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Magazines > Information Today > December 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 11 — December 2003
Report from the Field
Czech-ing Out EUSIDIC
By Marydee Ojala

It was a small but lively group that gathered in mid-October in Prague, Czech Republic, for the European Association of Information Services' (EUSIDIC) annual conference. With "Building Customer Loyalty: The Branding Imperative" as its theme, the event provided a solid 2 1/2 days of talks and discussion. Long breaks, lunches, and the conference dinner offered excellent opportunities for networking and exchanging opinions. Three sponsors—the Main Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Ovid Technologies, and Thomson ISI—contributed to the success of the meeting.

Opening remarks by Karel Aim, a member of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, reminded us of the damage done to Prague's library and archival collections as a result of the disastrous flooding in August 2002. He also commented on the status of national academies of sciences in other European countries. Some have closed, and the Czech academy itself has been downsized. Aim put a positive spin on this, however, noting an increased impetus for digitization to preserve cultural heritage in the Czech Republic.

Branding 101

Setting the stage for the conference theme was Chris Beckett, director of Scholarly Information Strategies, Ltd. He traced the history of branding, starting with ownership marks painted on the walls of the Lascaux Caves around 5,000 B.C., and observed that the first modern trademark was issued in the U.S. in 1870. He then talked about the function of branding for both the customer and seller: Customers can easily identify and buy products, while sellers gain recognition, increase their control of the market, and lessen price sensitivity. Drawing heavily (perhaps too heavily) on "Brand Report Card," a 1999 Harvard Business Review article by Kevin Keller, Beckett led the audience through the 10 characteristics shared by the world's strongest brands and related these to the information industry.

Following this high-level overview were three presentations on end-user aspects of branding. Dialog's Cynthia Murphy started off, saying: "It used to be easy. Branding succeeded or failed on its merits. For library and information products, high-quality content and precise search engines aligned with price and value. Today, brands seldom stand on their own."

Not restricting herself to Dialog, Murphy noted the benefits of co-branding efforts such as those between Subaru and L.L.Bean. She advised identifying brands that influence buyers, not just your own, and determining the degree of influence of individual brands. (Profound, for example, is one brand, but the market research brands within Profound can have greater name recognition.)

Outside-In Thinking

Next, Judith Broady-Preston of the University of Wales­Aberystwyth described research she conducted on the marketing strategies of U.K. museum libraries. Museums, which are now facing competition from commercial Internet providers, need to realize that marketing involves more than simply promoting services. In a world in which image is reality, Web sites are important tools for making the library's presence known. By shedding their fuddy-duddy image, museums can reinforce the notion that they are organizations on the cutting edge of technological progress. Branding the museum—which includes having a strong domain name—encourages repeat visits. This is the museum's equivalent of brand loyalty in the retail world. Broady-Preston introduced the concept of "outside-in" thinking—something others might call customer-driven marketing. For the rest of the meeting, speakers referred to this idea.

Thomas Schael, managing director of the Instituto di Ricerca e Intervento sui Sistemi Organizzativi in Milan, Italy, then contributed a somewhat futuristic overview of the Multimedia Interaction for Learning and Knowing project. Designed for knowledge workers in multiple geographic locations, MILK uses a "community wall" to support informal networking and provide a "new way of interacting with knowledge."

Moving on to branding for library and information services, Isabel Oswell, head of marketing for business at The British Library, spoke about the challenges facing her institution. These include a spate of bad press, the perception that The British Library is for scholars only, and a lack of consistency in branding. Rebranding the library and gaining a new identity required "a strong, distinctive structure to bring all parts of the library together but still allow for the communication of the library's depth and richness." Living the values and vision of this reinvigorated library is at the heart of the effort.

