Library users are varied. Although it would be desirable for everyone in the potential audience to use the library, not every segment is a viable market for a particular library type, product, or service.
Effective market segmentation groups customers in ways that result in similarity within each segment and dissimilarity between each segment on relevant characteristics. Matching customers to the specific library services that will meet their needs is the goal of market segmentation.
Watch my narrated slide show at Vimeo (on the right).
In this section, we'll examine market segmentation and how it can be applied to libraries.
Each of the following questions will be addressed on this page. For quick access, click on the question of interest.
- What is market segmentation and how is it applied to libraries?
- How can customers be categorized?
- What are market segments within the potential population?
- What segments best fit our mission and current capabilities?
- What specific segments should be targeted?
- How are services matched with specific segments?
- What types of relationships can be developed with library users?
- What's the importance of membership relationships?
- How can long-term relationships be established with target segments?
- What is the market focus and the service focus?
- What are library niches?
- Who is the competition?
- How do we differentiate our marketing efforts from the competition?
- How are services positioned or repositioned?
Segmentation is the process of categorizing customers based on desires, interests, and needs. Young parents are very different from empty nesters.
According to Suzanne Walters (2004, 34-35), segmentation is a good idea for three reasons:
- Ease. It is easier to address the needs of a smaller group of customers with many characteristics in common.
- Efficiency. You can use marketing resources more effectively by focusing on the best segments of the population for you programs.
- Niches. You can identify under served markets and target special groups or niches. It also helps us take the mature library products and seek new customers.
Is it possible to use marketing techniques and practices to draw in new users and increase support for libraries? A number of recent reports show that although libraries are facing challenges, marketing can make a difference. In the study From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America, researchers used segmentation to identify four distinct types of library supporters: super supporters, probable supporters, barriers to support, and chronic non voters. They then examined ways to address the needs of each group.
Read From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America. This report explores the marketing and advocacy challenges facing public libraries and techniques that can be used to target specific segments. These ideas can be adapted for other types of library settings.
In order to identify market segments, it's necessary to categorize customers. According to Walters (2004, 35), the most common approach is the use of classification variables. These include
- Demographics variables: qualities such as age, gender, income, ethnicity, education, and occupation;
- Geographical variables: information like city, state, zip code, census tract, county, region, population density;
- Psychographic variables: items like attitudes, lifestyle, health, motivation, aptitude, reading level, problem solving ability, hobbies, interests;
- Behavioral variables: usage level, type of use, distribution means
Library audiences vary depending on the particular type of library.
In educational settings, grade level or year are common ways to segment the population. Users can also be divided by disciplines. Social group segmentation is another consideration. This may be associated with demographics, but also interests such as geeks, athletes, artists, and musicians.
In higher education, there's a distinction between undergraduates and graduate students. In addition, part-time versus full-time is another segment.
Example: University library users can be organized into the following categories (Ewers & Austen, 2006, 23):
- by type - academic staff as teachers and as researchers, community members; students; general staff
- by level of study - undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate
- by information seeking behaviors - coursework students vs research students
- attendance - full-time vs part-time
- age - under 24; over 25 and under 34; mature aged, etc.
Example: In a medical library situation, the target audiences might include:
- general physicians
- physical therapists
- registered nurses and nursing practitioners
- patient support group leaders
- emergency service technicians
A key consideration for isolating market segments should be what aligns the user's needs with the library.
Example: It's more important to know about a user's information seeking behaviors than their age or other demographic information.
In addition to knowing how market segments match services, it's also essential to know the size of a particular segment. Ewers and Austen (2006) note that
"a numerically large segment with homogenous needs will potentially be most demanding but will respond to economics of scale and technological intervention. Smaller politically important groups may need specialist services but their number allow for tailoring services with a minimum of additional resources."
Example: The number of students taking Freshman English is large, but predictable. It's worth the time to develop web-based materials to support the needs of this group.
