern New Jersey have all made pilgramages to British Columbia to talk to Chief Librarian Greg Buss and Deputy Chief Librarian Cate McNeely about Richmond PL’s self-anointed “Library of the Future.”
The concept for the Ironwood branch came from a “series of epiphanies” that occurred from looking at trends and developments outside the library. Perhaps most important, staff noticed the emerging trend of self-service in the retail sector and considered how to adapt it to a new branch library in which they could incorporate innovations from the ground up.
Their idea, according to McNeely, was to automate certain library functions, checking out books principal among them, to “free up the library staff to have more meaningful interactions with customers.”
One of the main lessons learned from developing the forward-thinking Ironwood branch was that it could be done without huge infusions of money, said Buss. “It required a lot of planning and really working together with the staff, the board, and the community. It’s not impossible to have a library with a good selection of books and the latest technology,” he said. “You can have food in the library and the world won’t fall apart.”