WLA 2007: Non-Profit Marketing: What I Should Know about Marketing That My Mother Wouldn't Tell Me

Posted by Lisa Strand on Thursday, October 18, 2007 in WLA Blog Archive
At every conference, I seek out those sessions related to assessment, quality improvement, and promotion, because I'm the marketing coordinator for my library, and I serve on the campus-wide library marketing committee for the UW-Madison. I've also been toying with the idea of pursuing an MBA at some point, with a focus on marketing. Sometimes, I come away thinking "I could have taught that," but this time I definitely came away with new concepts.

I love it when non-librarians are invited to present at library conferences, because we really can benefit from others' expertise and perspectives. "Non-Profit Marketing" was presented by Don McCartney, a Senior Lecturer of Business Administation at UW-Green Bay, who has some experience working with libraries on marketing issues.

"Marketing is manipulative... in a good way!"

McCartney started out by asking the question, "How many of you have seen an ad?" - of course, that meant everyone in the room. He followed with, "And how many of you have bought everything you've ever seen advertised?" - clearly, no one does this. His conclusion is that yes, advertising is manipulative, but clearly it doesn't force us to do things that we don't want to do. And if it facilitates something good, like using the library, then that's a good kind of manipulation!

In order to bring together libraries and their potential users, both the library and the user must be able to communicate - after all, you can't utilize a service to meet a need if you don't know that service exists, or if you don't know you can get that service from the library. That's where marketing comes in.

"So... what is the value of libraries?" Attendees replied:
  • They're free (McCartney: yeah, but a lot of things are free and I may or may not value them)
  • They provide access to information
  • Librarians provide help to find/get information
  • We provide programming to children and adults - for literacy, enrichment, education, pleasure, fun

McCartney pointed out that one danger of the "virtual library" is that without a social aspect, how much affinity can a user develop for you? I'd posit that one solution is to build social networking technologies into your online space, to allow for personalization to each user's interests, interactivity with library staff, and development of communities.


Discussing market segmentation, McCartney suggested that it's also possible to oversegment, which leads to redundancy and increased costs. And the #1 market segment that you should be concerned with, he said, are your internal clients - your employees.


Keep records of who uses which resources and services, and then *use that information.* The "80/20 rule" says that 80% of your time is spent on 20% of your users, and 80% of your 'profits' are derived from 20% of your users. With limited staff time and money, you should prioritize those market segments that are your primary users. This doesn't address the issue of expanding one's overall market - but Jill Stover's presentation on "Taking the Non out of Non-User" is a perfect complement to McCartney's session. I'm also not yet clear on how to translate 'profits' for a state university library which receives its collection funds from the overall UW-Madison budget, and its overhead funds (facilities, staff) from the College of Engineering.


A 1995 study published in the Journal of Marketing, concerning social identification and its correlation with museum membership, provided McCartney an opportunity to introduce a good number of important marketing terms, including: identification, social identity, self-concept, and organization. Other terms he helpfully defined: publics, awareness, latent readiness, and triggering.


This study provided a number of insights into why members felt a strong sense of "belonging" to a museum, that can help us to understand (mainly, public) library users:

  • The perception of prestige (not the same as elitism)
  • Tenure of membership (the longer you're a member, the closer you feel to the institution)
  • Correlation between expectations of membership, and reality
  • Frequency of contact (all kinds)

Participation in other, similar organizations, decreased the overall sense of identification. And, the more highly educated members were, the more organizations they tended to participate in. That was one piece of bad news.


McCartney suggested that library mission statements are an important means by which to promote the intangible values that are so important to a sense of belonging. These statements should be visible to staff on a daily basis, and also shared with users. Say, "This is why we exist, this is why we're here."


Another study concluded that only 7% of the population will ever become actively engaged in non-profit organizations - and so many organizations are competing for the same small group of members (and source of funds). This was another piece of bad news.

Knowledge of what's at stake without your members' support can build association with your organization. You need to remind your members why they got involved, tell them why they're important to you, and thank them. Because you want to be one of the organizations that they stick with over the years.

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