When examining the demographic data from the market analysis, look for the characteristics of clearly defined groups. For instance, traditional family lifecycle stages can be divided into nine categories. However keep in mind that nontraditional cycles are now the norm (de Saez, 2002):
- Bachelor stage - young, single, living at home
- New married (or cohabitating) couples - couple with no children
- Full nest 1 - family with children under 6
- Full nest 2 - family with children 6 or over
- Full nest 3 - older couples with dependent children
- Empty nest 1 - older couples, still working
- Empty nest 2 - older couples, retired
- Single in the workforce - unmarried or never married
- Single retired - unmarried or never married
Be specific. Teenagers are a pretty broad area. Think about young adult with specific interests or needs.
Example: The Salt Lake County Libraries services have focused on on teen parents. Their "Teen Parent Picnics" are a way to bring together young adults to share the experience of parenthood.
Read Segmentation Can Strengthen Your Marketing Plan by Kate Vilches. This article focuses on a research library in a corporate setting. How could this be applied to other settings?
A market segment is composed of a group of current or potential customers who share common characteristics, needs, behaviors, or consumption patterns. It's desirable to group patrons into segments with similar attributes. Two areas can be considered: user characteristics and usage behavior.
Example: A market segment based on user characteristics would be on-campus dorm residents. These students all share the same housing situation, are more likely to be freshman or sophomores, and are led by a Resident Assistant. It may be possible to work through the resident assistant to distribute information or display promotional materials associated with a service.
Example: A market segment based on usage behavior would be those people who use the print magazine section of the library. Those people who use the print magazines may not be aware that online magazines and ebook magazines are available for checkout.
- Timing. Different clients may have different needs in terms of when services are available.
- Level of Skill. Patrons differ in their level of expertise related to libraries. While some patrons require little assistance and know their preferences, others need guidance and support.
- Preferred Language. User groups may respond differently to marketing communications.
- Access to Technology. While some patrons are active users of technology, others prefer face-to-face communication.
Example: When designing programs for teens, think about their schedules. Teens don't tend to be early risers, so a Saturday afternoon program might have better attendance than a Saturday morning program. The photo above right shows a teenager from Allen County Public Library in a sand art class.
Libraries that are developing strategies based on use of technology recognize that customers can also be segmented according to the degree of competence and comfort using technology-based delivery services.
Who should we be serving? This question should be asked regularly. Users differ widely in needs.
David Maister (1997) stresses that marketing is about getting better business, not just more business. Volume alone is not an effective measure of excellence or sustainability. A mix of high-quality activities is important to ongoing success.
Occasionally users are rejected by the library for a range of reasons such as destroying property, unreturned books, or inappropriate behavior. Although rare, librarians need to consider ways to discourage patrons that may interfere with successful operations.
An important marketing issue for any library is to accept that some market segments offer better opportunities than others. Target segments should be selected not only on the basis of their potential, but also with reference to the library's ability to match or exceed competing offerings directed at the same segments.
Many libraries have outreach and cultural missions. Think about ways to connection these missions to specific audiences such as new immigrants.
In addition, they plan classes in many languages focused on needs such as citizenship, job training, and financial assistance. Cultural programs are also provided. All of these services are aimed at a specific market segment.
Targeting involves selecting the market segments that will be the focus of the marketing plan.
It's essential to match demand with services. Suzanne Walters (2004, 43-44) suggests creating a matrix to analyze the potential audience and programs:
- List one set of related segments horizontally across the top of a page.
- List a second set of related segments vertically down the same piece of paper.
- List the varying demands of each cross section.
- To add weight to your decisions, include census statistics for your area.
- Look for groups with a large enough population to warrant a single program.
Walters (2004, 44) provides the example of children of different ages and ethnicities. She concludes that a bilingual reading for Hispanic young children would be an option. Examine the Matrix.
Example: The King County Library holds Early Literacy Parties in Spanish. Check out video from an event.
A target segment is a specific area of focus that fits well with the library's capabilities and goals. A target may be selected from individuals in the broader library market and may be defined on the basis of several variables.
In order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing communications, it's useful to group people together based on similar characteristics. These targets are likely to have similar desires, needs, and interests. This segmentation of the audience allows a more precise focus for communications.
