CIL2008: Avatars to Advocacy

This year at CIL I got to attend my first ever pre-conference. My session was taught by Helene Blowers and Michael Porter and covered the new paradigm of marketing in libraries.

Helene started the afternoon off by talking about the title of the presentation “From Avatars to Advocacy: Innovation Through Un-Marketing.” The term “Un-marketing” is in the title because we were covering a different view than the traditional view of marketing.

Un-Marketing Pre-Conference

Library Brand

When marketing people think about the library brand, they focus on the logo – but it’s a lot more! If you believe the OCLC Perceptions report, the library brand is all about books, but in reality the library brand is all about community! This is a theme I’ve written about a lot recently. So, as we look forward at where we’re going with marketing we want to focus on that part of our brand.


The old paradigm of marketing focuses on controlling the look and feel of the brand – our fliers all look consistent – our websites match our print materials, etc. In 1957 it was very easy to reach your market because 45% of the audience were watching Lucille Ball … today we have so many mediums and niche markets to reach. For this reason, mass marketing is going away – and it’s being replaced with niche marketing.

The new paradigm is to influence the character and portability of your brand – allow people to take your brand with them and embed it into their own space allow them to contribute and participate. Helene showed us an example from Gmail that I missed. Google allowed people to make their own Gmail videos and then they merged them into one ad for Gmail.

The question for libraries is how you can enable customers to participate in your branding. Helene recommends reading The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual and checking out the website. These talk about how markets are about conversations and brands are about getting people to talk about what you’re doing.

What strategic elements do we need to focus on in order to move our libraries into this model of marketing?

  • Engage – to enable customers to connect with library staff its services with each other in meaningful ways (the switch is to allow them to connect with each other)
  • Enrich – to provide our customers with a rich online experience that enhances their local branch experience and daily lives (let them find communities everywhere – in the library and out of it – and of course those who come and visit the web)
  • Empower – to enable our customers to personalize their library experience allow our community to celebrate themselves (Gmail video celebrates the people using Gmail – not just Gmail itself) – we want our customers to feel good about themselves

Helene shared a great quote with us: “Consumers are beginning in a very real sense to own our brands and participate in their creation….We need to learn to begin to let go” – A. G Lafley, CEO and Chairman of P&G, October 2006. Another book to read on this topic is Rengen: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer – and What It Means to Your Business by Patricia Martin in which the author says “cultural consumers thrive on information and ideas to fuel to their creative self-expression.”

Real Libraries

Next Michael took over to show us a bunch of great examples. He pointed out that we’re seeing a lot of these communication tools being used by institutions – so the institutions start the process and they do more than the user – but this is going to shift more to the users.

I agree with Michael when he says that people will give money to things they love – make them love you and they will participate. Look at what Gmail did – it’s cool to be associated with Gmail and so everyone wanted to participate. Another example of this is the model LibraryThing uses to have people pay for their membership. They give you choices as to what you can pay. So if you really like them you can pay more than they’re asking (which I did). If you put your library out there then they will send it to their friends – the spread of the word of mouth is much more now that we have blogs, social networking and email.

Michael sounds like an evil marketer when he says “get them when they’re kids and teens – never lose a hold on our market” but the truth is that we can do that with a clean conscience because we’re just trying to build up our market. Libraries tend to had a culture of “no” and we have to get out of that or we’re going to go down. This includes allowing kids and teens to participate in marketing our libraries.

Examples of neat marketing tricks:

  • Flickr groups like 365 Library Days Project and libraries and librarians – no one is making money off of it – it’s information so you can use tools like this to repurpose information for your community
  • Meebo-rooms – created 365 Library Days Project room – everyone came to the room and asked what it was about
  • Second Life Library 2.0 – example from libraryland that can be repurposed

One library that is doing neat things is the Santa Clara County Library. Another is Palo Alto City Library which has a good blog and a presence on other social networking sites such as Flickr and Facebook. Others includes Kankakee Public Library and San Mateo County Library – both are using these tools and twisting them to their purposes. Brooklyn College Library has shown real results by using MySpace.

Michael says “I could give a hoot about the brand name – I care about the functionality – the community and content – and if those tools help our users access content through us then they are successful – we just have to use these things to be better at our missions. “It’s not about us!” – it’s about our community. How true and awesome to hear someone else saying this!

Engaging Our Community

“Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not what you’re saying about yourself” – Guy Kawasaki

Helene showed us a bunch of other examples:

  • Hennipin County Library site where they had pictures of people reading Harry Potter when the latest book was released. They used the Flickr API to upload images via their site and featured them on the homepage.
  • Columbus Metro library has a teen gallery – allowing teens to feature their art on the homepage- it’s about letting them use our space to celebrate themselves
  • YouTube & we love our NJ libraries – search for “3 reasons library” – why should libraries be telling you three reasons you should love us? why not have them showcase it for us??
  • The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County used Big Huge Labs to create inspirational posters – used during National Library Week – no “read” posters of celebrities – encouraged patrons to upload their own images and showcase real patrons
  • Denver Public Library last summer encouraged teens to create videos on how they had fun in the library – took a risk by allowing teens to spread the word – winner did a book angel (like snow angel) on a table
  • Louisville Free Public Library – last summer – after the summer reading challenge they gave them winners a sign to take pictures on their lawn – and put the pictures on their homepage

Helene then gave us 8 steps to take back to our libraries in order to better market them:

  • educate – learn about social media
  • experience – participate and join the conversation (can’t just learn from reading books – have to participate in order to understand)
  • envision – develop a 2.0 marketing plan (tie into your mission/vision)
  • engage – create social celebrations (social situations – things that tie into community events)
  • enable – help your library brand and content travel (allow customers to share and repurpose content – widgets)
  • expand – play with multimedia (libraries are very text heavy – move away from it)
  • explore – learn as your go and track success (as you play you’re going to find things that aren’t relevant – but if you don’t try there is no way you’re going to learn)
  • Experiment, Experiment, Experiment


Last note: always remember – the best way to get customer to market our brand is to allow them to promote us (the library) by marketing themselves.

Slides are online and we took photos of our brainstorming session and tagged them cil2008aa and cil2008unmarketing.

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