Volume 13 No. 5 • June 1999
• How-To •
How to Write a Marketing Plan
by Amelia Kassel
In recent years, libraries of all types have found it necessary to compete for both money and clients as major changes have occurred. Corporate librarians have realized that they must show management why they are useful and how they contribute to the bottom line. Public libraries face stiff competition for funding. Additionally, the Internet brings a whole new dimension of competition that public, academic, and corporate libraries are facing daily. Whereas budget problems have been around for some time, the recent competition from the Internet can translate into fewer users, despite the fact that the Internet is also a crucial tool used by librarians for research and marketing.
In an interview for this article, Suzanne Ward (author of Starting and Managing Fee-Based Services in Academic Libraries, JAI Press, Inc. 1997) told me that “students are no longer a captive audience” because many do their own research using PCs (and at the beach at that!). She says that both students and faculty are seeing less value in the library infrastructure, and this is creating a need for more proactive strategic planning and marketing to keep libraries from being discounted even more. Ward also explains that academic libraries sometimes create planning documents that are updated periodically. She contends, however, that not many even do this. Eric Lease Morgan asserts that, “As the perception of worth decreases so do tax dollars or other administrative support.”
Because of all of these existing challenges and intensifying changes, it is not surprising that at least a handful of libraries have turned to “tried and true” business models for improved planning and development, and that they are employing marketing plans as one method for moving forward. Indeed, Suzanne Ward believes that “as time goes on [libraries] must think in this way to achieve goals.” Recent library literature supports the concept of marketing. (See reading list at end.)
One approach to library services during the past 15 years has been to develop fee-based information services that are geared toward businesses, local governmental agencies, or other target markets beyond what basic budgets can otherwise support. Fee-based services in libraries enhance institutional image and prestige, make contributions to the community not possible before, create more opportunities for interaction, and have the potential for making money and diversifying revenue.
Without question, fee-based services require a business and marketing plan, since, as Ward explains, “starting or managing a fee-based information service is very much like starting and running a small business.”
Steps for Creating the Marketing Plan
One of the fundamental procedures involved in any successful business operation is creating and implementing a marketing plan. A market is a particular group of buyers—or in the case of libraries, users or clients—who needs services. A marketing plan consists of several components, each of which is described below.
Before writing a marketing plan, it is necessary to define your target market and to understand its needs. This involves conducting market research, which Eric Lease Morgan describes as using transaction log analysis, circulation records, user surveys, focus group interviews, and information interviews to provide insight on what your customers really expect.
To write a marketing plan, follow the numbered outline below.
1. Prepare a mission statement.
The mission statement clearly and succinctly describes the nature of the business, services offered, and markets served—usually in a few sentences. Sometimes for larger companies it’s combined with a vision statement that can be two to three paragraphs in length. Some examples of mission statements can be found at http://www.csuchico.edu/mgmt/strategy/module1 .
2. List and describe target or niche markets.
In this section, list and describe potential groups of users or clients. After you create the list, identify various segments of a market. Segments can include specific types of people in a company by role—for example, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, or marketing director. Department heads are another type of market segment. For segmenting the consumer market, consider age groups. In addition, niche markets are an integral part of marketing. Within a target market of attorneys, for instance, there may be niche groups such as trial or malpractice attorneys. In some instances, targeting by firm size is an important consideration.
3. Describe your services.
As mentioned above, it’s necessary to conduct market research to understand your market and to identify the services they require. At the same time, inventory the services you currently offer and identify new services you wish to provide. Determine what it will take to provide these services in terms of staff, expertise, and costs.
4. Spell out marketing and promotional strategies.
Various strategies work better for different target markets and, therefore, several may be required to triumph. The key for successful marketing is understanding what makes someone want to use or buy services and what type of marketing strategy they respond to. This requires you to learn needs, problems, industry trends, and buzzwords. To get up to speed for a particular business market, read trade journals and attend professional conferences to meet prospective users or buyers in person. Become active in various groups whenever possible and form strategic alliances. Find out what works best for the markets you serve.
