On Men, Elevator Speeches, and Market Segments

elevatorAt the 2012 ILA Conference in Peoria, a librarian told me about a frustrating experience she’d had.  She’d tried to convince a young man in his ’20’s that the library had relevance for him. She was unsuccessful.  She told me the story, and turning to me, she asked, “What’s the benefit?””What’s the benefit?” is a phrase that comes to us from advertising, and I think what she meant was, “what could I have said to this young man that would have persuaded him to come into the library?”  I’m afraid I was completely unprepared for this question, although I shouldn’t be:  it seems to come up every so often.

On another recent occasion, I found myself making conversation with the man who helped me when I ran out of gas. I asked him about his reading, and he said that he had a Kindle, that he liked to read W.E.B. Griffin, and that he saw no need for libraries in the future because everyone would be using an e-reader. I should have said something to contradict him, immediately, but I didn’t.  I didn’t have an answer, or “a benefit,” for him, either.

Laura  Brad reading The Spymasters

Poplar Creek Public Library’s Laura Brad reading W.E.B. Griffin’s The Spymasters.


After some thought, I’ve realized that thinking about market segmentation for guys in creating an elevator speech is a way to respond to these particular challenges.  For the kinds of real-life encounters I’ve described, it’s good to be prepared with an “elevator speech,” a list of two to three items you can talk about at a moment’s notice.   To create this ready-made answer, it’s important to think a little about market segmentation.

Market segmentation is a marketing strategy that involves dividing a broad audience, like the users of a library, into subsets of customers with common tastes or needs. Having a teen department is an example of market segmentation.

Identify the library’s market segments and identify the products most likely to excite that segment.  In the case of preparing an “elevator speech,” it’s even more important to think about the male segment.   Men are more frequently not users of libraries, so it is more important to be prepared with a short list of items likely to appeal to men.

I should have suggested to my colleague at ILA that in a similar situation she could offer an elevator speech of two to four items, something like, “There’s a lot for guys your age at the library:  videos, CDs, video games and graphic novels.”

I should have suggested to the man with the Kindle that, with a librarian as his guide, he might discover many other authors that might interest him. I might have said to him, ”If you enjoy Griffin you might enjoy knowing you can “check out” Griffin books on your ereader for free from the library website.” If he were a commuter, he might enjoy listening to Griffin on audiobook. And if he ran out of books to read, he could turn to his librarian for suggestions for new, but similar, authors to read.

One of my favorite examples of market segmentation I learned about from Building a Buzz: Libraries & Word of Mouth Marketing. The director of a library in Wyoming visited car shops in her community, distributing posters and stickers on the Chilton’s car repair database that featured the “Mudflap Girl” of truck mudflap fame, now shown reading a book. The guys in the repair shops found it funny, while some librarians questioned its taste. But it sparked a lot of discussion, and the uses of the Chilton’s database jumped to 800 a month.Use market segmentation to think about who your audience is and make your marketing appealing and accessible to that segment. When I organized a job fair for my library, I asked myself where I could find job seekers and then publicized the event at the unemployment office and the Township’s job club.


Men and boys are often underrepresented among the users of libraries, and perhaps are the most likely to believe that the library has nothing for them. Considering them as a market segments will be the first step in converting them into regular users. Identify the products that appeal to them, and get your elevator speech on: making appealing products the center of your remarks. Promote those products that will appeal to “market segments,” like men, in ways and places that are likely to reach them, and enjoy the pleasure of bringing library patrons together with the things they love!

I would love to hear from you in the comments! Let me know what kind of elevator speech you use to promote your library?  Do you have more than one?  Which has proved to be most effective?

Elizabeth Neill is the Outreach Librarian at the Poplar Creek library.

This entry was posted in Branding, Marketing 101, Publicity, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Men, Elevator Speeches, and Market Segments

  1. Pingback: Don’t Get Caught Without a Comeback | Illinois Libraries Matter

  2. Pingback: Got Your Elevator Speech Ready? | Cheryl Becker

  3. Dan Nieman says:

    Elevator Speech: Question: Why support the library when you can get everything you need online?

    Response: There are a number of reasons the public library is still needed.
    1. Libraries are the primary source of community information, 2. Libraries are the place where people can go for government information (consumer information, taxes), 3. Libraries are places where people can go to use their computers, iPhones, tablets and other devices, 4. Libraries preserve local history artifacts that would be lost if they weren’t here, 5. Libraries are places where local authors, artists and performers can sharpen their skills and market their works,

  4. Shelley Campbell, West Chicago Public Library District says:

    Great post, Elizabeth. Reading Lisa’s comments, I was struck by the fact that I’ve worked in libraries in librarian functions for so long that I, too, need to brush off the dust from the MBA I got about a hundred years ago. OF COURSE – elevator speeches are nothing new to us marketers. They are so routine, in fact, that I think we might overlook them. But they are exactly what our non-marketer colleagues need in their tool box to help us buzz, or sell, the library and its services.

    On another note – while I had to enter way late, and could stay only a few minutes, my heart was warmed by the sight of so many colleagues actively engaged in the business of helping each other market libraries yesterday at Gail Borden P/L. Kudos to all of you who made that happen and who will keep the torch burning to help the rest of us. I only managed to wave to a few people I knew – but if I missed seeing you, you couldn’t miss me. I was the one in the bright orange sweater!!

    Looking forward to seeing you all in Mount Prospect in July!

  5. lisawaskin says:

    Dear Elizabeth,
    Love your comments. I have been preaching having an elevator speech ready at all times for years. I think so many librarians don’t think like business men and women, and don’t constantly have promotions and “what we can do for you” on the tip of their tongue. As you suggested, I have several topics ready to bring up when the opportunity arises, whether it be a Board member stopping by the library, or a random encounter out in the public. Right now, I am singing the praises and uses of our new online magazines through Zinio. How they are interactive, and we can keep them forever, and get the latest issue, etc. Another think to always, always, always have ready, is a wish list of things or programs you want to do but need funding for. I hope other people will post their ideas here as well for all of us to “borrow”.
    Lisa Waskin
    Hodgkins Public Library District

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