Marketing for Libraries Logo

The Market Plan and Cycle

Marketing for Libraries: Part 6: Market Plan and Cycle from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Planning is an important, long-term endeavor in all library settings.

Most libraries have long-range plans that detail activities for the next 3-5 years.

Before diving into market planning, it's important to get a handle on the plans already in place.

bridgeRead What are we really doing to market electronic resources? by Marie Kennedy in Library Management.
Read Deploying the next-generation service by Andrew Nagy.

In this section, we'll examine the elements that go into building an effective marketing plan.

Key Questions

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

What's a marketing plan?

guy at computerA marketing plan provides a structure for the activities of public relations, promotion, and the other elements associated with this process.


"The staff of the Ross-Blakely Law Library, following up on last year's winning entry in the Best Use of Technology category, has created an Indian Law Portal to support the curriculum of the Arizona State University (ASU) College of Law Indian Legal Program. The portal, completely designed and implemented by ASU law library staff, also benefits the Indian legal community by providing links to comprehensive and authoritative free materials. It brings together many legal and interdisciplinary resources, including databases, indices, full-text electronic journals, authoritative websites, and print resources.

The staff promoted the portal in a variety of ways. A one-credit Indian legal research class was created for the law school, and a continuing legal education (CLE) program on Indian legal research was developed. Promotions for these events featured the portal, which was also introduced in both classes. Staff also created a guide to using the portal for the library's website. The portal has been very well received by both the law school community and the national community." - Brunner (2010)

Developing a marketing plan involves much more than simply identifying a service and posting it on the library's Facebook page. Many libraries have a set of guidelines related to establishing marketing plans and activities.

"Implementing a new service in a library requires a clear plan and strong communication inside and outside of the library. From developing a committee of staff members responsible for the implementation to creating a marketing plan for informing future users, there are many areas of the process that need to be well planned for success." – Nagy (2011)

Example: The Staff Guide to Publicity and Public Relations from Ohio University Libraries provides an overview to marketing their libraries.


Do I need a comprehensive plan or a focused plan?

Regardless of the type of library where you work, a marketing plan is necessary.

According to Elisabeth Doucett (2008, 63),

"In a public library, a marketing plan is a good idea because it helps make sure that adult activities and children's activities are not conflicting with each other and that the library have a plan for how it is going to promote all programs. In an academic library a marketing plan can help ensure that the library is getting out into the academic community to promote itself and what it offers."

While some libraries create a broad marketing plan, it may be more useful to create smaller, focused plans for specific marketing needs. Rather than trying to increase overall attendance at all library functions, consider a focused approach that looks at a particular market segment.

Before investing time and effort into developing a marketing plan, consider whether you need a comprehensive plan or a focused plan.

A comprehensive plan establishes a multi-year approach to marketing across the entire library. Your library may already have a plan in place. Before "re-inventing the wheel" check to see what has already been done.

Example: After a market audit, it was determined that a core group of patrons represent a majority of library users. It's time for a comprehensive plan that targets new market segments for library use. A comprehensive plan is needed to handle this large-scale marketing need.

mangoA focused plan may be part of a larger plan or a self-contained plan related to a particular marketing campaign. Some comprehensive plans don't include detailed information about specific campaigns. A focused plan can provide the depth and detail needed for implementation.

Example: A marketing plan might be aimed at high school seniors who are preparing for the workforce. These students aren't preparing for college. Instead, they need resources and services that will prepare them for the job market.

Example: The market audit found that after initial interest in the new Mango Languages subscription, use has drop significantly. Three target audiences have been identified for this product. A plan is needed to match these audiences with this library resource.

Example: First year medical students are often not aware of the resources available in the library. A focused plan is needed that will address this audience.


What are the elements of a marketing plan?

hold reportA marketing plan should include the following elements:

What does a marketing plan look like?

Let's examine some sample marketing plans and processes:

bridgeRead Step by Step Marketing Plans for a walk-through of two plans: Developing a Spanish-Language Program for Preschoolers and Developing a Shakespeare Festival for Your Library. Both of these examples are by Suzanne Walters (2004).

bridgeRead the Library Marketing Plan Workbook from New Mexico. Think about how these steps compare with the plans you've examined so far.

Not all plans look alike. In addition, different library types may take different approaches.

Example: In the blog The Adventures of Library Girl, an approach was presented specifically for library marketing plans called School Library Marketing 101.

Who should be involved with planning?

Marketing plans benefit from the input of a variety of people holding different perspectives.

Elizabeth Doucett (2008, 16-18) recommends identifying all possible relevant individuals to participate in the process. Ask the following questions:

It's not possible to involve everyone in all aspects of the planning. Create an executive or working committee consisting of the core planning team of 5-7 members. Then, develop a support group with representatives from many different areas. These people can become liaisons to the executive committee as needed.


