While I was battling the forces of chaos at work and at home last week I missed a couple of great posts by Jeff Brooks on the always insightful DonorPower blog. Both make the point that it's what you do and how you do it, NOT how good you are at marketing that determines success.
In the library world you often hear people say that one of our problems is that we're just not very good at telling people what we do and why they should love us. That's why I thought Jeff's comments were particularly relevent:
"It's a common delusion in brand advertising: That you can -- through superior creativity, some elbow grease, and a lot of media spending -- become loved and admired.
Maybe it used to be possible. Back when there weren't very many brands, there was no easy way to find out what other people beyond your immediate social circle were experiencing, and the average person had a pretty weak BS-filter. Now, people see right through your claims, and can find out the real truth in a few minutes online.
The only way to get people to love you is to be consistently lovable, and to do something worth talking about. And the only way to be "iconic" is to stay that way for a long time. Advertising hardly helps at all. And when it reeks of BS, it only makes things worse.
So take that creativity and money you might have spent on advertising, and use it to actually become great. Then you won't need advertising."
Jeff followed that post with another challenging the orthodoxy that "branding" is the key to success. He quotes a recent Harvard Business School blog posting by Umair Haque on The Shrinking Power of Brands about how in a web 2.0 economy "characterized by cheap, ubiquitous interaction... the very economic rationale for orthodox brands actually begins to implode: information about expected costs and benefits doesn't have to be compressed into logos, slogans, ad-spots or column-inches -- instead, consumers can debate and discuss expected costs and benefits in incredibly rich detail."
As Jeff points out on DonorPower - "If you want to have a powerful brand, you need to do something very cool, very useful, and very worth talking about."
Do libraries need to pay attention to the fundamental blocking and tackling of marketing and promotion - e.g. getting our events into the local papers, telling our story in the community, and making people aware of our services - of course we do.
The challenge for libraries is to do things that are, to re-quote Jeff, "very cool, very useful, and very worth talking about ". Recent experiences here at PVLD would support this theory -
- Our Meebo instant messaging reference service was rolled out with no PR the day before thanksgiving and was immediately discovered and used
- The online homework help service has been largely promoted via flyers in the library and a few presentations to PTAs and school groups...and we now routinely exceed 300 tutoring sessions/month
If what we offer isn't cool, useful, and worth talking about then no amount of marketing will make it succeed. If it is, it will succeed even if we don't market it well....