Example: A library in a suburban area may target at-home moms with small children for a storytelling program. However they would need to consider whether they are competing with other similar programs offered by the local school, church, or other organizations. The photo below shows children at the Yishun Public Library in Singapore.
Lee and Kotler (2011) suggest starting with target audiences that are most receptive.
"the social marketer's job is to influence some number of people to do some desired behavior or abstain from an undesirable one. It would follow, then, that efforts and resources should be directed toward market segments mostly likely to buy (the low-handing fruit) rather than those least likely (hardest to reach and move)."
According to Lee & Kotler (2011, 59-60), campaigns are most effective when they begin with market segments that are ready for action. Look for the following characteristics:
- Need - a want or need the proposed behavior will satisfy or a problem it will solve
Example: e-books are now available for checkout, so money doesn't need to be spent to buy them
- Knowledge - knowledge/information regarding the benefits of the behavior and costs of current alternative behaviors
Example: participating in a summer reading program can increase student reading scores the next year
- Belief - the belief that they can actually perform the behavior and that they will experience important benefits
Example: believing that attending a "resume writing workshop" will help them get a job
- Action - current engagement in the desired behavior, but not on a regular basis, and the perception of some initial benefit
Example: trying to read more to young children and knowing that an early reading club might be useful
When researching the marketplace, consider (Lovelock and Wirtz, 2010):
- In what useful ways can the market for our service be segmented?
- What are the needs of the specific segments that we have identified?
- Which of these segments best fits our institutional mission and our current operational capabilities?
- What do customers in each segment see as our library's competitive advantages and disadvantage?
- In the light of this analysis, which specific segment(s) should we target?
- How should we differentiate our marketing efforts from those of the competition to attract and retain the types of customers that we want?
- What is the long-term value to us of a loyal customer in each of the segments that we currently serve (and those that we would like to serve)?
- How should our library build long-term relationships with customers from the target segments? And what strategies are needed to create long-term loyalty?
Example: In Engaging Net Gen Students in Virtual Reference: Reinventing Services to Meet Their Information Behaviors and Communication Preferences, Connaway, Radford, and Williams (2009) describe ways to engage new users and sustain current ones. Focusing on the Net Gen group of academic library users, they found different reasons than other age groups for using or not using virtual reference collections. Understanding their perspective is essential in building a marketing plan for this group. They found that "to meet the needs of the Net Gen students, academic librarians need to provide 24/7 reference services in an array of formats and to market these services to make people aware of their existence."
Example: Mundava (2008) focused on the needs of international students. He found states that
"in this age of globalization, knowing users and meeting their information needs is increasingly becoming a challenge. There is a strong international student and faculty presence at many academic institutions. Information providers must adapt their marketing skills, print and online collections, services, and workforce in order to meet the information needs of such a clientele. Given this scenario, what role can librarians play in providing a learning environment that enables international students to realize their potential? How can librarians engage various student bodies to utilize information services for their academic needs?"
Matching customers to the library's capabilities is vital. Library directors must think carefully about how customer needs relate to such operational elements as speed and quality, the times when service is available, the library's capacity to service many customers simultaneously, and the physical features and appearance of service facilities.
They may also need to consider how well their service personnel can meet the expectations of specific types of customers in terms of both personal style and technical competence.
Finally, they need to ask themselves, can my library match or exceed competing services that are directed at the same type of customers?
This process begins with your market research.
Example: The study titled Children's Services at Public Libraries: A Port in the Storm by Swan and Majarrez (2011) focuses on the needs of urban, low-income, immigrant children. Think about the specific needs of this population. How are they different from other urban, low-income youth?
How can a library develop the right service concept for a particular target segment? Research is needed to identify what attributes of a given service are important to specific market segments and how well prospective patrons perceive competing organizations as performing against these attributes. However keep in mind that the same individuals may set different priorities for attributes according to:
- The purpose of using the service
- Who makes the decision
- The timing of use
- Whether the individual is using the service alone or with a group
- The composition of that group
Example: When designing services for preschool children, consider the implications of their age.