Both Broady-Preston and Oswell stated that as a measure of success, Web site visits supplement, if not replace, physical visits to institutions. Ursula Georgy from the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, Germany, took this a step further. She speculated that Internet use leads to less personal contact and a diminishing sense of brand loyalty, since the brand is often obscured when databases are accessed in library settings. She believes that personalization, particularly for library portals, will change the negative perception of libraries and alleviate the impersonality that currently exists. Unless libraries rebrand themselves, Georgy fears they will "increasingly lose market share to commercial suppliers."

In a presentation with the catchy title, "The 4 Bs ... Before Branding, Be Brutal," Sheila Pantry suggested reviewing an information service's current situation by asking the critical questions "What is the core business?" and "How are we doing?" Customer loyalty can be cemented only with firm answers to these questions. Pantry introduced the concepts of service-level agreements, information audits, and reputation management. She also shared her practical experience with building loyalty: Customers don't like change, but they do like to be consulted. When it comes to rebranding, make sure it's not just a cosmetic exercise. You should have a good reason for doing it.

Several information providers weighed in with the supplier's point of view on branding. Cynthia Murphy discussed the implications of acquiring brands. This is something Dialog has had to contend with, both in terms of acquiring companies and being acquired itself. Gerri Potash approached the topic from the perspective of reinventing an information company. In her case, the organization was NERAC, a relic of 1970s NASA funding that's now a powerful provider of intermediary information research.

Jennifer Rowley's branding presentation reiterated much of what had been said previously, although her tips on building an online brand were well-received. It's not just about logo, graphics, color, and shapes, she said. It's about the entire brand experience.

Undoubtedly, the most frightening presentation of the conference was "Seven Deadly Cyber Sins," by Brian Earle, CEO of Envisional Solutions. After listening to him, I was ready to give up online and never touch a computer again. Cybersquatting, piracy, counterfeiting, logo abuse, hacking, identity theft—you name it and Earle's company has probably investigated it. Having detailed harrowing incidents of cybercrimes, not just sins, Earle's parting piece of advice was "Be aware." It's a more frightening world than most information professionals care to admit.

EUSIDIC Branding

With all the talk of branding, customer loyalty, and reinventions, you'd think EUSIDIC had a lock on the concepts. The association itself, however, is sorely in need of a makeover. In his opening remarks, EUSIDIC chairman Johan van Halm acknowledged that EUSIDIC's continued existence was questionable. The organization began in "300 baud times" and has a missionary history. Its first objective was to convince European telephone authorities to speed up connections. Originally, it was the only association in which information practitioners and suppliers shared a common goal. Today, EUSIDIC sees itself as a platform for discussing the issues that shape the information industry.

But is that enough? With fewer than half of the anticipated attendees present in Prague, we can ask: What is the value of the EUSIDIC brand? What do members expect from their association? Does EUSIDIC communicate sufficiently with the membership? Has it followed the customer-loyalty advice given by its speakers? Some theories bandied about for the low attendance included competing meetings occurring the same week, a new secretariat that's unfamiliar with EUSIDIC, a marketing effort that was slow to get off the ground, budget cuts, and travel restrictions.

Personally, I thought the topic of branding was not compelling enough to draw EUSIDIC members to Prague. While talking with attendees, I was struck by the sense that they don't have a strong idea of what EUSIDIC does or should be doing. They do, however, have a decided commitment to the organization and want it to continue. Networking and building bridges between the various players in the information industry continue to be vital components of the EUSIDIC experience.

EUSIDIC is not the only professional association to experience decreased membership and low meeting attendance. It is, however, one of the few that's clearly positioned to reinvent itself. It's not clear what that reinvention will look like. As its chairman, van Halm is convinced that EUSIDIC should not take up the lobbying role the membership voted to discontinue a decade ago. The key question, asked by a member of the audience, is "What is the ROI for members?" Hopefully, EUSIDIC will find the appropriate answer to this question and stage a comeback as a vital component of the European information landscape.

 

 


Marydee Ojala is editor of ONLINE magazine. Her e-mail address is marydee@infotoday.com.
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