Once the legwork of developing a draft plan is completed, it's useful to return to the support group and others to gather feedback. Doucett (2008) recommends four steps in this process:

  1. Core Team. Ask the working committee to examine the plan.
  2. Staff and Board. Involve the staff and board members and/or administrators.
  3. Patrons. Ask library users to provide feedback.
  4. Compile. Put all the ideas together and establish directions for implementation.

Darlene Weingand (1999, 23) has identified five conditions for a positive planning team environments:

While most library directors do the planning themselves, some seek out professional assistance from a marketing company to help with research, planning, and implementation.

Example. Whatcom County Library System used Red Rokk, a marketing agency to craft and execute a marketing campaign.

bridgeRead the Whatcom County Library System case study.

Think about the pros and cons of using a service to assist with market research and planning.


What services can we provide that will benefit our customers?

Begin with your users. Target a particular market segment for your plan. Are you aiming a service at senior citizens, new users, or online visitors? In some cases, you may have a number of segments in mind. List them in priority order.

"The first step in developing any marketing program whether for virtual reference services or orange juice is to sit down and segment your users, to (1) figure out what groups of users you want to serve and what their various needs and wants are, (2) determine how your services can help meet those needs, and (3) identify marketing approaches, that may be best suited to reaching each of your many audiences." (Coffman, 2003)

It's essential that you know the needs and interests of your target group. The services should be based on data, not the values and passions of the librarian in charge. You may love poetry, however you job is to determine if a poetry group is really needed. You may hate manga, but a speaker on the topic of manga may draw in the middle school crowds.


"Much has been written about the importance of marketing library services to various user groups. This is especially important when a library institutes a new service with which its patron group may be unfamiliar... The marketing strategy developed for a new consumer health service and the use of an invited presentation at Geriatric Grand Rounds as an opportunity to enhance trust while simultaneously promoting the library. The promotional strategies used served to position the library in the minds of physicians and hospital staff as a resource for appropriate and authoritative information for consumers." – Magnan, 2006

bridgeRead Grand Rounds as a Promotional Tool for a New Consumer Health Service by Deborah Magnan and Barbara Reich in the Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet.

What’s the vision, values, mission, goals, and objectives?

In order to succeed, you need to know where you're going. It's important that you have a firm grasp on the library's mission and the goals and objectives of the marketing plan. Many libraries also list their guiding principles and values.

Vision, Values, and Mission

It's likely that your library already has a well-defined vision and mission. These should be included in your plan.

A mission statement should clearly describe the current purpose of the library, its role, and its benefits to users. According to Walters (2004, 5), the mission should answer four questions:

Example: The Denver Public Library's mission states that it "connects people with information, ideas and experiences to provide enjoyment, enrich lives and strengthen our community."

Example: The New York Public Library's mission contains a general statement with additional explanation of their core values. Their mission is to "inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities.

Example: Like the NYPL, the Harvard University Library provides both a mission statement and values statement. It also states how the mission is fulfilled.

Example: The museum library at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has posted its mission at its website.

A vision statement clearly describes the future of the library and is used to inspire.

Example: Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has a strategic plan including mission, vision, goals, and objectives for their library on their website. Their mission states "Your place, stories you want. Information you need. Connections you seek." Their vision focuses on their customers, "You know us - and we know you, You trust us, You are proud of us, You inspire us, You can't read enough (for us)."

A values statement clearly describes the library's commitment in terms of key qualities or priorities.

Each library has it's own way of presenting it's directions.

Example: The Multnomah County Public Library lists a mission and philosophies.

It's also appropriate to create specific marketing missions that are extensions of the library's overall mission.

Example: The overall goal might include a statement about "nurturing a life-long love of reading". However your marketing mission may be focused on a particular market segment such as young adults thus narrowing the mission to "promoting young adult reading".


A goal is a clear, precise statement of anticipated results. What do you want your users to do? Goals should be based on the results of market research, SWOTs, the environmental scan, marketing trends, audience analysis, and other data. In other words, they should not simply be based on "what's cool" or "what I want to do".

Goals that are vague and subjective are difficult to measure. Stick to goals that you can measure like the number of participants in a program and the number of people using a particular database.

Your job is to identify specific, measurable goals and objectives related to marketing. Darlene Weingand (1999, 58-64) identified three types of goals:


Under each goal, objectives must be developed that establish specific, measurable activities. They are used to identify milestone on the journey toward reaching a goal.

When developing objectives, you should be thinking about how you can measure success. It's difficult to measure abstract goals that use words like awareness, inspiration, positive feelings, and "buzz". Phrases like "generate at least 10 comments in the book club discussion" or "increase circulation of parenting books by 10 percent" are specific and realistic.