- Since pre-school children can't read, you can't expect them to follow written directions during an activity.
- Since pre-school children have a short attention span, activities need to be clustered in to 5-10 minute segments.
Example: Teachers are an important segment for public libraries. They use the library for both personal and professional reason. Think about services that would be particularly useful in meeting the needs of this target group. Teachers often use their library card for for materials used in their classrooms. The Henderson County Public Library offers a Professional Courtesy card to teachers, homeschoolers, church leaders, clubs, day cares, and other individuals or groups needing more flexibility in the number of items check out and the length of circulation. Examine a PDF of their policy.
Market segments can often be broken down multiple times. For instance, it's useful to subdivide teen users into even smaller categories. While some young adults enjoy reading romance novels others enjoy fantasy graphic novels. Others might be interested in robotics. Look for services that appeal to each group.
Example. Michael Cherry at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library (EVPL) recommends a focus on robotics. His library received a Vex robotics kit and became involved with teaching basic engineering. The young people even finished second in a robotics competition. This educational program got was aimed at a different market segment than some traditional programs for youth. To learn more, read an article about this program. The photo below shows a Woodburn Public Library youth from the Allen County Public Library working with a Vex robot.
It's important for librarians to distinguish between those strategies intended to bring about a single transaction or those designed to create an extended relationship with a customer.
Transactional Marketing. A transaction is an event where value is exchanged between two parties. One book or even a series of materials circulated over time doesn't necessarily constitute a relationship. A relationship requires mutual recognition and knowledge between the parties.
The photo below shows a person checking out a book at the Westborough Public Library (courtesy Flickr).
Interaction Marketing. In many situations, librarians have face-to-face interaction with their patrons. Value is added through interactions among people and social processes ranging from answering simple reference questions to collaboration on complex projects. On of the challenges of 21st century librarianship is the growth of virtual services that allows a shift from high to low contact. Increasingly, face-to-face communications are replaced by online chats, email, and web-based interactions.
Three types of relationships can be identified between the customer and the library (Besant & Sharp, 2000):
- Service Encounter: person-to-person contact
- Electronic Relationship: communication between person and machine
- Knowledge Relationship: reference questions; program participation
As a marketing strategy, the library may seek ways to develop formal, ongoing relations with customers to ensure repeated business.
Although some library services involve discrete transactions such as checking out materials, in other instances patrons receive services on a continuing basis. Although some transactions are discrete, there's still the opportunity to create an ongoing relationship. The different nature of these situations offers an opportunity for categorizing services.
Regardless of whether patrons hold a library card, an art museum membership, or a student ID, their formal connection with the library impacts their relationship with the library.
Reminding people about their membership and opportunities to participate is an important part of marketing. Although the membership may be free or part of an existing service (i.e., students are automatically eligible to use the library), patrons need to see that being involved in a relationship with the library has benefits.
Example: Bundling a free library card with an event is a way to formalize this relationship.
The advantage to the library of having membership relationships is that it knows who its current patrons are and what use they make of the services offered. This information is also valuable for segmentation purposes if good records are kept and easily accessible. Knowing the identities and address of current patrons enables the library to make effective use of direct mail (including e-mail). In turn, members can be given access to special numbers and passwords to facilitate communication and information use.
Example: Passwords may be needed to access to special databases. As a "member" of the library, users get access.
Membership relationships can result in customer loyalty to a particular service. In the library setting, this may mean using the library's website rather than Google or another organization's website as the starting point for an information search.
In small libraries, frequent patrons should be welcomed as regulars whose needs and preferences are remembered. Keeping formal records on patron needs, preferences, and behavior is useful because doing so helps staff members avoid having to ask repetitive questions. It also allows for personalized service.
Valued, long-term relationships must be developed with customers through effective interactions and communications. According to Beckwith (2000), lasting relationships are nurtured through basic human elements such as:
- Nature affinity
What is a valued relationship? It's one in which the patron finds value because the benefit received from service delivery significantly exceeds the associated costs of obtaining them. In a study by Gwinner, Gremler, and Bitner (1998), three clusters of relational benefits were identified including greater confidence, social benefits, and special treatment.
