Don’s Conference Notes- The Art and Science of Marketing Communications for Libraries: A Webinar

by | Dec 2, 2020 | 0 comments


By Donald T. Hawkins  (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger)  

Kathy Dempsey 

This webinar, hosted by Library Works1 on November 19, 2020, was presented by Kathy Dempsey, who has had a long career in library marketing. She is owner of her own marketing consultancy, Libraries Are Essential,2 and author of The Accidental Library Marketer (Information Today, 2009). She has been the Editor of the Marketing Library Services3 newsletter for 26 years and used to be Editor-in-Chief of Information Today’s Computers in Libraries magazine. She is also the Editor of a fascinating and unique book and DVD movie set4 about 3 Dutch librarians, operating as the Library Bureau of Investigation (LBI), who visited innovative libraries on a road trip across the US and wrote about their experiences. Definitely get this book if you like libraries! 

Although this webinar was short (a little over an hour), Kathy packed a tremendous amount of practical information into it. She began by noting that marketing is more influential if you consider the art of language and its intersection with the science of psychology, which is where we can influence people. This guiding principle was the root of the practical marketing advice for librarians presented in this webinar. I was amazed at how many seemingly ordinary actions have been researched to better understand human behavior. 

Kathy has developed a “Cycle of True Marketing”5 which shows the steps in developing a marketing plan.  Identifying a general target audience and segmenting its members into narrower target markets is a major principle that she emphasized several times in this webinar. It should be done before beginning to write a marketing plan. Only then, after learning about an audience and writing a plan to reach them, can promotion of the product or service begin. And when you do begin writing your message, think about the goals you want to reach and what you want the result to be.  

Placement of signage is another important consideration when encouraging library usage. Kathy cited Paco Underhill, a retail-psychology researcher (see the reference to his book below), who found that entry doors are not the best place for important messages because people don’t linger there to read. They are pre-occupied with their reason for coming to a store (or library) and don’t want to block the doorway. People are more likely to read signs in areas where they are waiting, or when they’re on their way out of a building. Retail-store research has also shown that the ends of shelves are effective places to put signage. For example, when you go into a store, you see the specials advertised on the ends of the shelves. This lesson can be applied to libraries as well. 

Have you ever heard of the acronym WIIFM? It means “what’s in it for me?”, and emphasizes other marketing principles: focus on the benefits, not the products, and make your message about the reader—but avoid library lingo. For example, I receive a lot of mail asking for charitable donations. Although they are form letters, nearly all of them address me by name and use “you” in the text. The motivation is the same in marketing as it is in fundraising—to make the reader feel important by personalizing your message, being welcoming, and using a friendly tone. 

As we all know, e-mail is widely used today for marketing. There are some cautions to be aware of; for example, the Subject line is as important as the From line. The wrong words can cause your e-mail to be sent to a spam folder (the word “free” is a major cause of this). The websites of your email service providers and tools can be good sources of words to avoid in marketing messages.  

Much more was contained in this webinar, but these were a few of the points that impressed me. Perhaps the most important one was to have fun. Just because marketing is serious business doesn’t mean it should be devoid of humor. Laughter is a powerful tool for helping people to notice—and remember—your messages.   

Here are some recommended sources for further information. 

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill, Simon & Schuster, 2000 (1st edition, updated 2008) ISBN: 978-1416595243 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini, Harper Business, 2006 (Revised edition to be published May 4, 2021) ISBN 978-0061241895 

Exactly What To Say, by Phil M. Jones, ListenUp Audiobooks, 2017 ASIN B073SF65ZZ 

Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013 ASIN B00B91I8IK 

Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website ( He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for 50 years. 





4. ShanachieTour: A Library Road Trip Across America, Information Today, 2008, ISBN 978-1573873604



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