Objectives should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, with Responsibilities, and Timing.

Example: Let's say your mission is to promote young adult reading. Your goal might involve establishing an online reading club.

Goal: Increase YA reading by establishing a mock Printz award online reading club.
Objective 1: Attract 20 consistent participants.
Objective 2: Sign up at least 10 attendees for library cards.

teen group

The teens above are part of a reading group at the Allen County Public Library (courtesy Flickr).

Example: A large corporate pharmaceutical library conducted a survey and found that many of their clients were unaware of how databases could be used in their research. Your goal is to increase awareness of the databases and how they might be used.

Goal: Increase use of specialty databases.
Objective 1: Increase awareness through targeted email communications incorporating branding.
Objective 2: Increase use by 25% through a series of "cool tools" instructional materials delivered through the company Intranet.

Example: Let's say you have a great middle school library with lots of participation by students, but little teacher involvement. Your goal might be increasing collaborative projects with teachers.

Goal: Increase collaboration by establishing a "hidden gems" program.
Objective 1: Recruit a teacher advocate in each curriculum area.
Objective 2: Co-teach with each of these advocates.
Objective 3: Integrate a "hidden gems" pathfinder into each curriculum area.
Objective 4: Increase teacher use of the library by 25%.

Brian Mathews (2009, 120-121) suggests that most projects will fall under one of the following four categories:

It's useful to define specific roles related to the mission, goal, and objectives. These descriptions ensure that all committee members understand what is being discussed. In other words, when you say "reference library" or "information commons," what do you mean?

What strategies will be used?

Strategies are the methods used to attract the specific market segment such as young adult readers. The four Ps (product, place, price, promotion) must be considered.

Example: Let's look at the 4Ps of a young adult campaign.

  1. The products are the print and electronic young adult books being read.
  2. The place may be an online forum or blog environment.
  3. The price would involve the cost of creating and supervising on the online environment for the program using a tool such as Good Reads.
  4. The promotion would include the email messages, school newsletter article, posters, Internet banner, display, press releases, and weekly podcasts associated with the program. Keep communications simple and focused.

Example: Fisher and Pride (2006, 67-74) suggest a marketing mix that includes product, place, price, and promotion.

Consider the obstacles to implementation. These barriers can be in the form of competition, funding, time, biases, or simply lack of interest. It's important to view the service from the perspective of the participants.

Example: Offering a service for youth on Wednesday evenings opposite a popular church program may be unwise. Could the service be provided online so participants could use the service anytime?

Example: A Saturday afternoon offering might do well in the Spring, but the competition from football could be a problem in the Fall. Could the program be moved to the morning before the games?

Example: Bringing in authors to promote reading can be a great approach, but it can also be expensive. Is there a way to share the costs with another organization?

Consider who will be involved in implementing the plan. It's easy to get overwhelmed with adding new services. Instead, get others involved. Rather than you offering a new family history program on your own, consider a partnership with a local genealogy group.

When working with a committee, it's possible to brainstorm a wide range of strategies. It's important to evaluate these strategies to determine their effectiveness and efficiency in meeting the goal. Darlene Weingand (1999, 74) suggests using the criteria developed by Palmour, Bellassai, and DeWath to evaluate strategies:

bridgeGo to Worksheet 10: Goal, Objectives, and Strategies by Fisher and Pride (2006).

Adapt this worksheet for your marketing plan.

What actions will be planned?

The actions include an outline of specific tasks involved in carrying out the strategies and addressing the objectives. This includes a time line and associated list of responsibilities.

It's easy to come up with promotional ideas. The tough part is planning for implementation. Tasks need to be clearly stated and responsibilities listed. Each participant needs to know the timeline and expectations.


Example: In the past, people have enjoyed the financial planning seminars provided by the library. However attendance has been low. A survey indicated that the target audience was unaware of the programs. The marketing plan specifies an e-newsletter, Chamber of Commerce announcement, and a series of other targeted announcements. Each of these tasks requires a specific statement regarding who is responsible for the content and dissemination. Also, a timeline for creation and approval of the communications along with dates for the delivery of the communications.

bridgeSkim Faricy-Beredo, Bridget (2013). Blowing up Harry Potter: leveraging an NLM exhibition to your advantage. Public Services Quarterly, 9, 34-45.
Notice how marketing is an integral part of their overall plan for the exhibition.

What‘s the budget?

novelistAll costs should be considered when building a budget from the cost of printing fliers to time spent by staff on monitoring the online forum.

Example: An urban public library wants to make library users more aware of the Novelist database. This promotion will involve hands-on workshops for staff, one-on-one demonstrations at the service desk, bookmarks, posters, a book-discussion group, and prizes for staff.

