I recently completed an assignment for my Marketing for Libraries class on the marketing mindset of nonprofit organizations. The assignment made me think about where I work and how libraries are operating from a weak position compared to the competition they face from other information providers. Marketing the libraries services and vision has got to be one of the single most difficult aspects of managing a library, however it is also one of the most important management functions. The marketing function at a library has the potential to make it shine bright in a sky full of stars, but if this function is neglected and relegated to an unsubstantial position within a library’s overall planning, then the organization will suffer greatly in the long-term. This could lead to less funding, less visibility, and overall less usage of library resources and services by the community it serves.
I focused in on my current employer to gain a better understanding of how a nonprofit organization is affected by its marketing mindset, Washington State University Libraries. I do not wish to disparage my employer or talk poorly of them and this critique is meant to be strictly constructive. Again, this was an assignment I completed for my SJSU SLIS graduate program and I am writing this post as a SLIS student and as a user of the Washington State University Libraries’ services.
Nonprofit organizations need to take a hard look at how they market themselves and their services to their customers and what their marketing mindset is. There are two competing mindsets, customer-centered and organization-centered.
If that organization’s mindset is customer-centered, then generally that organization is focused on customer behavior as their bottom line, their marketing efforts start and end with the customer, and it relies on research/customer information (Andreason & Kotler, 2003, Pg.49). The organization also understands their customers are not all the same and fit into different groups, defines its competition broadly, and considers the entire marketing mix they are offering their customers.
However, if the organization’s marketing mindset is organization-centered, then some clues that could indicate this are the organization perceives its offerings as inherently desirable, the customer’s ignorance is blamed for organizational failures, customer research plays a small role in decision making and planning, only the promotion of services is perceived as marketing, the strategy used is a one size fits all approach, and the organizations competition is viewed in very narrow terms (Andreason & Kotler, 2003, Pg.45). Libraries, as nonprofit organizations, display both types of characteristics in varying degrees and the Washington State University Libraries (WSUL) are no exception.
The WSUL marketing mindset should be considered almost entirely organization-centered, not customer-centered. The organization’s marketing efforts fit the clues described by Andreason & Kotler of this type of marketing mindset in every aspect with one exception. The WSUL is very aware of the segmentation of its customers and understands that these different segments require different services. These different customer segments include students, faculty, the university community, and the residents of Washington State.
Otherwise, WSUL’s marketing mindset shows that merely promoting or advertising its services when they are new is the extent of its marketing efforts. Once the new services have been advertised once or for a couple of weeks, those efforts stop. WSUL provides its services because it feels those services are inherently desirable to the university community, since it services a research institution. On a related note the WSUL does not rely on a great deal of patron research to help with its planning process. It conducts LibQual surveys every three years. This is the extent of its customer research that I am aware of.
It is not clear what the organization considers its competition or if it considers it broadly or not. In an age of information where more and more patrons have access to information, it is no secret that there are a multitude of information providers on the internet. In a way, the WSUL has one of the fiercest competitors in the world, since the internet is worldwide and there is almost an immeasurable amount to Web pages with information to share. Unlike many for profit organizations, libraries only recently have become aware of their many competitors, since it’s not necessarily ‘in their face’ (Koontz, 2002, Pg.2).
The WSUL’s management is working from a strong position, regarding the organization’s marketing mindset, since they already know they are working with a segmented market. This means it is understood that their customers need and want different services. However, the organization has its work cut out for it.
A more robust marketing mix needs to be used than only promoting and advertising services. This could be done by having librarians making presentations to departments on campus, building stronger relationships with the campus community through liaison work, partnering with other organizations on campus to build more community around library services, and perhaps focusing on the WSUL’s overall image on campus. This is akin to personal selling and it is the “most powerful promotion tool” (Koontz, 2003, Pg.9). When the main library on campus is referred to as the CUB (Compton Union Building) Library, which is the building next door, and not by its actual name, Holland & Terrell Libraries, this is an indication of a problem.
Another aspect of the organization’s marketing mindset it could change for the better is patron research. It needs to conduct more research on patron information needs and preferences that it can rely on for augmenting and bettering its planning of marketing activities. This could be done with focus groups on specific library services and then regularly scheduled focus groups on general library issues, the WSUL could even ask for suggestions. Surveys could be administered via face-to-face engagement or via social media and crowdsourcing.
There is a perception by the library staff that the services being offered are indispensible and confusion as to why those services are not used more often or valued as highly by the rest of the university community. This issue could be mitigated by informing the staff so they understand there are many different sources for information at patron disposal, this would be a difficult task as it borders on organizational culture change.
And finally and most importantly, many organizations show their appreciation for their customers. WSUL does not have a way of showing their patrons they appreciate their business or use of the library, since no one foresees a library shut down in the near future without patronage (Koontz, 2002, Pg.3). This is undoubtedly a hard concept to put into practice in a state institution, however it strikes at the heart of the customer-centered marketing mindset and the WSUL need to make an attempt in some fashion to show their patrons they are appreciated. Patrons speak with their actions and I cannot think of a better way to build community on campus and help market the WSUL to the rest of the university than buy showing our patrons how much we appreciate their business.
This is why the WSUL’s organizational marketing mindset needs to be transformed into more of a customer-centered mindset. Making these changes would move the organization closer to a customer-centered mindset, while improving the relationship with their patrons and all the while helping to build the library brand.
I would like to know what you think, please take a moment to comment.
Thanks for reading.
Andreasen, A.R., & Kotler, P. (2003). Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations (6th ed.). NJ: Prentice Hall.
Koontz, C.M. (2002). Stores and Libraries: Both Serve Customers. Marketing Library Services. 16, 1-11.