Stratford Public Library CEO, Julia Merritt explains the library’s edgy new campaign.
As the adage goes, “perception is reality”. Not being seen and not being heard are serious threats facing libraries. We at Stratford Public Library feel we cannot afford to be complacent. Period. Full Stop. Get off the complacency train.
Taking control of the brand seems daunting. However, libraries have a superb value proposition to work with. When the average person thinks of the library they are likely to think of books and information. More importantly, underlying this association, libraries are understood to be trustworthy. I contend this is due to the values of librarianship:
- Intellectual freedom and neutrality
- Equitable access to information/services
- Accuracy, transparency, and responsible stewardship of public resources
Because librarians have structured public libraries to reflect these ideals, people implicitly understand them as stable and trustworthy. What libraries need to realize from this is that other sectors and businesses would love to have this kind of social capital. Others spend decades and millions of dollars trying to achieve what libraries have quietly acquired by being true to their mission and mandate. So, what we need to do now is (please pardon the pun) capitalize on it!
Internal Work and Brand Creation Process
The Library’s 2013-2018 Strategic Plan included a re-branding campaign. In 2014 we consolidated all the duties with one person, reassigned the marketing dollars, recognized the importance of language, and educated ourselves to incorporate marketing best practices. By 2015, combined with other transformative changes, our reputation within the City was evolving. Social media engagement was growing, the local papers and radio were responsive to our press releases, and the feedback from users was increasingly positive.
By 2016, SPL had gone about as far as it could without help. We retained Hardie and Company to conduct a re-branding exercise in 2017. We started with a re-imagining of our logo and visual representation, followed by SPL staff coming together to define what the library’s “brand personality” would be. The words we eventually agreed upon were:
- Possibility Providers
These are strong words! However, it was agreed they are for internal use only, aspirational guides for our work going forward. We used them to inform the creation of a new logo, a tagline, and related materials.
After the redesign, Hardie & Company encouraged us to create a campaign, one that could be run for extended periods of time, or that showcased something special – ideally a big event or service.
There was nothing large-scale or unusual set in the calendar for 2018. Promoting the library’s space was eliminated as we saw little point in promoting an inadequate space. We debated focusing on e-books and other e-resources, but concluded that was an uphill battle, as those who already use the resources love the service, and for the rest, why compete for airspace with multi-national corporations, which seems like a surefire way to spend a lot of effort for minimal impact?
Finally we agreed on our hook: staff.
Staff are the library’s #1 resource. First, as with all libraries, we spend the most money, time, and attention on staff. Second, and more importantly, we know that staff are the reason the library succeeds. They are the audacious, insatiable, possibility providers. They are the ones who make those connections between the person who walks in the door and whatever it is that they need. They are the ones with their fingers on the pulse of the community. They are the rockstars; the building and the books just their stage and guitar.
Next we hired a local photographer to do photo shoots with any and all willing staff. The designers at Hardie & Company then took the best photos and worked their magic, capturing staff members’ personalities and turning the photos into opportunities for people to engage.
These playful pieces of art were deployed on our social media accounts and on “table-toppers” that we placed in local restaurants. Despite our reluctance to ask for favours, we were delighted at how many independently-owned restaurants were happy to have our staff grace their tables!
Following on the heels of these successes, we want to keep the momentum going and increase the impact of our limited marketing dollars. This spring we created billboards featuring our Public Service Librarians. These billboards are designed to build awareness and invite exploration into the library’s offerings. They were posted on routes leading into the downtown core during both the spring and summer seasons.
But wait, there’s more! Repetition is what builds a brand, so to generate enthusiasm and brand recognition, we will increase our library (pun intended) of staff-focused materials, and promote the library through audacious, unconventional marketing. We aren’t selling a product, we’re reminding people of the human experience they can access through their public library. In our peak-consumerist/capitalist climate, that’s a story worth telling.
Next stop, the backs of buses! And other places where we can reach non-library users – perhaps, video advertising in movie theatres. Since perception is everything, the Library needs to be perceived as contemporary, relevant, and worthwhile. Whether these ads generate additional traffic is not the point; our goal is to create brand recognition. In this way, we believe we will bolster the library’s relevance and future viability.