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Audience Analysis

Marketing for Libraries: Part 3: Audience Analysis from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

As part of auditing your library, you need to examine your current and potential audience. Understanding our client's point of view is the key to library marketing. According to Brian Mathews (2009, 2-3),

"we must demonstrate our value through applied relevance, instead of fabricating implied needs. On a grand scale, we need to stop thinking in terms of the user being in the library and instead consider how the library fits into the life of our users."

This shift in thinking is subtle, but significant. Rather than focusing on the services we want to provide, we need to think about the lifestyle of our user and how the library fits their world.

Example: Students don't care about databases. However they do worry about their economics paper that's due next week. If we could show them a way to save time and effort in completing this project, they'd love the library.

boy thinking

In this section, we'll analyze the current and potential audiences for our library products, programs, resources, and services.

Key Questions

Each of the following questions will be addressed on this page. For quick access, click on the question of interest.

What is audience analysis?

Users, patrons, customers, clients… this is the primary audience for our resources and services. Listening to customers is a critical element of audience analysis.

Libraries exist to serve their customers. In her article "Store and libraries: both serve customers", Christine Koontz reminds librarians that library users are customers who make demands for information products and choose among library services.

Audience analysis focuses on understand the library client's perspective and expectations so services can be designed to address their desires, wants, needs and interests. As a result, marketing is not about getting people to attend your database workshops. It's about matching users with services that are meaningful and useful to them. Traditional services may need to modified and new services invented to meet these changing needs.

library oneExample: In Reducing Barriers to Resources by Listening to Our Users, Jennifer Duvernay (2010) describes how a web discovery tool was purchased to meet the needs of users. Students at Arizona State University wanted easier access to electronic library resources.

The process included "naming the service, developing visual identity components, integrating the tool into as many university systems as possible, and developing and delivering promotional messaging." Throughout the process the planning team focused on the goal to "to reduce barriers between users and resources."

Both the new service and the subsequent marketing campaign were based on a specific need identified by students. In addition, feedback was collected from students after the service was launched to determine the success of the new service in meeting student needs.

The image on the right links to the article and shows the logo and banner used for the marketing campaign related to the new Library One Search service.

What is our current and potential audience?

In order to analyze our audience, we need to identify it first.

There are two types of library customers. Those that already use library services and those that are potential customers.

We need to encourage loyal customers to expand their use of library services, while also finding ways to recruit new clients. It's much easier to keep a customer than identify a new one.

While some libraries focus on the number of patrons, others stress the value to each customer. In general, heavy users are more profitable than occasional users.

Walters (2004, 20) suggests asking the following questions when thinking about current and potential customers:

What are audience characteristics and implications of these characteristics?

User characteristics reflect demographic characteristics, geographic location, and psychological indicators. In addition, ability, access, and interest in using technology impacts virtual library use. Another aspect involves the type of benefits individuals perceive and prefer.

Psychographics is an approach to measuring lifestyles such as an individual's activities, interests, and opinions. People are familiar with segments such as baby boomers and empty nesters.

Not all customers are alike. They vary tremendously based on their frequency of library use. The following categories are based on those originally identified by Brian Mathews (2009).


Once you've identified the critical characteristics of your audience, consider the implications of this information. It's impossible to address all these groups with a single message. Mathews (2009, 14) suggests finding out what motivates particular groups and targeting information to meet their needs and interests.

Example: In 'I Stay Away from the Unknown, I Guess.' Measuring Impact and Understanding Critical Factors for Millennial Generation and Adult Non-users of Virtual Reference Services, Radford and Connaway (2010, 205) analyzed non-users of Virtual Reference Services to determine their characteristics and better understand their needs and preferences. They found that nonusers were unaware of that friendly, knowledgeable librarians are available through virtual means. They suggested that "the voices of the little-studied non-user population provide powerful evidence that libraries need to step up marketing of these services."


What do individuals or small groups of users want and need?

office suppliesSurveys, formal observations, and other types of data are useful in providing background information about specific audiences. However in order to really understand individuals and groups, it's necessary to get out in the library and watch, wonder, ask, and interact. What motivates a user to come to the library on a rainy day? Why are the tables in front of the windows used more or less than other tables?

Example: At University of California Santa Cruz University Library, users were asked what they would like to see in a Bookstore Vending machine at the library. From post-it notes and pencils to flash drives and other office tools, library users were able to influence what went into the new service.

When people feel a need, they are motivated to take action to fulfill it. Patrons use library services to meet specific needs. They evaluate the outcomes based on what they expect to receive. Brian Mathews (2009, 26-28) suggests that librarians need to visualize how library use fits in with everything else going on in a students' life. Mathews identified seven categories representing the broad spectrum of student needs:

Mathews (2009, 28-29) suggests that the library is much more than a place to do research. It needs to fulfill other needs as well.

"We can present the library in many different ways: instead of just for doing research, it is the place to start, revise, and finish an assignment. It is a pit stop during the day and a quiet couch late in the afternoon. It is a place to plug in literally to the Web and figuratively to new ideas, advice, and experiences. The library is a shrine of solitude, designed for introspection, discovery, and preparation. And it is also a social hub, filled with friends, activities, surprises, and chance encounters."


Who or what influences the decisions and preferences of individuals?

Costs in time and money, competition, and quality of service all influence the decisions users make about library use. However outside factors such as politics and the economy can quickly change the circumstances. It's important to match the results of market analysis with audience analysis to get a big picture of the needs and trends.

Example: Some people may think the "wait list" for new books is a hassle and prefer to purchase them online or through a bookstore. However with a downturn in the economy, those same people may decide that it's worth the wait to save a little money.