This is a trial-and-error process that requires testing and interaction with clients or prospective clients, although reading case studies and interviewing and consulting with libraries that have already
had marketing achievements is one way to save time. To this end, I have included some references at the end of this article that contain success stories of other libraries.Basic marketing strategies include the following:
- Network, either in person or electronically, by participating in discussion groups online where your target markets congregate.
- Direct marketing involves sending out sales letters, capability brochures, flyers, or special offers on a regular, repeated basis to the same group of prospects. Direct marketing can only work if you speak the language of your target market and contact them regularly.
- Advertise in print media or directories, often with a specific offer to reap the benefit of an immediate response or sales. Advertising lends credibility (image advertising) and, like direct marketing, must be continuous.
- Devise training programs that increase awareness about your services.
- Write articles for local media or professional journals and newsletters that describe the benefits of your services.
- Direct or personal selling is the one-on-one selling, often on site at a prospect’s office or company. Direct sales are a particularly costly form of marketing since you only reach one person at a time. However, if you present your services to a group of people at a company, such as people from a particular department or several department heads, direct sales can be beneficial.
- Send out publicity and press releases through local newspapers, radio, and television stations.
- Participate in trade shows at the local or regional level.
5. Identify and understand the competition.
As part of the market planning process, you must learn about your competitors and how to position yourself in relation to them. Describe your strengths and what you want to emphasize. Once you identify both direct and indirect competition (for example, the Internet as indirect competition), you can determine how and why your services are special and benefit users in a particular way. You can compete based on value, price, product, or service, or some combination of these. Your unique position in the marketplace must be touted in your marketing programs and marketing literature.
6. Establish marketing goals that are quantifiable.
Marketing goals can include setting the number of new clients you would like to acquire, the number of people you would like to reach, or the amount of income you would like to generate. Be realistic and practical in establishing your goals. Take a good look at the available skills and resources that you can commit to implement and integrate your goals into your marketing plan effectively. Study the budget requirements for the strategies you select and plan accordingly.
7. Monitor your results carefully.
By monitoring results, you determine which of your marketing strategies are working and which are not. Identify strategies that generate leads and sales. This involves tracking and evaluating customers’ responses to each marketing strategy. Survey or interview regular users for comments about why they find a service important. As you get to know your repeat clients better, meet with them for detailed feedback and ask them for ideas and suggestions about how you can introduce your products and services to more prospects who are just like them. Client comments are invaluable for creating or enhancing your market literature, and you can also learn and incorporate terms or language common to a particular user group through this process. Just as valuable, these interviews lead to statements that can be used as testimonials (with permission of course) and in future brochures and promotional activities.Hints and Tips for Beginners
- Concentrate your efforts on finding customers who provide you with ongoing or repeat business.
- Create a customer profile based on interviews as a way to understand existing clients. When you know why a customer comes back, you will be able to identify more of the same.
- Stay focused on your target markets.
- Don’t scatter your efforts. This is especially important for directing a particular marketing strategy to a specific group.
- Be persistent. Marketing projects are the sorts of things that often need to be repeated over and over before permanent change is achieved.
- Be prepared to revise your plan as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Don’t be afraid of failure. When a strategy fails, view it as part of trial-and-error that you can learn from, and as a natural part of the process.
This Is Really a Plan for Success
A marketing plan is an important tool for making your library victorious in this age of change, where working smarter is necessary to achieve your desired results.
Amelia Kassel is principal of MarketingBASE, an information brokerage that provides business and market intelligence worldwide. She has an M.L.S. from the University of California at Los Angeles. Kassel teaches information brokering as well as Internet and online research to students from all over the world at seminars and in her e-mail-based, go-at-your-own-pace Mentor Program. She is an information industry author, speaker, and workshop leader for national and international conferences. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://www.marketingbase.com .