- Confidence benefits involve relationships where patrons feel low risk of something going wrong and comfort in dealing with staff. For instance, they trust the book recommendations provided by staff members.
- Social benefits involve friendships and enjoyment of the social situation of interacting with staff and other patrons.
- Special treatment includes the sense that patrons are receiving extra services, personalized help, and high priority that most customers. It's the sense of feeling special and well-treated.
Example: The image below shows young people at a Teen Thursday event focusing on Karaoke at the Georgtown Branch of the Allen County Public Library. Friendships develop during these types of social activities.
Librarians need to focus their advertising, sales, and promotional strategies to reach prospects from desired segments. Many times marketers overemphasize the attraction of new patrons. It takes much more effort to bring in new groups than to retain existing patrons.
Customer retention involves marketing aimed at developing and nurturing long-term relationships between the librarian and patrons. Libraries can use a variety of strategies to maintain and enhance relationships such as treating customers fairly, offering service augmentation, and making each patron feel special. As a relationship evolves, marketing efforts may be used to encourage the volume of resource use, upgrading the types of services offered, and the addition of new services.
Example: Rather than simply offering books about puppets, the library might create a kit containing puppets for check-out or an after-school puppet club.
Like financial investments, some types of customers may be more profitable to the library than others in the short term, but others may have greater potential for long-term growth. We can apply the concept of portfolio to an established base of patrons as well as new customers. Different segments offer different values for a library.
Example: Children's programs are a long-term investment for the future. The goal is to develop life-long library users.
Use of the library may be stable over time for some groups, however it may be more cyclical with others.
Example: During times of high unemployment the library may experience an influx of patrons seeking career information.
If librarians know the value of each category or patrons as well as the proportions represented by each category within a customer base, they can predict the ongoing value of all these patrons in terms of future library use. This information can be used to adapt promotional efforts and predict risks.
It's not realistic for a library to try to appeal to all actual or potential patrons in a market because users are too numerous, too widely scattered, and too varied in their needs, behaviors, and consumption patterns.
Rather than trying to compete in an entire market, each library needs to focus its efforts on those patrons it can serve best. In marketing terms, focus means providing a mixture of services for an identified market segments. These market segments share common characteristics, needs, behaviors, and consumption patterns.
Libraries have both a market focus and a service focus.
Market focus is the extent to which a library serves few or many markets. The librarian must focus on the markets that are available and likely to have a high return.
Example: A suburban public librarian noticed that the books on retirement planning were becoming increasingly popular. She identified a new market segments she calls "boomer dreamers." This group between 50-60 are thinking about retirement and looking for ideas. She's planning a marketing campaign that includes a range of services from financial planning to empty nester resources.
Service focus describes the extent to which a library offers few or many services. There are hundreds of services that could be offered by a library, but these need to be narrowed to those services that address the specific needs of the users at that library.
Example: A middle school librarian considered hosting an after-school reading club. However after conducting an audience analysis, it was determined that 80% of the students ride the school bus making an after-school program a poor choice. Instead, she developed a "brown bag" lunch program that fit the needs of her students.
Niches are specialty markets and focused services that emerge for a short time or as part of a growing trend.
In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson (2006) theorizes that our culture is shifting away from mainstream products toward a huge number of niches. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, libraries must target resources and services to meet specific, just-in-time needs.
Increasingly, library are looking for specific services that meet the needs of a group of individuals.
Example: Brooklyn Public Library provides a Passport Service for those seeking to apply for a U.S. passport for the first time. The service includes application information and requirements.
Example: Services to the aging are becoming increasingly popular. The Brooklyn Public Library provides a program called Books By Mail for seniors who are homebound or unable to physically come to the library.
Example: The Bibliobus from the Brooklyn Public Library is a bookmobile specifically aimed at the Spanish speaking community. The bus contains a Spanish-language collection and serves sites such as schools, daycare centers, community centers, and nonprofit organizations.
In their chapter "Increasing Relevance, Relationships, and Results", Campisteguy and Friedenwald-Foshman (2009) stress that today's libraries must effectively communicate with multicultural audiences.
