Think You’re Marketing Your Library? Let’s Make Sure

umbrellaMarketing is a broad topic that has many associated words and actions. I used to think that a lot of those words, like promotion and publicity, were interchangeable. But when I really started studying marketing, I discovered that they weren’t synonyms at all.

In reality, there are a batch of related but distinct words that people constantly misuse. So, in the interest of helping everyone understand what “marketing” really is, I’d like to clear up those misunderstandings.

Why do the right words matter? Well, you may well be doing things that you think are “marketing” and wondering why your efforts aren’t working. Realizing exactly what marketing really means is key to doing it effectively and getting the results you want.

Here’s a list of oft-confused words that are mere tactics of real marketing:

  •  Public Relations is a planned, long-term communication strategy (via various media) that has the goal of convincing the public to have good will toward something.
  • Publicity is sending a message via official channels such as news releases, newsletters, press conferences, etc.
  • Promotion is furthering the growth or development of something. It’s more than building good will; it’s encouraging people to use it by telling people how it would benefit them.

Those are the main words that people confuse. Then there are other related ones:

  • Advertising is calling attention to something through paid announcements.
  • Branding is establishing a strong link between a company and its logo/typeface/picture or name/phrase. Its aim is to make people immediately associate the company with the graphics or words it uses. Branding helps build loyalty.
  • Advocacy is getting people who have good opinions of your organization to speak to others on its behalf; to convince other people of its value. It’s more meaningful to have others talk about your worth than it is to do it yourself.

Have you been some of doing those activities and calling them “marketing”? Then here’s the secret you need to understand: “Marketing” is the umbrella term that the others come under; it’s the broader action of doing all those things and more:

  • Marketing is taking steps to move goods (and services) from producers to consumers. It’s determining what people want, delivering it, communicating about it, and then periodically updating that whole process.

Marketing is not about trying to convince people to use what you have; instead, it’s about finding out what they want and need, and offering that. Then you design your public relations plan and publicity in order to spread the word, and build up to promotion to tell people how they’ll benefit from using your products and services.

KDempsey_graphicGiven that, I designed what I call The Cycle of True Marketing and made it the basis of my book, The Accidental Library Marketer. In the book I list a whole series of steps to explain how to achieve your goals. You can see the whole Cycle in a flowchart on my website at Once you look at that, it all makes sense.

So, as I introduce the Cycle, I reveal “the missing link” on page 15 of my book:

“Can you see why things done via this process are practically guaranteed to work? How can you go wrong by asking people what they want, then delivering it to the best of your ability, then asking customers for feedback, then improving your offerings accordingly? In my professional opinion, this cyclical process is the missing link that librarians need to know about. It’s easy for services to fail when you don’t follow these steps. It’s hard for them to fail when you do.”

True marketing really works!

You can find more useful marketing terminology at these sites:

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK), Glossary

IFLA’s section on Marketing and Management (global), Glossary of Marketing Definitions

Kathy Dempsey is the founder of Libraries Are Essential, a business where she offers advice and consulting on library marketing, promotion, and public relations. She’s been the editor of the Marketing Library Services newsletter for 18 years, and she blogs at The ‘M’ Word: Marketing Libraries.

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