A crowd of over 1,600 attendees filled three ballrooms in the Francis Marion Hotel for the opening of the 2014 Charleston Conference. They were treated to a wonderful keynote address by Anthea Stratigos, CEO of Outsell, an information industry market analysis firm that has been in business for 18 years and now has 45 employees, 20 of whom are market analysts. Anthea’s address was entitled “Being Earnest in the New Normal: Choose Your Future”.
Anthea began by describing an industry in which the established players in 1960 had 99% market share and ruled the industry. Then a new technology appeared, and within 20 years, the disrupters had 600 patents and a 50% market share. In another 20 years, they had 99% market share and 1,000 patents. This was the diaper industry, but the same thing can happen in the information industry. With e-commerce, an entire industry can be dismantled in a very short time. Shifts in industries cause players to move to a marketing orientation, and new entrants change product models. We are now going through a shift from print to digital, and we need to become better at delivering our branded experiences in libraries. We must be better strategic marketers. The future of libraries rests on strategic thinking about our markets and looking at what we buy and deliver in the eyes of our customers and continue to think about what we do.
All sectors of the information industry are in the business of delivering solutions and publishing to marketplaces. Libraries do most of their business in books. Key issues for vendors include struggles with growth, dealing with key markets, talent gaps, and changing cost structures. Here are some key issues for libraries, many of which are the same for vendors.
Strategic marketing provides a framework for making choices and deciding which issues to address.
Library budgets are fairly stable and have recovered from the downturn. Libraries must think about what is happening with vendor dynamics. Vendors need to deliver growth to their stakeholders, and the pressure on growth is enormous which is why we see a lot of consolidation. Vendors are competing for marketing share; understand this dynamic when negotiating.
Strategic marketing is about executing and delivering value. Here are some steps for the library as a strategic marketer.
- Start small and understand the target markets in your institutions. You must have a strategic plan and mission. If you do not have one, you will not know where you are going. Strategies can be changed and adapted when necessary.
- Understand target markets and build a target map. Know who you serve, what their roles are, and what kind of institutions are they in.
- Understand what users want. In a recent Outsell study, 78% of university students use the physical library weekly and daily, and only 44% used the library online. Students and professors are more tied to print than other workers. 86% of students would rather use a physical textbook rather than a digital one. Here are some reasons for going to the library. It is interesting that the main reason is that want a quiet place to study.Make sure any changes you make cater to your users.
- Benchmark. Someone’s environment is always better. These are opportunities to benchmark. Know how people got to where they are. How many users are you serving compared to other libraries?
- Establish your portfolio after you have understood your markets and have benchmarked. Do the things that matter to your marketplace, and then you will know what to add, drop, ask funding for, and what to target to whom. You must have the market data when shifts happen. Whatever you do has to be tied to your stakeholders and customers.
- Brand your experience for what you want to deliver that is unique.
- Market in purposeful rhythms. Libraries are undermarketed. Ask what you can do for your stakeholders. Make sure you are part of the community. Market what matters–not what you think matters, but what matters to those you are serving.
- Deliver “Wow!”. Surprise your patrons. Have actionable deliverables. Give your customers visual designs, not pages of search results. Show the bottom line in ways your users can understand it.
- Measure ROI and value, which is very important. Measure the value that you provide, not just usage statistics (they measure volume, not value). Part of building a strategy is tying your operations to the institution’s goals.
- Be sure to play and enjoy the results. It’s important in these demanding times that we focus on taking time for ourselves and our teams to enjoy the results.
- Choose your future. We can do this if we think about our roadmap, management, and understanding of our users, needs assessment, portfolios.
Libraries make a difference. They matter. What we do is a contribution to society. Your library’s future depends on the unique choices you make to remain relevant.
Don Hawkins blogs about conferences for Information Today and Against The Grain. He also maintains the Conference Calendar on the Information Today website and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, published by Information Today in 2013, and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits, published by Information Today in 2016. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked in the information industry for over 45 years.