When a library user identifies a need, he or she begins to seek out possible solutions. This need becomes a desire as the customer begins evaluating options and making decisions.

According to Walters (2004, 26), it's difficult to identify what motivates a customer. It may be related to price, availability, assistance, hours, parking, convenience, easy check-out, or other factors.

In 'If It Is Too Inconvenient, I'm Not Going After it:' Convenience as a Critical Factor in Information-Seeking Behaviors, Connaway, Dickey, and Radford (2011) found that convenience is a factor for making choices in academic information and everyday-life information seeking.

Example: Teen babysitting clinics are a popular offering at public libraries. Before offering a clinic, it's important to know the audience. When can teens who are interested in babysitting attend? What day of the week and time would be best? What type of workshop would they prefer? Why would they come to a workshop? The images below shows a Babysitting workshop for teens from the Allen County Public Library.

teen with babyTeen clinic

How do users behave?

Take some time to walk around a library. Look at it from the user's perspective. What do they see and hear? The Ohio Library Council suggests visiting a new library and asking the following questions:

Usage behavior involves how services are delivered and used such as when and where services are used, quantities consumed, frequency, purpose of use, and occasions for use. Sensitivity to marketing variables such as advertising, features, and technologies are also important.

e-journal speakerThe key to marketing is understanding patron behavior.

Example: Digital natives behave different than older technology users. The Have Some PIE-J seminar was designed as part of the Libraries eResource & Emerging Tech Summit (LEETS) at Mississippi State University. The image (courtesy MSU) on the right shows the speaker.

This must be considered when designing virtual library resources and services:

"The explosion of e-journals and other online resources has created many challenges for libraries. Use of general search engines is increasing, and the relevance of the library to users is being questioned. One issue that is often overlooked is how the library should market itself to a new generation of tech-savvy users. Basic marketing concepts, including how to formulate a marketing plan, are presented, as well as a look at one library's current marketing efforts." – Cole, 2010


How does the user cycle impact behavior?

Understanding user behavior must go beyond one-shot surveys and observations. Most libraries run on cycles associated with the lives of their users.

Example: Public libraries must be aware of the school calendar and the influx of children during the summer months.

Example: Academic libraries are impacted by the academic calendar with orientations at the beginning of the semester and extended hours around finals.

Being prepared for these cycles is an essential part of providing quality services as well as promoting these services. Brian Mathews (2009, 11-12) suggest that

"by collecting course syllabi, we can predict the types of questions, problems, and projects that students will encounter. Instead of trying to teach students everything at once, we can dole out what they need to know as they move through each semester... By targeting these opportune times, we can integrate seamlessly into the semester flow and position ourselves as solutions providers."

What are users expectations and preferences?

Perceived service quality results from patrons comparing the service they perceive they have received against what they expected to receive. These expectations are strongly influenced by a customer's prior experiences. Without experiences, patrons may rely on word-of-mouth, news reports, or their general thoughts about libraries. Over time, norms have been developed regarding expectations of particular types of libraries. These norms are reinforced by personal experience and advertising.

Market research must examine the expectations and preferences of users in terms of the quality and reliability of the goods and services being offered.

Expectations include several different elements including desired service, adequate service, predicted service, and a zone of tolerance.

Judith Siess (2003, 2) states that

"customers have expectations, including the expectation of being appreciated. They expect to get what they ordered and are not interested in why the library cannot deliver. They expect the information we deliver to be accurate, timely, and of value. They expect friendly employees, an attractive and easy-to-use facility, and a host of other wide-ranging and every-changing services and products."

According to the Ohio Library Council, users need to be asked some of the following questions:

It's important to determine what users expect when they come to the library. The Ohio Library Council ask some of the following questions about expectations:


What are users perceptions of service?

In some cases, users may misunderstand services. It's important to ask people not only about quality, but also about their understanding of what a library does. The Ohio Library Council suggest the following topics:

How can lost users be recovered?

Share 1Unfortunately, customers aren't always happy about services provided. They may complain about a scratched DVD, grumble about the lack of weekend hours, express frustration about the quality, or mutter about a poorly organized event.

Sometimes lost users are just scared to come back.

Share 2Example. Some fail to return books for many reasons. Put a positive spin on a negative experience. The Share the Thrill! Return the Books! campaign is intended to encourage library users to return books.

How can new users be enticed?

Seek new users with innovative programming. For instance, conduct a survey to determine what types of programming would attract a new set of life-long learners. Rather than traditional programs related to reading, family history, or other popular theme, think outside the box.

Example: Erin Shea from the Darien Library in Connecticut offered a homebrew workshop at her library. She stated that "I strive to plan programs that are not only educational and entertaining, but also empower the patron with a tangible skill to take home... I suspected (the homebrew workshop) would attract a different demographic than our other library programs."

Example: In On the Trail of the Elusive Non-user: What Research in Virtual Reference Environments Reveals, Connaway, Radford, and Dickey (2008, 28) found that non-users would be more likely to use virtual reference resources if providers did the following:

What do I do with all this data?

Between market research, audience analysis, and needs assessment, you can end up with lots of data. It's time to stop and reflect on the process and the information that has been gathered.

Brian Mathews (2009, 64) recommends a five step process for developing a plan of action.

  1. Observe. Start by observing interactions in the library.
  2. Collect and review data. Gather and organize information from many sources looking for trends and benchmarks.
  3. Converse. Discuss ideas with peers, users, and non-users. Get their feedback.
  4. Develop initial findings. Focus on a specific audience and a concise message.
  5. Test the concept. Create promotional elements and share the ideas with a test audience to see what they think.


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