"Effectively engaging diverse audiences is key to growing and sustaining new customers, ensuring long-term support, increasing philanthropic support, strengthening consumer loyalty, and attracting new volunteers and advocates. Yet many libraries either apply a one-size-fits-all approach to their communication or recognize the need for a multicultural approach but do not know where to start."
Campisteguy and Friedenwald-Foshman (2009, 2) highlight eight principles for reaching multicultural audiences:
- Check your assumptions at the door: begin with yourself
- Understand the cultural context(s) or your audience: do your homework
- Invest before you request: create community-centered partnerships
- Develop authentic relationships: maintain a long-term perspective
- Build shared ownership: engage, don't just involve
- Walk your talk: lead by example
- Relate, don't translate: place communication into cultural context
- Anticipate change: be prepared to succeed
Example: Portland Oregon's "Healthy Birth Initiative" was focused on African American, Latino, Somali, and low-income white women.
Example: In Books on Tap: The Book Group That Meets in a Bar by Leah White, the author explores the idea of meeting the interests of people who would rather meet at a bar than a library.
Regardless of whether you're a corporate library, school library, or public library, you have competition. Libraries don't often compete with other libraries. However they do compete with other entities. They compete with Barnes and Noble when customers could buy rather than check out materials. They compete with the Internet when patrons can "Google" rather than seeking reference assistance. They compete with other forms of entertainment when considering attendance at a program.
At issue is what makes consumers select and remain loyal to one service provider over another. If new books are rarely available at the library, a patron may choose to purchase the book online.
Without knowing what service features are of specific interest to patrons, it's hard for librarians to develop an appropriate competitive strategy.
Example: People can choose to use the Internet as a source of information, a bookstore to access books, free local business seminars for tax information, or another library.
To keep or attract users, librarians must position themselves in relation to their competition. How is your library service different or unique from the competition?
Darlene Weingand (1999, 46) suggests the following questions when thinking about competition:
- Who or what are these competing forces?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their limitations?
- Where are the areas of duplication?
- Are there possibilities for cooperation?
- What are future trends with regard to the competition, the target market(s), the product(s), and the opportunities for cooperation.
- Given the reality of identified competition, is there sufficient market to support both or all providers?
- What is the potential for carving out a unique market share?
When thinking about the competition, look for defection and loyalty.
Defection is a term associated with patrons who drop off a library's radar screen and transfer their loyalty to another supplier. There are many ways to disappoint customers through service quality failure. Poor performance by staff is a common problem in high-contact services. A rising defection rate indicates a problem with quality or the introduction of a competitor offering better value.
Loyalty is used to describe a user's willingness to continue patronizing the library over the long term using its services on a repeated basis and voluntarily recommending the services to friends and associates. Loyalty cannot be taken for granted. It will continue only as long the patron feels that he or she is receiving better value than could be obtained by switching sources.
Customer loyalty programs seek to bond patrons to a library by offering additional incentives. Informal loyalty programs may take the form of periodically giving regular consumers a small treat as a way of thanking them for their patronage.
The bag on the right is from the Monterey Public Library
These types of incentives are common in programs for youth and children.
Example: Provide library users with a punch card for booked checked out. Or, keep track in the circulation system. After so many checkouts, they receive a cool bookmark, library bag, or other gift with the library logo.
As access to information services have become progressively more available online, it's become even more important for libraries to differentiate their services in ways that are meaningful to patrons. Libraries need to be selective in targeting patrons and seek to be distinctive in the way they present themselves. A market niche that may seem too narrow to offer sufficient service within one type of library may represent a substantial market when viewed from a different perspective.
Example: The "night owl" is common in the academic library market. They're the last ones to leave the library. Catering to the late night student may not be possible because of the small number of users. However, it might be worth the time to determine if there's a way to provide a late night service during peak study times at the end of the semester. Spend the time to identify those people who use this extended service and think of ways this program could be expanded to meet this market need.
What this means is that librarians need to think systematically about all facets of the service package and to emphasize improvements to those attributes that will be valued by patrons in the target segment(s).