When designing the budget, it's important to include staff time for both the trainer and staff participants. The staff time dedicated to one-to-one demonstrations, answering questions, and setting up the book-discussion group much also be considered. In addition, materials such as the cost of bookmarks and posters must be considered. Finally, the cost of prizes must be in the budget. Or, the time to solicit free give-aways.

How will we know when we’ve reached these goals?

Evaluation is an important aspect of the marketing plan. Specific measures should be used to determine whether the goals and objectives have been met. Approaches might include counting online participants, calculating the number of forum messages and comments posted per participant, and surveying participants about their attitudes about the program.

Example: A suburban public library system introduced online program registration a couple year ago. After an initial surge in usage, online registrations plateaued at about 25% of registrations. A marketing campaign was used to promote online program registrations within the library and out in the community. The objective was to increase online registrations to 50% of all registrations. To evaluate the success of the campaign, a number of measured were used. In addition to counting online and face-to-face registrations, the marketing plan also examined surveys from each program. In addition, interviewed were conducted to determine whether specific publicity elements had an impact on user decisions.


How can the plan be implemented?

Keep a master folder, notebook, bulletin board, or internal wiki with all the information and resources related to the marketing plan. This resource will be useful as the campaign moves forward, but also as a value tool as new players emerge such as volunteers or new employees. Be sure to keep electronic versions of all files.

Consider some of the following elements in this notebook:



"Marketing electronic resources to the users of community college libraries is a challenge because of their student populations. Some of the students may be unfamiliar with library databases or may not appreciate their value as research tools. This situation demands assessment, creative action, and on-going marketing efforts. This chapter presents some practical solutions to this challenge that were undertaken at two large community colleges in New Jersey." – Thompson & Schott, 2007

bridgeRead Marketing to Community College Users by Mark Thompson, Mark and Lynn Schott, Lynn (2007) in The Serial Librarian.
Brainstorm ideas for a marketing campaign focusing on electronic resources for your library setting area of interest.

bridgeGo to Worksheet 4: Marketing Plan Template by Fisher and Pride (2006).

Adapt this worksheet for your marketing plan.

bridgeLooking for more ideas?
SKIM Chapter 4 & 5 of Lucas-Alfieri, Debra (2015). Marketing the 21st Century Library: The Time is Now. Chandos Publishing.


Alman, Susan W. (2007). Crash Course in Marketing for Libraries. Libraries Unlimited.

Brunner, Karen (2010). Promoting Excellence.

Coffman, Steve (2003). Going Live: Starting and Running a Virtual Reference Desk. ALA Editions.

Dempsey, Kathy (2009a). The Accidental Library Marketer. Information Today: Medford, New Jersey.

Doucett, Elisabeth (2008). Creating Your Library Brand: Communicating Your Relevance and Value to Your Patrons. ALA Editions. 31-37.

Fisher, Patricia & Pride, Marseille M. (2006). Blueprint for Your Library Marketing Plan: A Guide to Help You Survive and Thrive. ALA Editions.

Handley, Ann & Chapman, C.C. (2010). Content Rules. Wiley.

Iverson, Marsha A. (2009). Improving our media relations via strategic communication plans. In K Dempsey (ed), The Accidental Marketer, 249-260. Information Today: Medford, NJ.

Kennedy, Marie (2011). What are we really doing to market electronic resources? Library Management, 32(3), 144-158.

Lovelock, Christopher & Wirtz, Jochen (2010). Service Marketing. 7th edition. Prentice Hall.

Magnan, Deborah A. & Reich, Barbara S. (2006). Grand rounds as a promotional tool for a new consumer health service. Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet, 10(3), 45-60.

Matthews, Joseph (2002). Building a library balanced scorecard. The Bottom Line: Determining and Communicating the Value of the Special Library. Libraries Unlimited, 119-142.

Nagy, Andrew (2011). Deploying the next-generation service. Library Technology Reports, 47(7), 16-17.

Palmour, Vernon E., Bellassai, Marcia C. & DeWath, Nancy V. (1980). A Planning Process for Public Libraries. ALA, 70.

Scott, David Meerman (2011). The New Rules of Marketing & PR (third edition). Wiley.

Scott, David Meerman (2011). Action plan for harnessing the power of the new rules. The New Rules of Marketing & PR (third edition). Wiley, 135-318.

Walters, Suzanne (2004). Library Marketing that Works! Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Weingand, Darlene (1999). Goals, objectives, and action strategies – road map to an effective future. Marketing/Planning Library and Information Services. Libraries Unlimited, 57-80.

Weingand, Darlene (1999). The marketing audit – examining the library's environments. Marketing/Planning Library and Information Services. Libraries Unlimited, 41-56.

Woodward, Jeannette (2009). Creating the Customer-Driven Academic Library. ALA Editions, 130-151.

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Teacher Tap | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | © 2019 Annette Lamb