Friday, April 15, 2011

All Things to All People: Large-focus versus small-focus marketing

There is a long-running, low-level debate in our library system about the target audience for our story times: should we design them for a specific age/reading level, or should we try to create broader multi-age appeal? Some people make the argument that by broadening the appeal, we are serving more children. Other staff say that these broadly-designed storytimes are losing their early-literacy benefits; since we can't design for a specific reading level, we can't focus on any particular skills, and the result is that we don't help anyone.

As I listened to my coworkers discussing this issue yesterday, I was struck by how well this debate applies to marketing as well. What works better, a "something-for-everyone" approach, or a targeted effort?

Something-for-everyone is a tempting path for library marketing because it is so true. A wide range of people use the library, and there's a wide range of people who don't use the library, who should. And yet, it is like nails on a blackboard to me when we start to create a new bookmark, and everyone starts (metaphorically) shouting out services that we ought to mention. "Put something about our new downloadable books! Add a bit about room reservations. Be sure to include this new grant-funded program we're running! Make it appeal to twenty-somethings, but also to seniors. Put in something about the small business resource center, because some of these moms might be business owners also!"


I realize that our print budget is tight, and that we would all love it if this one bookmark could appeal to all groups, and convey information about all our services. But by trying to cram in too many functions, trying to appeal to too many audiences, all we're really creating is confusion. Our marketing piece doesn't know what it's trying to say or who it is trying to tell.

How do we fix it? We target, and we simplify. We pick a group, like "Moms", and we tell them what the library can do for them. We tell them what a particular SERVICE can do for them. Then we have a piece that's truly versatile, because we know that wherever we take it or put it, when moms see it they'll think "Oh, that's for me."

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