Patrons make their choices between alternative service offerings on the basis of perceived difference between them. But the attributes that distinguish competing services from one another are not always the most important ones.
Determinant attributes are those that actually determine a patron's choices. These attributes may be down the list in terms of importance, but they are attributes on which patrons see significant differences between competing alternatives.
The market researcher must survey patrons in the target segment to identify the relative importance of different attributes. Then, ask which ones have been determinant during recent decisions. Some attributes are easily quantified whereas others are qualitative and highly judgmental. Access to particular information resources or programs is a straightforward quantitative measure, where trust in reference work or enjoyment of programs is qualitative.
Go to Worksheet 6: Service Competition Audit by Fisher and Pride (2006).
Adapt this worksheet for your marketing plan.
Positioning involves identifying the attributes that the library offers that are attractive to the users and showing how they relate to the competition. Then, identifying a core message that will make it easy for users to remember the product or service. The key is associating the product or service with quality.
Example. The Queensland University of Technology Library wants themselves to be viewed as a superior alternative to Internet for information retrieval. Their message is "Search Our Web!". They're using the term Cybrary as part of their branding. (Ewers & Austen, 2006)
Positioning is directly related to customer service. According to Gupta and Jambhekar (2002, 27),
"high standards of customer service create high visibility for the information service unit. It is this enhanced visibility that will lead to better positioning in the organization."
Dowd, Evangeliste and Silberman (2010, 126) suggest the following questions when considering whether it's time to reposition:
- What is the traditional role of the library?
- How has this role changed since the advent of the Internet?
- What do we do better than our competition?
- What do we do that is different than our competition?
- How do we want our target market to see us as compared to the competition?
Positioning strategies are concerned with creating and maintaining distinctive differences that will be noticed and valued by the patrons. Successful positioning requires librarians to understand both their target customers' preferences and the characteristics of their competitor's offerings.
Jack Trout (1997) identified four principles of positioning that can be applied to libraries. A library must establish a position in the minds of its targeted patrons.
- The position should be singular, providing one simple and consistent message.
- The position must set a library apart from its competitors.
- A library cannot be all things to all people – it must focus its efforts.
Example: Libraries compete with genealogy societies for family history activities. The library needs a clear sense of mission and a distinctive position that sets it apart from the competition in ways that appeal to prospective patrons. The photo below shows the Family History Library at the Utah State Library (courtesy Flickr).
Understanding the concept of positioning is key to developing an effective competitive position.
Lovelock and Wirtz (2010) suggest the following questions:
- What does our library currently stand for in the minds of current and prospective patrons?
- What patrons do we now serve, and which ones would we like to target for the future?
- What are the characteristics of our current service offerings and at what market segments is each one targeted?
- In each instance, how do our service offerings differ from those of the competition?
- How well do patrons in the chosen target market segments perceive each of our service offering as meeting their needs?
- What changes do we need to make to our offerings to strengthen our competitive position within the market segment(s) of interest to our library?
Sometimes libraries need to make significant changes in an existing position. Such as strategy known as repositioning could mean revising service characteristics or redefining target market segments.
Repositioning often happens when the popularity of particular technologies shift.
Example: Library collections moved from videotapes in the 1990s to DVDs in the 2000s.
Fisher and Pride (2006, 57-58) suggest
Read Positioning in Blueprint for Your Library Marketing Plan by Fisher and Pride (2006, 57-60). Go to Worksheet 7: Semantic Differential by Fisher and Pride (2006).
Go to Worksheet 8: Positioning Map by Fisher and Pride (2006).
Go to Workshop 9: Place and Price Audit by Fisher and Pride (2006).
Adapt this worksheet for your marketing plan.
Anderson, Chris (2006). The Long Tail. Hyperion.
Besant, Larry X. & Sharp, Deborah (2000). Upside this! Libraries need relationship marketing. Information Outlook, 4(3), 17-22.
Berry, Leonard and Parasuraman, A. (Spring 1997). Listening to the customer: the concept of a service-quality information service. Sloan Management Review.
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