Goals, Strategies and the Placebo Effect

goals2When is a goal not really a goal? When it’s a strategy. I have facilitated goal setting sessions for many years, and one of the most common stumbling blocks for staff, boards and Friends groups is that they confuse a creative strategy with a goal.

So, what is a goal? A goal is the desired result that a library plans to accomplish. While working with libraries, I often hear them say, “Our goal is to increase the number of media stories about the library” or “our goal is to increase the ‘likes’ on Facebook and gain more Twitter followers.”

I like to ask, “why?” The answer is typically, “because we want more visibility in the community.” Again, I ask, “why?” which is generally followed by silence. “Why” is the goal, and is not always clear in people’s minds.

goals1As I dig deeper and ask more questions, that’s when we get to the heart of what the library really wants to happen: To increase circulation by 5 percent; to increase program attendance; to improve patron satisfaction; and to increase Friends membership by 10 percent.

Once a library can set measurable goals, it’s easier to create strategies for reaching their desired outcome.  Unfortunately, I usually am the party pooper once again. It’s easy to contract “strategy fever,” which is getting excited about an idea that won’t get you to your goal. It’s important to look at whether more media stories will actually increase program attendance. Perhaps a library will get more of a response by being on media event calendars more regularly or promoting their events on other local organization’s Facebook pages. That’s not to say that more media stories will hurt program attendance, but are they stories highlighting the right services to help you reach your goals? If not, you may want to spend your limited marketing time on other pursuits.

The next time you set marketing goals, remember the Spice Girls prod, “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Then plan strategies that get you there – and beware of placeboes!

Tari Marshall, So Write Communications, is former PR counsel to the American Library Association and originator of the Library Marketing Collaborative. Lisle Library District, Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, and La Grange Park Public Library collaboratively share her services as their marketing coordinator.

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